Wednesday, 22 June 2011

If Greece wants the Elgin Marbles, let's see if they'll trade for them.

 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.

From Wikipedia.

 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. 


  1. So I break into your Hame steal your prized possessions and than at a later date asks you to trade me something for them.............

    Strange notion of Rule of Law even for an alleged Conservative

  2. Thought this might excite your interest, Niko. Although it might not sit comfortably with the nationalist mindset, we didn't steal anything: Lord Elgin had permission to take them from the sovereign masters of the period. I'm not set against returning them, I just think we should use the opportunity to help Macedonia.

    Out of interest, what is your position on the Macedonian naming dispute?

  3. I thought I would chip in since I have holidayed in Macedonia twice - in Skopje and Ohrid. Yes Greece's attitude towards Macedonian independence is disgraceful - although the Macedonians have been thumbing their nose at the Greeks by naming Skopje airport "Alexander the Great" International and calling the national stadium "Phillip the Great" National Stadium. Apparently this week they unveiled a unamed statue of someone who looks like Alexander the Great in the centre of Skopje----

    The Titoist-style parliament building is decorated with Greek-style classical statues at its entrance.

    Yet apart from being historic relevance to the country, Macedonia also needs "neutral" unifying figures due to the friction between the mainly Orthodox Slav majority and the mainly Muslim Albanian minority in the country. The only real unifying figure of modern times is Mother Theresa - a Christian Albanian who hailed from Skopje. Her statue dominates one of the square along with a memorial building to her. Her birthplace was toppled in the 1960s earthquake but the site - now at the entrance of shopping mall on Republic Square - is marked with a large plaque.

    Macedonia despite what could have been a tinderbox of problems has managed to avoid the internal ethnic conflicts after its short civil war when the Slavs agreed to equal parity with of the Albanian language etc after a conflict prompted by the Macedonian government closing down a private Albanian language university because "Macedonian is the only official language".

    There are of course still tensions. In 2009 when I was last there a history book was produced by a Slav which seemed to rub out the story of Albanian settlement in the area before the Slavs came. In Kosovo when a Macedonian team came to play some Kosovan supporters burned the Macedonian flag in the terraces, sticking up a giant sign in English which read: "Monkey Mania - F"£$ Macedonia" with a giant poster of the offending book being pelted with rubbish.

    On the Marbles issue I am ambivalent. In Scotland we have the arguement about the Lewis Chessmen. In England there are demands that the Lindisfarne Chronciles should be returned to North East England.

  4. Dilly

    'what is your position on the Macedonian naming dispute?'

    Must admit to having a Rather heated discussion in the works canteen today on that very subject with some immigrants..we agreed to disagree in the end.

    I suggested sharing on alternate days