Examination of Witnesses (Questions 547
MONDAY 5 JUNE 2000
Chairman: Minister, welcome to you, to
Dr Mendoni and to Mr Dassin here this morning at this sitting
of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. We had the very
great pleasure of meeting you when our Select Committee visited
Athens. We are highly obliged to you for offering to come and
give evidence. I am sure your understanding of British constitutional
matters is, at least, as great as ours. We do not have the right
to summon Ministers of the British Government to meetings of Select
Committees, however, for a distinguished Minister in the Government
of a friendly country to come to us voluntary we regard as an
exceptional courtesy. We are deeply graced by the presence of
Mr Dassin, certainly one of the great film directorsI will
not say the greatest film director. This is a very special day
for us and that, no doubt, is why we have standing room only.
Also present here, however, not as members of the Committee, are
Mr Andrew Dismore and the High Commissioner of Cyprus. As I say,
this is a very special day. Our practice, Minister, is for colleagues
to put questions to you. Anything you have to say in addition
to the memorandum you provided us with I am sure with your politician's
ingenuity you will be able to weave into your answers. Mr Fearn.
547. Good morning, may I say how much we enjoyed
the visit to your country, we did get a lot of information out
of that. We are very grateful to you for being here today. Could
I ask straight out, is the claim by the Greek Government to the
Elgin Marbles based on the contention that they were wrongfully
taken by Lord Elgin in the first place?
(Mr Papandreou) Let me in answering your question
also thank you, Mr Chairman, for this invitation. Mr Kaufman,
this is not only a welcome invitation but it is also a privilege
to be here at your Select Committee on the issue of culture and
the return of illicit artefacts. It is an honour to be here in
this fashion of democracy. With me is Dr Lina Mendoni, who is
the General Secretary of the Ministry of Culture, and she also
speaks for the Government in that capacity. It is, indeed, also
my honour to have on my side in this hearing Mr Jules Dassin,
who is not only a person of great stature in the arts but has
become very much a Greek over his lifetime. We welcome this decision,
particularly the decision to open-up this discussion. The issue
is a very sensitive one and a very important one. We are talking
about the Parthenon. We are talking about the greatest national
symbol of Greece through our time. We are talking about a monument
whose significance is not exclusively Greek, because it symbolises
the Greek contribution to the cultural heritage of humankind.
This symbol requires preservation. It is of great importance,
therefore, to all humanity. While this case is of universal importance
it is also a unique case. Greece is not calling for the return
of the Marbles and at the same time calling for the return of
all our cultural objects, we make this absolutely clear. What
we are saying is something that we believe is very self-evident.
This masterpiece must be reunified, its integrity restored and
done so within its original historical and cultural environment
in Athens. We recognise that there is great sensitivity on behalf
of the British public also, which we see as a sign of friendship
between our two countries. To come exactly to your question, I
am not here to rake over the events of the past 200 years. Britain
was then a vast empire, we were then subjected. Today we are both
members of the same Union, the same family of values, if you like.
What happened in the British Museum in the 1930s is also of enormous
interest to scholars but that is not central to the case I am
making today. I would like to quote our Minister for Culture who
recently said while he was in London, "Who owns the Sculptures
is unimportant, indeed, irrelevant". I would agree what matters
is the integrity of the unique monument known the world-over as
the Parthenon. The Marbles were not just decorations, they were
an integral part of the monument, a symbol of nationhood. What
I am here for is to propose a new partnership between Greece and
Britain, to the one we already have and one we want to deepen
and further, based on the return of the Marbles. An example would
be to examine the rotating exhibitions of ancient Greek art in
London and the British Museum. Let me simply say, indeed, it is
a unique opportunity to forge a much deeper, unique, cultural
relationship between Greece and Britain at a period when the Olympic
Games are also making their homecoming in 2004 in Athens, a time
when all of the world will be watching. If today the Greeks have
a place in their heart for Britain I would say that is for many
reasons, either we have fought together for the values of democracy
or freedom, that so many Greeks study in London or Britain or
so many live here, or so many tourists come and visit our country
from your country then certainly the return of the Marbles will
create a permanent spot of warmth and gratitude of the Greek people
throughout the world.
