CULTURE

Call for ‘permanent loan’ of Parthenon Marbles

Greece’s campaign to bring back to Greece the Parthenon sculptures removed from the Acropolis by Lord Elgin around 200 years ago and now exhibited in the British Museum, was on the agenda of Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s visit to London this week. «I would like to report that I gave Mr Blair a note from the Culture Ministry regarding the Parthenon Marbles. I had discussed this issue in Athens with the culture minister. The idea is for a permanent loan – shall we say – a permanent exhibition of the Parthenon Marbles at the Acropolis Museum. In return, Greece will present exhibitions at the British Museum. That permanent exhibition of the Parthenon Marbles in Athens could be held in cooperation with the British Museum. Therefore this is what we have to discuss. I hope that the British will respond accordingly,» Simitis told a press conference in London this past Monday at 3.15 p.m., after his visit to 10 Downing Street, the home of British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The reference to what are known abroad as the «Elgin Marbles» as the «Parthenon Marbles» was quite correct. Our readers are aware of this column’s long struggle to inform the public on the question of the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Athens, to the new Acropolis Museum being built for the purpose and which, as the prime minister assured us, «will be ready at the end of 2003, or early 2004.» It is the first time that the prime minister himself has raised the issue, and – as the people would be unanimous in saying – «It’s about time!» When asked what the foundation was for this latest approach and whether the British government’s stance had changed at all, Simitis replied, «It began with the evaluation that the time was approaching and therefore we had to try.» As for why this particular time had been chosen, and whether he was trying to achieve something in particular, he said: «In fact, I am trying to achieve something. I believe, however, that with all these issues, if you enter into discussions, if you exert pressure, if you present arguments, you can approach your goal. Now that the exhibition space will be ready by 2004, it is an opportunity to remind the British that the time has come for some decisions to be made.» Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos is off to London on November 11, accompanied by the museum’s architect, Bernard Tschumi, to present the design for the museum to distinguished British personalities who have taken a stand on the issue and to the British public and media. However, the word «return» appears to have been removed from the dictionary. Instead, phrases such as «permanent loan» and «permanent exhibition» in cooperation with the British Museum means that what’s ours is theirs, and even if they agree to give them back to us, they will still be theirs and, of course, we will be ever so grateful for the British Museum’s cooperation. Whoever can still hear Melina Mercouri calling for their return because «the Marbles are our culture, our treasure, our heritage,» well, they can turn a deaf ear to that siren call. Now is the time for diplomatic language, it seems. Perhaps the British committee for the «return» of the Marbles should change their name too, to something more diplomatic. Let us hope that reason will prevail, but not at the expense of truth, and that truth is that the Parthenon Marbles’ place is near the monument from which Lord Elgin removed them.