Just a short one today, about a minor story that vexes me rather.
The Guardian reports today that David Cameron has rejected a call from Liberal Democrat (of course) MP to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece. Certainly, this might do something to ease the tempers of the Greek citizenry, although it is hard to see why that is Britain's concern. However, it would only do so by playing to one of the ugliest aspects of modern Greek nationlism: their absurd pretensions to be the sole people with any sort of right to the legacy of Hellenic culture.
The main victim of this absurd position is the embattled Republic of Macedonia. Since the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early Nineties, Greece has strenuously opposed any notion of Macedonia being called Macedonia or using a traditional symbol of Macedonia on its flag, using the quite absurd justification that this implies territorial irredentism by Macedonia against the Greek province of the same name. Regardless of the fact that a portion of the old Kingdom of Macedon did lie within modern Macedonian borders, or that the idea that the modern Greek state being a direct and sole successor to a fractious group of city states two and a half millennia ago is absurd, this position worked to further destabilise Macedonia in the early Nineties and today acts as a roadblock to Macedonia's ambitions to join the EU.
Above is a map of the major Hellenic states following the breakup of the Alexandrian Empire in 323 BC. Look how big it is. Even if we discount the myriad Greek colonies in the Western Mediterranean and the Indo-Greek civilisation beyond the Indus, that map suggests that countries that can claim some connexion to Hellenic culture include: Italy, Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Armenia, Kuwait, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and yet more besides.
In my opinion, if we do return the Elgin Marbles to Greece we should at least take the opportunity to support the Republic of Macedonia (as the UK thankfully recognises the country) in their bid for normalised relations and EU membership. We might remind them that the original nationalist creators of modern Greece only settled on the 'Hellenic' aspects when the rival camp of 'Byzantinists' were undermined by Ottoman retention of Constantinople. We should make the return of the marbles conditional on Greece' recognition that the Hellenic legacy is one shared by many tens of millions of people in nearly twenty countries throughout the former Hellenic world.