Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Mr Thales Vassilikiotis

  As I promised on the Acropolis two days ago, I am writing to inform your Committee on the very unfair, indeed anti-constitutional legislation concerning cultural property passed by the previous Minister of Culture of Greece Venizelos two years ago.

  The aforesaid legal abortion gives the Greek Ministry of Culture the right to confiscate, in order to "protect" it as they claim almost any work of art, modern art of today, yesterday, 50 years ago, 60, a 100 or 1,000 years old.

  Before this abortion there existed four contradictory laws concerning state "protection" of works of art, that they grossly categorised as of "archaeological value." The confusion was indeed great and eventually the plenum of the Supreme Court in this country decided that only an object dated before 1453 could be categorised as of archaeological value and consequently "protected" by the state, which, of course, could well mean confiscated. It was indeed illegal all along for citizens to possess antiquities, and only the state could grant permission to an individual to possess an antiquities collection or any object.

  The aforesaid decisions of Areios Pagos are: A271/72, 01V, XPOV KB 513, 600 A673/73, 01V, XPOV KG 724 NSK 535/81.

  Since the days of Melina Mercouri as a Minister of Culture the bureaucrats of the Greek Ministry came up with crazy ideas about extending the notion of "object of archaeological value" to include all modern art, any object of archaeological, artistic, historic or folklore value, as clearly stated in the projected law by Melina Mercouri, which was never passed by the Greek Parliament. According to this ridiculous idea he who knowingly possessed a distinguished work of art independently of its origin and date would go to jail for life, if the state asked him to give this work of art and he refused. At the same time Melina was in England claiming the return of the Elgin Marbles, looted by the well known Lord.

  Why was Melina any better than Lord Elgin, that I never understood!

  Similar laws were suggested and endorsed by another Minister of Culture Tzannis Tzanetakis, but as there was public reaction he never managed to get them through Parliament. It was indeed the one before last Minister Venizelos who managed to pass through Greek Parliament this ridiculous and barbarous law that makes it practically impossible in Greece to possess a work of art. What a shame for a country with such ancient traditions in the arts.

  As an artist, a painter, member of the Greek artists' union I wish to express to your Committee our indignation and to beg you to caution the Greek Culture Ministry that you will not even consider the return of the Elgin Marbles if they continue with extreme stubbornness and barbarism, comparable to that of most totalitarian regimes, to blatantly consider that they have the right to confiscate any work of art they can lay their hands on.

  I include a photostat of an article of mine in a major economic magazine on this subject back in 1988[48]. This article, as well as others I wrote in the liberal newspaper Eleft Erotypia have remained unanswered. A typical attitude of the Greek Government of the last 15 years, and an insult to the democratic citizen's protest about this flagrant trespassing of our democratic, constitutional and legal right to cultural property.

  I am at your Committee's disposal to fully explain and prove the illegality and barbarism of these Government proceedings. Parliamentary representatives of a friendly democratic nation as the English nation should concern themselves with this attitude and not condone the abolition of cultural property in Greece. Certainly when the same Ministers claim the return of the Elgin Marbles.

March 2000

48   Not printed. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2000
Prepared 25 July 2000