548. Following on from that, I take what you
say about partnership, however, so far there has never been any
kind of court case or advice on a court case which you could bring
here? Am I right in thinking that would never happen, you would
not have a court case re the Elgin Marbles or any other artefacts?
(Mr Papandreou) You are right in thinking this is
not our purpose. Our purpose is to see the reunification of this
very great monument in Athens, that is the basic proposal we are
549. You would think on moral grounds alone
and the partnership that you propose that those Marbles should
be returned to the Parthenon or to the museum. When we went there
we did not see a tip-top museum which could house the Marbles,
however we believe that is under way.
(Mr Papandreou) Obviously there are all kinds of legal
arguments. What I am saying is that for us now we are making a
proposal for the future of our relationship and for the future
of this particular monument. We are not here to wrangle over legal
decisions. There are cases to be made on legal issues. As I said,
this is not the central element of my proposal here today. As
regards the museum, you are very right, the museum is not there
now but in our recent discussions and decisions at governmental
level, at cabinet level, indeed, at the level of a committee which
was recently created by the Prime Minister himself we have decided
upon and looked into all our resources and the museum will be
ready by 2004, the Olympic Games. I can tell you that the museum
will be on the Makriyianni site, which I think you visited while
in Athens. Before the end of this month there will be an international
architectural call for proposals, according to the European Commission
Directive No. 9250, as I have been told. This Directive specifies
very stringent time limits for the completion of the project.
The building of this museum will commence, according to this timetable,
in January 2002. We feel there is ample time for the completion
of this museum by 2004.
550. Do you think that the British Government
should, shall we say, overrule the British Museum, who are presently
the owners of the Marbles? Should it be our Government who makes
the decision to return the Marbles?
(Mr Papandreou) I do not want to get into the internal
issues of your relationships here in Britain, obviously they are
very much linked to some of the legal issues, if we go back and
see how they were acquired and who owns them, and so on. I again
say that I thinkthis is what our Minister of Culture has
impliedthat the actual legal issue of ownership may be
an issue which we can avoid actually dealing with in the reintegration
of the Marbles into the site of the ancient Parthenon. We may
not necessarily have to get into that issue if we see that this
is a plausible solution that we do see the return and the integration
of these Marbles into the site. I think this would be something
which I hope you could work out with your respective bodies, governmental
or the British Museum.
551. Finally, we are not the only ones, we have
a major part, if you pardon the phrase, when I say "we have",
the British Museum has. There are other countries with other parts,
are you negotiating with them under this partnership which you
would hope would come about?
(Mr Papandreou) Yes, there are other parts, however
it is only two per cent of all other parts that are outside Greece,
that is 98 per cent of the Marbles that are outside Greece are
now in the British Museum. Therefore if we are really talking
about the reintegration of this monument it is with Britain we
must deal, it is with you we must discuss. We believe, also, that
this is an opportunity for Britain to take the lead on this.
Mr Fearn: Thank you very much.
Chairman: Thank you, Minister, before
I call the next member of the Committee could I make it clear
that either or both of your colleagues are welcome to respond
to questions if they feel inclined to do so. They are decorative
but they are not here solely for that reason. Mr Wyatt.
552. Good morning, let me echo what Mr Fearn
said about our great visit to your country, some months ago now.
Can you tell me what the estimate of stolen Greek artefacts is
in British museums per se?
(Mr Papandreou) The total of all
553. Your estimate of what we hold that you
feel is stolen or acquired illegally or immorally?
(Mr Papandreou) Dr Mendoni may be able to answer that.
Let me just make it clear here, what you are asking is what we
are expecting back, what we are expecting back is only
554. I understand that. You are going to set
a principle and the principle has to be judged. How much do we
have in British museums that is stolen from the Greeks?
