Greeks of Melbourne did not wait for Greece to ensure the longevity of their cultural heritage in the antipodes. They took it upon themselves to create the Hellenic Museum, a self-funded institution created in 2007.
Its existence allowed the Benaki Museum to establish its own branch in Australia, without having to spend exorbitant amounts of money, thus entering a 10-year agreement with the museum in 2013.
Now, Greece will further extend its cultural influence in countries around the world with an amendment submitted to Greek Parliament by Greece’s Ministry of Culture this month. Greek lawmakers this week passed the new law with 179 votes in favour (conservative New Democracy and socialist KINAL) and 120 against (SYRIZA).
The revised provision allows for museum collections to be loaned abroad for 25 years and then be renewed for another 25 years. Hence, long-term displays in foreign countries could take place for a total of 50 years provided there are sufficient guarantees for the safe transport, exhibition and return of the artifacts.
“The museums of our country have tens of millions of movable monuments, which are kept in their warehouses,” the Ministry said in a statement.
“Of these, some, selected by the museums themselves and after obtaining the approval of the competent services of the Ministry of Culture and Sports and of course the Central Archaeological Council, in full application of the provisions of the Archaeological Law (Law 3028/2002), will be able to be exhibited as a single collection with long-term borrowing in museums or exhibition spaces abroad, necessarily retaining the name of the museum that lends its objects.”
The statement adds that similar policies are already implemented by many museums in the world, such as the Louvre, and it also stipulates that the new law will assist the Benaki Museum in the exhibition of its collections in Melbourne.
The provision, amended to 50 years from the initial submission of 100 years caused a deluge of reactions, particularly from the main opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) party which likens the loans to “expatriation”. SYRIZA deputies argue that the items would benefit museums abroad at the expense of Greek ones.
SYRIZA deputy Sia Anagnostopoulou said, “We are giving away Greek antiquities to museums and institutions abroad like poor relatives.”
Opposition deputies stated concern that masterpieces, such as the bronze Charioteer of Delphi (known as Iniochos) in Delphi, might be ferried off to not just Australia but any country around the world, thus depriving Greeks of a chance to appreciate the work.
Greece’s Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said that the new provision is the “modernisation of an antiquated institutional framework” which only allowed for 5-year loans until now.
“It is very important for the promotion of our cultural wealth to finally have the opportunity to capitalise on the important valuable antiquities found in the ministry’s warehouses,” she said. “This is a huge offering to Hellenism because instead of having these in dark warehouses, they’ll shine and promote Greek culture.”
The law could be particularly beneficial for museums such as the Hellenic Museum and for Greece, provided institutions such as the Benaki Museum and Central Archaeological Council are able to make sound decisions in the selection process of artifacts currently stockpiled in Greek museum warehouses.