Now that noted writer Christopher Hitchens and former actress and Culture Minister Melina Mercouri are gone, Greece has lost its most prominent voices in the fruitless hope for the return of the stolen Parthenon Marbles from the thieves at the British Museum.
You can’t count on anyone in the Greek government as an array of culture ministers and prime ministers following Mercouri have given lip service to the notion that the English, who specialize in stealing other people’s cultures because they really don’t have much to offer beyond umbrellas and stiff upper lips, would ever consent to returning some of the world’s greatest treasures.
It was Mercouri who said the marbles – which had been called the Elgin Marbles for two centuries as they were spirited away by another British looter and diplomat, Lord Elgin, via permission of the Ottoman Empire still ruling Greece then – should be called the Parthenon Marbles, and she was right.
Hitchens, an Englishman, felt so passionate that the marbles belonged in Greece that he co-wrote a book about it with Glasgow University and Greek historian Professor Robert Browning, and one on his own.
In 2009, when Greece opened the new Acropolis Museum – partly as a device to try to get back the marbles because the British, in their peculiarly arrogant and insufferable way, had said there was no proper place in Greece to showcase what was Greek – Hitchens wrote a compelling piece in Vanity Fair that destroyed his countrymen’s sense of entitlement.
It began in a smashing way: “The great classicist A. W. Lawrence (illegitimate younger brother of the even more famously illegitimate T.E. “of Arabia”) once remarked of the Parthenon that it is ‘The one building in the world which may be assessed as absolutely right.’”
There’s been some new noise recently about getting back the marbles but none of it will prevail because the British won’t let go a grip on the goods that is tighter than a steel worker who’s frozen on a beam 100 stories up during construction.
For all their pretense on doing what’s right, the British prefer doing wrong if it helps them, which is why the government quashed an investigation into corruption in its defense industry giving bribes to Saudi princes. Hey, business is business, but that’s usually the Mafia’s credo.
So who’s carrying the cudgel now for Greece? No one in government because politicians are all the same species no matter their nationality and what counts for them is money, power and business.
Greece is more interested in staying on England’s good side than the marbles or otherwise at least one Prime Minister would have made a bigger stink than to wanly beg for the marbles return.
Maybe if some Greeks stole Stonehenge, a collection of rocks that shouldn’t be in the same sentence with the Parthenon Marbles, and brought it to Athens there would be a bargaining chip.
This is a glamor event so now the Greeks are bringing in some glamor in the likes of Amal Alamuddin Clooney, a British lawyer and wife of actor/activist George Clooney, who earlier this year said during a film promotion about stolen treasures in World War II that the marbles should be in Greece.
“It is the right thing to do,” Clooney said, which is the wrong thing to say to the British who don’t understand that sentence.
An array of Philhellenes, including the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, have made a bigger case for the return than has the Greek government.
The United Nation’s cultural arm, UNESCO, said it wil mediate the case but its opinion is non-binding, and the British Museum and government have said they will never return the marbles. So all these committees, Op-Ed pieces and debates are so much spitting into the wind because this is never going to happen, unless you’re around on the 12th of Never.
“Greece’s aim was just that: the publication of an announcement in which third countries would encourage Great Britain to accept the arbitration process,” Culture Minister Costas Tasoulas told Kathimerini following the UNESCO announcement to show you how lame the government is. That’s the best they’ve got?
There is even support in the British press to have the marbles go back to their rightful home, as while governments prosecute people who pick up pieces of antiquity on the ground you can steal an entire monument in the name of a sovereign country and it’s yours. The British have done everything except say, “Yanna nanna nanna .. finders keepers, losers weepers!”
Amal Alamuddin Clooney, born in Lebanon, and her colleague Geoffrey Robertson from the London-based law firm Doughty Street Chambers met with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who’s done essentially nothing in the marbles fight so far, to try to sculpt a case.
Amal seems like a pretty capable attorney and she’s as beautiful as a Caryatid, but even her skill and acquired fame won’t help because no matter which court would ever rule in Greece’s favor would it do any good because the British Museum and government will ignore it and keep what is Greek.
It’s because the British don’t have anything to rival the marbles, so maybe they can be forgiven a bit even if they don’t understand the one building in the world that’s absolutely right won’t be again without them.