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Robbery in Olympia – result of saving measures?

by Ursula Kampmann

March 1, 2012 – Already the second spectacular robbery has happened this year. In January burglars purloined from Greece’s National Gallery an oil painting of Pablo Picasso and another one of Piet Mondrian as well as a small sketch of 16th century Italian artist Guglielmo Caccia. The total value of the stolen objects allegedly amounts to $6.5 million.

On February 17, 2012 another robbery occured. Two armed men attacked the museum of the history of the Olympic Games in Olympia. They seem not to have spotted the location on the previous day, because they demanded from the museum guard to show them the gold. The woman was not able to do so since the valuable artifacts are primarily made of clay, bronze and stone. Quite arbitrarily the robbers destroyed some showcases and took around 77 objects with them, most of which votives to the sanctuary’s patron Zeus.
In the meanwhile police is said to have arrested a suspect person in connection with this theft. Allegedly he is member of a foreign gang that previously had robbed the jewellers in the surroundings.

Robberies like this were made possible because of the saving measures conducted by the Greece government which is no longer able to watch over its cultural treasures adequately due to the lack of money. Thus in the National Gallery one guard had to watch the whole building when the robbery occured.

Actually Greece has never invested seriously in its cultural heritage. In the 1990s, when the country saw boom years, only 0.7 % of the national budget were invested in publicity and conservation of cultural property. Now suffering a crisis that sum has been reduced to 0.35 % or to express it in concrete value: approximately $173 million. According to investigations of the Los Angeles Times around 1,900 government-paid guards watch over 15,000 museums, historical monuments and archaeological sites. Of these 1,350 are full-time staff members. The others are only contract employees during the peak tourist seasons or civil servants relocated to guarding service.

At the same time the population is confronted with disoccupation and poverty. Making money out of the unprotected cultural treasures might seem alluring to many people.

This, however, puts the question wether completely new approaches to the problem are required. Because with moral appeals and politically correct statements certainly this inextricable situation will not be solved.

If you want to read more about the robbery in the National Gallery, please click here. That article offers as well the figures we have recurred to in our text.

The story of the Olympia robbery you can find in German and English. The second text reports that the Greek Minister of Tourism and Cultural Property submitted his resignation. However he seems not to have resigned yet.

Here you can watch an Aljazeera two-minutes-clip on the robbery.

The news that one of the Olympia robbers has been arrested is reported on this website.

A list of the stolen objects is available here.

You can get some impressions of the museum on YouTube.

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