Letter from Athens: Greece, England: Someone’s Going to Lose Their Marbles

Unless the secret talks that Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is said to have conducted with British Museum Chairman George Osborne result in the outright return of the stolen Parthenon Marbles – and ownership – the Greek leader will face substantial criticism, similar to what hit the Looney Left SYRIZA when it gave away the name Macedonia to what became North Macedonia.

But the Marbles are a bigger and more important issue because they are part of what is unarguably the world’s greatest architectural masterpiece carved and forged to perfection without computers or slide rules.

Everything, as usual concerning The Marbles, is sketchy. And almost as fast as Mitsotakis hinted during an event in London that something was in the works for what he said would be the reunification – but not return – of the treasures, the excitement meter ratcheted up again.

Alas, it seems like another busted trial balloon because almost immediately his government spokesman reined in the euphoria that Greece would again be home to the marbles that were ripped off the Parthenon 200 years earlier by Scottish diplomat Lord Elgin, who said he had the permission of the occupying Ottoman Empire – which didn’t own them.

This is a risky gambit on Mitsotakis’ part.

If he succeeds in getting back the marbles – with Greek ownership and not a British Museum annex in Athens or a loan to the Acropolis Museum that could see them hauled back to London again – there should be a statue built of him, but not near that of Pericles or no one could find it.

Anything short of that would be construed as giving away 2500-year-old treasures, so he has to tread carefully on this one or be sacrificed to the gods.

He started the titillation when he said that, “it is possible that a mutually beneficial solution can be found, the Parthenon Sculptures can be reunited and at the same time the concerns of the British Museum can be taken into account.”

Well, the British Museum shouldn’t be taken into account because it’s the recipient of stolen goods, and he’s shown his government isn’t willing to take the issue to an international court but believes in negotiations.

Then he clouded it more when he said that, “I understand that there is momentum, I am consciously talking about reunification of the Sculptures and not about a return,” reported Greece’s state-run Athens-Macedonia News Agency ANA-MPA.

“No matter how long it will take, the Parthenon sculptures will eventually be coming home,” said Mitsotakis, reported Reuters – but it wasn’t clear what he meant about a reunification but not a return.

Osborne also tipped his hand when he said the museum would never “dismantle” its collection and it was his bright idea earlier to loan Greece what it owns – in return for Greece providing other treasures to be shown at the museum where they were – and then send them back to London.

The secret talks were first reported by the Greek paper Ta Nea’s London correspondent Yannis Andritsopoulos, who said unnamed sources reported the negotiations were in “an advanced stage,” but could be undermined.

“The devil is in the details,” a Greek source said. “An agreement is 90 percent complete, but a critical 10 percent remains unresolved. It’s hard to get there, but it’s not impossible.” Well, yes it is.

The UK correspondent for the Greek TV station ANT1, Isaac Karipidis, said a possible scenario could see the British Museum open a branch in Athens to display the marbles and keep ownership.

If Mitsotakis signs that he’ll need to build a wall around him bigger than the one his government erected along the Evros River near Turkey’s border to keep out refugees and migrants he said aren’t welcome.

A British official also said that, “the Parthenon Sculptures will still belong to the British Museum, as the law requires, but at the same time they will be in Athens, as the Greek side wishes,” in a political compromise.

Greece opened the Acropolis Museum in 2009 with a glass-walled top floor with a view of the nearby Parthenon to house them, not for people to ‘visit’ them in a warehouse somewhere, and any other agreement invalidates the reason it was built.

The report added that, “several solutions are being considered that could ‘set aside’ the ownership issue in a possible deal. They added that there are ways to avoid mentioning ownership in an agreement on the Marbles’ return.”

The odds that the Marbles will be returned to Greece are the same as Greece winning the World Cup, Cyprus being reunited when Turkey removes its army, or a gay Muslim immigrant becoming Prime Minister.

You have to keep in mind the thinking of the British Museum, whose director, German-born Hartwig Fischer, said the taking of the marbles by Elgin was a “creative act,” and the Germans are experts on stealing treasures from other countries.

So let’s try this solution: a three-way trade. Greece gets back the Parthenon Marbles and the stolen statue of Nike in the Louvre, and the British and French museums display statues of art thieves. Start with Elgin.


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