Who Owns The Parthenon? Goldman Sachs.

It's a universal monument, owned by Greece but part of the world's culture. Some of the sculptures are in London, the most of the rest in Athens. As I pointed out here in 2007 (click on photos to enlarge), despite denials from the director of the British Museum, the Greek government has formally requested the loan of the 'Elgin Marbles' but that loan has been repeatedly ignored or denied.

As I argued here and in talks, if the British Museum is willing to change their minds about loaning 'iconic' objects and lend the Cyrus Cylinder to Iran, why the hell can't we lend the Marbles to Greece, who unlike Iran is our European ally and unlike Iran does not support terrorism. (And yes, Stelios really did tell me he'd be willing to cover the shipping costs).

If Britain lent the Parthenon Sculptures to Athens, the Duveen Gallery would be empty thus creating a perfect space for a series of annual exhibitions of Greek treasures acting as ambassadors of Greek culture ... and frankly exhibitions on say Alexander the Great, Vergina, the Olympics, etc., would probably be very popular and bring more visitors to the museum, and be a very good way for the museum to fulfill its remit in terms of education.

Unfortunately the BM's attitude is that one has to back them 110% and not 90% or they cause problems, which is why several of my colleagues no longer actively support them.

My position is that the Marbles were legally acquired from the legal government of the time; some Greeks disagree, others agree but also agree that we need to move beyond this issue and try to resolve it.

Years ago I was very critical of some of the archaeological practices I saw in Greece - it's still not perfect, neither is Britain, and over the years I have been far more critical of the British Museum than of the Greek Archaeological Service. People have died because of the asbestos at the British Museum.

The main issue is what the Greek government did before the Olympics - they mortgaged the Acropolis. Greece owns the freehold, but all the revenue for now goes to Goldman Sachs because to Acropolis was securitised, which is the fancy financial term for what is effectively mortgage.

Between dating one of the partners and learning at my step-father's knee, yes I do understand the basics of international finance, and I think this is an important issue worth clarifying since even Greek friends I've told have tended to reply "really? I assumed it was just propaganda" ...

Banks face scrutiny for Greek securitisation - FT.com:
“Why not securitise the Parthenon?” asked Nikos Christodoulakis, the innovative finance minister who was casting round for ways of reducing Greece’s large public debt shortly after the country joined the eurozone in May 2001.
His “Eureka!” moment involved issuing a securitisation bond backed by a stream of future revenues from annual ticket sales to some 6m tourists who visit the classical temples on the Acropolis, as well as other ancient monuments around Greece.
That deal fell through, partly because of objections from archaeologists who feared it would quickly lead to the development of Disney-style theme parks on cherished ancient sites.
The next deal went through.

I can't find the details online to show people, but I know from the Greek Ministry of Culture that the Acropolis was mortgaged to GS, and pretty much everyone in finance knows it ... and thinks they could do a better job running the Acropolis!

Michael Lewis: “The World Would Be Better Off Without Goldman Sachs” And Their Kind - Dealbreaker

I used Parthenon in the title, but Goldman Sachs receives all the revenues for the tickets sold for the archaeological sites around the Acropolis too, including the Agora but excluding the New Acropolis Museum. The Ephoria I believe gets money from book sales, which I suspect are a bit of a pittance. The guards and archaeologists are paid very little, and many have been made redundant in recent years. Luckily European Union money continues to fund restoration work.

Update - Adrian Murdoch writes about securitisation wearing his other 'hat' as a financial journalist, and cover this way back here: Can you securitise the Parthenon? (Bread & Circuses)