(Mr Papandreou) Let me just answer that and then let
Dr Mendoni talk about the possible numbers, if she knows. We are
not setting a precedent. What we are saying is, this is unique,
and it is unique. We are saying, let us reintegrate this masterpiece,
which is a world wonder, it has parts which are missing and are
separated. What we are talking about is a concept of reintegration
of one of the world's masterpieces into an integral part, not
for the return of other artefacts. We are not asking for that.
555. Nonetheless, as you look at these issues
in Europe they get bigger and bigger, not smaller and smaller.
We are looking at the whole issue, not just this particular issue,
as you know. What is your estimate of what we have in British
museums that belongs to the Greeks?
(Mr Dassin) I do not know. May I ask, is your question
associated with the concept that we want to empty museums?
556. I just want to know, I do not know.
(Mr Dassin) I do not know, I do not have the facts
or figures. As you know, a former Cultural Minister, Melina Mercouri
was asked similar questions about other museums and she said,
"Look, we are very proud that some of our major works are
seen in museums everywhere". She called them, "very
box office", and she was very pleased about that but always
making the point that this question of the Marbles of the Parthenon
are very unique. There is no thought, and this was restated by
the current President, Mr Stephanopoulos, that we are not asking
for anything else.
Chairman: Can I intervene a moment on
a technical matter. I sense that some of the people in the public
section are not hearing your replies as well as they would like
to. The microphones in front of you are not amplification, because
we are being broadcast. If you could speak a little louder it
would be helpful to the large number of people who have come to
listen to you.
557. You talk about reintegration, actually
the Marbles would not go back to the Parthenon, they would go
back to the museum. Tell me how you think that is reintegration?
(Mr Dassin) About half being here and half being there,
about that. We are building a museum with what we call Parthenon
space. We will never fully be able to reintegrate it all but the
greatest part of it. Is that your question?
558. When we were there we were told you spent
one million dollars actually restoring the Parthenon a year. It
seemed to me that that might take another fifty years before it
is properly restored. I have been going to Greece for sixteen
to twenty years and there has always been scaffoldingnot
alwaysin the times I have been there, that is not to say
there has been continuous scaffolding. If it is to be returned
ought it to be returned when the Parthenon is finished?
(Mr Papandreou) First of all, obviously it was a sad
fact that these were, in the first place, removed. I understand
the experts' point of view that there has been structural damage
during the removal to the particular supporting bases of the frieze.
Therefore, the repositioning of this seems to be technically impossible
to put it on the Parthenon, that is one reason for not being able
to reposition it exactly on the Parthenon where it was. A second
issue which I think is important is that by putting them in this
museum at the same time what we were able to do simultaneously
is to have them in the cultural environment, the historical environment,
in fact the tourist, the visitor or the researcher will be to
juxtapose both the Marbles in the museum with the Parthenon, as
they will be situated there. There will be a true sense of the
aesthetics and the historical and cultural context which they
were in but at the same time they will also be able to see them
close up, right there in front of them. I think what we are doing
is something very unique, being able to, if you like, reintegrate
them but also allow for a very close inspection by researchers
559. You proposed something, I read something
in the weekend's papers, and you re-proposed it this morning,
about this new co-ownership. Where are you proposing that in terms
of the United Kingdom, to the Government or the Secretary of State
for Culture, where is that proposal going to go?
(Mr Papandreou) I think the Greek Government and I
would personally be very glad, certainly the Ministry of Culture
would be very glad to discuss it with whoever would be interested
to discuss it, whether it is this Select Committee, the Minister
of Culture, the British Government or the British Museum. I think
it is up to you to guide us to whom we should in the end be discussing
this with. There are many ideas that could be on the table and
once we get into this discussion I think that even more ideas
may come up. I just want to mention that this partnership would
be an opportunity for not only deepening relationships between
Greece and Britain and, if you like, the very emotional bond which
would be created, but it would also have a very practical input,
such as the rotating exhibition. This is one of the ideas that
have come up in the British Museum, which would give a unique
position to the British Museum and a very privileged position
to Britain. No other country in the world would have this position.
Secondly, there would be a whole range of possible programmes
of exchanges, students, researchers, and so on. We can build on
this partnership if we get into that.