CULTURE

Battle for Mercouri’s dream still going strong

The loneliness of the Marbles continues, despite regular articles in the British press, a few of them favoring their return but most against it. Greek Foreign Minister and prospective PASOK President George Papandreou was to have discussed the return of the Parthenon Marbles during his visit to London, but all his counterpart Jack Straw would state publicly was, «There is a legal issue that must be studied.» British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who received Papandreou at 10 Downing Street, deftly skirted the obstacle and referred the issue to a meeting between Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos and his British counterpart Tessa Jowell. More of the same, in other words. The British Museum’s director, Neil MacGregor, stated yet again, «The Marbles will stay in the British Museum, which is the most appropriate setting for millions of visitors from around the world to admire them.» Visitors to the Olympic Games in Athens will have to be content with seeing the sculptures that have remained in Greece in a hall on the ground floor of the new Acropolis Museum, «of which only the shell and the facade will be ready in August 2004,» as Venizelos and Professor Dimitris Pandermalis, president of the construction of the new Acropolis Museum, admitted on Thursday evening on «Files,» Alexis Papahelas’s program on Mega Channel. Jules Dassin, famous film director and president of the Melina Mercouri Foundation, who has been left with the burden of his beloved companion’s dream, gave striking testimony on camera. «It makes me weep,» he said, «that the new museum will not be ready in time. It’s a beautiful museum, the sculptures are visually linked to the Parthenon opposite.» Construction of the museum, designed by Bernard Tschumi, has been delayed following appeals to the Council of State by local residents, who describe it as «massive and barbaric.» «What would Melina say now that we are just six months away from the 2004 Olympic Games and the new museum isn’t ready?» Papahelas asked Dassin, who replied: «Melina would shout: ‘Why isn’t the museum ready? Why are you so slow? Get a move on!’ That’s how Melina was.» Then he spoke about her first interview on a foreign television channel when she became culture minister in 1981. «I was there and I heard her say, ‘My prime concern is the return of the Parthenon Marbles.’ And just before she passed away in March 1994, she said: ‘If I don’t manage to see the Marbles returned to Athens, when they do come, I’ll be reborn.’» Ten years later, in 2004, discussions on the subject are still tense, though a recent poll in Britain showed 80 percent of respondents agreeing that «it was time for us to return» the Parthenon Marbles. Be patient, Melina.