The Iraqi National Museum was reopened today, 12 years after it was looted in the wake of the U.S. invasion. Today’s opening came as a response to ISIS’s destruction of antiquities in the Mosul Museum, many of which were priceless Assyrian sculptures from the royal palaces. The U.S. is primarily to blame for the looting of Iraq’s museum. The museum was second behind only the Central Bank on a list of sites to secure, but we did not do so. Some 15,000 objects were looted in a mere two days, most of which remain missing. Museum staff – on their own initiative – hid thousands of the Museum’s most important artifacts in a location known only to them at the time. If they had not done so, the damage would have been much worse. The U.S. officer charged with recovering these objects has written an article in the AJA and a book about his efforts: Matthew Bogdanos, Thieves of Baghdad.
An article in the NYT today focuses on Greece’s microeconomic needs, rather than the macro needs that are more often stressed in the media. The author points to three central factors: regulation, fear, and size. The first refers to the notorious byzantine regulations and structures embedded in Greece today. It remains remarkably difficult to start a business in the country due to red tape, closed professions, and clientelism, even now. Fear refers to political uncertainty and the lack of ownership over structural reform and the austerity program. But it’s the final point that is key here, in my opinion – size. Here, the author is referring to the fact that Greece could never achieve an export-led recovery due to the fact that its businesses are overwhelmingly small, family-run operations. In fact, if one looks at the data, Greece is that mecca of small business that American politicians are constantly lauding (America is no such thing – the percentage of workers employed by companies with over 250 employees is higher here than in any other developed country, by quite a margin). As a result, Greece’s businesses were in no position to take advantage of reduced labor costs or devaluation and therefore could never be expected to lead an export-led recovery. This microeconomic perspective explains, in the author’s opinion, the Greek “divergence” from other peripheral European countries that implemented austerity programs.
I am not an economist, but the author’s latter point – on small businesses – is quite obviously a valid one. Anyone who knows anything about Greece knows this – the place is dominated by family-owned businesses and economies of scale are quite rare. Yet the author also advances the argument that SYRIZA does not intend to address problems pertaining to regulation or inefficiency. This is patently false. Tsipras and Varoufakis seem quite interested in doing so – and have stated directly that they want to modernize the public sector, root out corruption, and tackle tax evasion. We shall see how they do; it will be no easy task. But it is not accurate to claim that Syriza’s platform in no way will address the microeconomic problems Greece faces.
The civil war in Syria has unleashed looting on an epic scale there, and the rise of ISIS has only made the situation worse (and extended it to northern Iraq). After oil, looted antiquities are now the largest source of revenue for ISIS. The State has formulated a method for extracting antiquities, contacting dealers directly, and selling prestige objects to wealthy foreigners. So to those Western, Chinese, and Arab elites who are purchasing looted antiquities: know that you are scum who are contributing to the evisceration of an entire region’s cultural heritage and funding directly a “state” that regularly beheads people, executes individuals by throwing them from towers, and enslaves so-called apostates or captives it takes in battle.
We can only hope that the work of Syria’s Monuments Men – which is significantly more dangerous than the work done by WWII equivalents – bears fruit.
Here’s the article.
Archaeology, politics, and crisis – from Yannis Hamilakis.
“With the country about to go to the polls, Alexandromania and national treasure-hunting are proving too seductive to be abandoned.”
The governing coalition today failed to acquire the 180 votes necessary to elect its presidential candidate, Stavros Dimas, to office (the first such failure in Greek history). Dimas received 168 votes – no change from the second round. Elections are set for January 25. Current polls indicate that SYRIZA will come out on top, though the party’s lead over ND is only 4-5 points (27-28% vs. 22-23% – the remaining parties all poll under 7%, for the most part). Under Greek election law, the first-place party nets an additional 50 seats in parliament. Even so, a party needs ca. 35% of the overall vote to govern independently, so SYRIZA would need a governing partner – and it’s not at all clear who that would be. But stay tuned – George Papandreou, former prime minister from 2009-2011, son of PASOK founder and former prime minister Andreas Papandreou, and grandson of former prime minister George Papandreou (the Greeks like their political dynasties just as much as we Americans do…) – is forming a new center-left party. It’s sure to change the dynamic in the upcoming election and might position Papandreou as kingmaker in the new parliament.
The Times has an overview and the Press Project is live blogging.
It’s no fun to check my “Greek crisis” tag yet again for a blog post. I had hoped that the worst was over for the country, yet events to come may demonstrate that these hopes were mere wishful thinking on my part.
The ruling coalition (ND-PASOK) announced a snap presidential election on Monday. On Tuesday, Athens’ stock market plunged 13% (the worst collapse since the 1987 global stock market crash), and the yield on 10-year government bonds jumped to over 8%. The president’s role is largely ceremonial. Nevertheless, he must be elected with 180 votes by the Parliament. If that threshold cannot be reached, then snap elections must be called. In this scenario, it seems that Greece’s ragtag amalgamation of left wing parties, SYRIZA, would come out on top (they lead in polls now). This has spooked investors because Alexis Tsipras, the SYRIZA leader, has promised to throw out the austerity program, implement wide-ranging leftist reforms/policies, and force Greece’s lenders to restructure the country’s debt. Tsipras and SYRIZA make valid points when they critique the austerity program. The policies were misguided from the start and we have IMF critiques and concerns that demonstrate this; targets and projections concerning growth and debt have been wrong time and time again; and it has resulted in the widespread impoverishment of Greek society (ca. 26% unemployment rate; 1/3 of the economy has evaporated – think US Great Depression and you’re on the mark). It is also undeniable – though many continue to deny it – that Greece’s debt will need to be restructured. It’s unsustainable and cannot be repaid. To think otherwise is nothing more than wishful, arrogant thinking. Yet I simply cannot see in Tsipras and SYRIZA the type of political party that Greece needs right now. The entire political culture needs to change, and a bold structural reform program introduced (the latter has not been achieved via the austerity program, no matter what the Eurocrats say). Tsipras came up in the student factions in the universities and he’s simply too steeped in the old political culture. And when you look at the details of the SYRIZA platform (outside of debt restructuring, which every Greek party supports) it’s hard to see how these policies could provide Greece with the new foundations that it needs. Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be a political party on the scene right now which espouses an agenda of true (political) cultural and structural reform. Perhaps something will come of Potami, but it’s too early to tell.
In any case, SYRIZA polls only around 28-30%, so they’d need a governing partner, and it’s not at all clear who that would be. ND and PASOK won’t do so, and neither will KKE (the latter is too pure to associate with the “New Left”). All of this would seem to call into doubt Greece’s political stability at the worst possible time. The country has only recently experienced even a modicum of economic growth (ca. 1%) and there was real hope that next year would bring more.
The first round of the presidential election is December 17 (it’s a 3 round process – 200 votes are needed in the first two rounds and 180 in the third). For more on this story see The Economist, The Financial Times, and Bloomberg.