CULTURE

A prime example of when not to bring up the subject of the Parthenon Marbles

The scene is Brussels, at the summit meeting. Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis approaches and shakes hands with leaders and foreign ministers. He sees British Premier Tony Blair approaching, holding his tea in is left hand. «Hi Costas,» says Blair and stops. Simitis has something to say to him, there and then, as a colleague. «I’d like your opinion on the return of the Parthenon Marbles. There’s been a lot of publicity on the subject but your personal view would be a great help. We’ve got elections next year, you know.» Astonished, and with an embarrassed smile, Blair listens. Seeing them, a congressional staff member approaches. «Think about it and let me know,» says Simitis, and Blair moves off. In Athens, a storm breaks out because the scene and the conversation have been recorded by an EBU television crew and are being shown repeatedly. «The return of the Marbles in the pre-election balance,» warns a New Democracy spokesman in Athens. At a press conference in Brussels, Simitis tries to set matters to rights: «Let’s get the Marbles back for the Olympic Games, because after May there won’t be time.» But Blair’s teacup had the answer: To give or not to give his counterpart what he needed. Not even the most fanatical supporter of the return of the Marbles could imagine that a matter of national importance and a global issue – since the Marbles are part of world heritage – could be settled in a confidential chat.