Losing their marbles …

I’m beginning to think they do it deliberately just to annoy me. I’m talking, of course, about the Greeks. Can’t I simply live a quiet blogger’s life without being tempted into controversial, flagrant or provocative polemic by those denizens of the Aegean? Once again, as the rest of Europe teeters on the brink of sending them another 12 billion they have so far done nothing to deserve, you can be sure they’re about to burn the presidential palace or the parliament or smash up the Parthenon or something.

It was back in 1801 when Lord Elgin first confiscated their marbles, and so far, despite the intervention of two revolutions, several wars, a good number of Olympic games and the passage of 210 years, they have failed signally to demonstrate the kind of good behaviour – like turning in their homework on time, not cheating, learning their Euclid, getting the maths right, playing fair, getting to bed before the curfew, lights out means lights out (and no talking), being genuinely democratic and constitutional etc. – such as might urge that studious Lord to give them back.

In May 2000 I made some general notes on this subject. I think they are still valid, so I shall cite them here in extenso:

Although there are cogent arguments for the restoration of artefacts to their original “owners”, the key criteria for their repatriation should be as follows:

1) Major cultural or religious significance to the country or people initiating the request;

2) Definite documentary evidence that the artefacts were acquired in an illicit manner, against the will of the initiating country or people, through theft, plunder, confiscation, coercion or force of occupation;

3) That the artefact does not have a similarly founded significance for its current holders or other counter-claimants;

4) That it has not been irrevocably altered after its removal in such a way as could be understood to have added significant cultural or aesthetic value (such as the cutting or setting of a gem);

5) That it has not been incorporated into another important work, such as a frieze, screen, icon or altar at the time of that work’s original creation;

6) That the country or people initiating the request can guarantee the future care and preservation of the artefact for an indefinite period, at least up to the current standard;

7) That the country initiating the request, or the country where the applicant people reside, is currently enjoying a period of internal stability, political democracy, religious and intellectual freedom, which has already lasted at least 50 years (or possibly a shorter period if guaranteed by international conventions);

8) That the first documented request for restoration occurred within 50 years of either the artefact’s initial removal or a significant change of regime (expulsion of an occupying power, fall of a dictatorship or other government without a popular mandate);

9) That the artefact is connected to tangible cultural values. This would exclude traditions, legends or songs, and their associated musical instruments;

10) That access to the artefact, whether it is returned from either the public or private domain to either the public or private domain, should not be diminished;

Observance of these criteria would put a stop to spurious, frivolous or purely politically motivated claims, as well as providing a serious framework for the negotiation, evaluation and processing of genuine requests.

If these criteria were applied, the Elgin Marbles could indeed be returned to Greece, but only in 2021 (see n° 5). Unfortunately, the Koh-i-noor diamond would not be returned, as 3,4 & 5 are not fulfilled.”

I might add, as an aside, that no artefact in any way representational should ever be returned to a country that has even the least history of Islamic fundamentalism, such as Britain, France, Belgium or the Netherlands: the gigantic empty alcoves left by the Bamiyan Buddhas of Afghanistan shall forever remain as a bitter warning of just how far people can be trusted with their own heritage. So far no Greeks have attempted to dynamite Delphi, but in their present mood, anything is possible. Keep the marbles, until they recover their own.

Edwin Drood

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