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Letter from Athens: You Can’t Loan The Marbles, The Essence of Greekness

January 14, 2023

There’s been more trial balloons over Athens about the prospect of the stolen Parthenon Marbles kept by the thieves of the British Museum being returned to Greece than Turkish drones, and almost as worrying.

The confounding and confusing talk about whether there’s talks or no one’s talking – designed to gauge public opinion by the British in the Disunited Kingdom and Greece’s New Democracy government – have been bewildering.

But they all pointed to the half-cocked cockamamie notion that the marbles wouldn’t be returned outright, but “reunified,” in an alleged scheme that would see them gradually sent to Greece over a period of years, but with the British Museum still owning them. It’s right out of a Monty Python sketch.

Don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see The ‘Elgin Marbles’ at the Athens annex of the British Museum – the top floor of the Acropolis Museum – and watch the ceremony with tea and crumpets and the band playing God Save the Queen.

You and I won’t be there because it will be reserved for the Super-VIPs and those who sold out Greece if the deal is for a loan that stipulates the British own the treasures designed in Greece, made by Greek hands 2500 years ago.

Maybe the British can declare the Acropolis Museum a colony too and wouldn’t it be swell if Bonnie King Charlie, who loves Greece – but not enough to say the marbles are Greek – was there, and if Prince William takes another shot at former Prince Harry.

Now, THAT’s entertainment, and Greeks not part of the elite can hopefully have a seat at the back of the room and try to look over the heads of an elated British Museum Chairman George Osborne, AKA King Snooker.

The Acropolis Museum might have to add a room to fill the egos and swelling chests of the people proclaiming they won the deal to bring back the marbles ripped off the Parthenon 200 years ago by the scoundrel Scottish diplomat, Elgin.

True, he wasn’t smart enough to avoid financial trouble when he got back to the United Kingdom with the 17 pieces of the frieze he stole with the permission of the then-ruling Ottoman Empire – which didn’t own them. So he sold them.

If the British Museum’s holdings of the Marbles torn from the facade of the world’s greatest architectural treasure are – as Greece’s Culture Ministry said – a “product of theft,” will the New Democracy government consent to a deal for a loan?

That would trade 2500 years of Greek history for four more years in office, and that’s all Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, facing a re-election campaign, would be remembered for: not for his dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, resurrecting the economy, or standing tall against Turkish aggressions.

The switch lane chicane contradictions about a “constructive discussion” between Osborne and unnamed Greek officials – with reports both confirming and denying it – have the one word that should be a deal-killer but maybe not: LOAN.

British media – Greece’s newspapers and outlets are far behind on this historic story – all swirl around the notion that the marbles would be “returned” in an “open-ended loan” without the museum giving up ownership.

That would mean that Greece does.

A top glass-walled floor was set aside at the Acropolis Museum that opened in 2009 for their exhibition if they were ever returned, but that’s under the presumption that Greece is the owner, not the British, who have no real culture to display.

If any deal specifies, implies, indicates, hints, suggest or otherwise that it’s a loan, then Greece ceded away the rights to the Greek-made treasures forever and you can almost see the silly smirk on the British faces now at how Greece was hoodwinked.

At this point it’s hard to believe anything because the stories aren’t set in stone – or marble – but it seems the agreement could see the marbles returned piece-by-piece over years or decades, although Mitsotakis’ government is backtracking that.
Greece would also have to put up collateral in the form of ‘lending’ the British Museum other valuable artifacts, which is rather like someone stealing your car, selling it to someone else, and offering to loan it back to you – piece-by-piece – over a series of years, if you loan them another car.

It would be an act of cultural treason surpassing the Looney Left SYRIZA – which dropped a legal challenge for the Marbles’ return and said they belonged to the world, not Greece – giving away the name Macedonia.

It would betray Melina Mercouri, the late actress and former Culture Minister who championed their return and rebranded them the Parthenon Marbles and who said “I was born Greek and I will die Greek.”

She died without seeing the Marbles back but never would have accepted them as a loan, and anyone who does will die with that stigma and be another Elgin, 200 years from now remembered for that.

“You must understand what the Parthenon Marbles mean to us. They are our pride. They are our sacrifices. They are our noblest symbol of excellence. They are a tribute to the democratic philosophy. They are our aspirations and our name. They are the essence of Greekness,” she said. Anyone want to challenge that?


This article is part of a continuing series dealing with reports of Greek POWs in Asia Minor in the Thessaloniki newspaper, Makedonia in July 1936.

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