May 29, 2003

Canadian Prime Minister slips up on Elgin Marbles issue

Posted at 1:21 pm in Elgin Marbles

The recent statements by the Canadian Prime Minster, Jean Chrétien, indicate that he has no idea what is going on in his own government – and more worryingly, that he does not check what is happening, before making statements about issues.

Globe & Mail

Thursday, May. 29, 2003
Elgin Marbles trip up PM in Greece
From Thursday’s Globe and Mail

Athens and Ottawa — Prime Minister Jean Chrétien tripped over the Elgin Marbles issue yesterday, not knowing that both the House of Commons and the Senate have adopted motions calling on Britain to return the ancient works of art to Greece.

No help to the Prime Minister, in Athens at the start of an 11-day European visit, was Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham, who also had no clue that on Tuesday the Senate adopted a motion encour­aging the United Kingdom to return the sculptures to Greece before the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Greek-born Liberal MP John Cannis had proposed a similar motion that was adopted by the House on April 1.

At a news conference after Mr. Chrétien met European Union leaders yesterday, a Greek reporter noted the Commons motion and asked Mr. Chrétien whether the Canadian government would lobby Britain to return the trea­sures in time for the Games.

At a loss, Mr. Chrétien said he was unaware of the resolution.

He turned to Mr. Graham, who said helpfully that the resolution had not passed the Commons.

Mr. Graham added that, regard­less of the will of the Commons, the Canadian government would not lobby Britain directly but would urge the United Nations Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organization to investigate.

Later, at a briefing for reporters, red-faced Canadian officials ac­knowledged that the motion had indeed passed the House.

Still, they indicated that the ex­ecutive branch of the government had no intention of getting in­volved in a bilateral dispute be­tween Greece and Britain but would leave it to UNESCO.

Greece has been fighting for the return of the panels since 1829. Also known as the Parthenon Mar­bles, the sculptures were removed from the Parthenon by British ambassador to Constantinople, Lord Elgin, between 1801 and 1810, while Greece was still a part of the Ottoman Empire. They are now housed in the British Museum in London.

The controversy over their location has increased as pressure mounts for their repatriation before the Olympics next year.

Interestingly, Liberal MP Eleni Bakopanos, who is also the acting Speaker, is with the Prime Minister in Athens. She was presiding over the Commons debate when the Elgin Marbles motion was adopted last month.

Liberal Senator Pana Merchant, the first Greek-born woman to be appointed to the Senate, said she sent an e-mail to Ms. Bakopanos yesterday informing her of the adoption of the Senate motion.

Ms. Merchant said it’s an emo­tional issue for Greeks.

“For the people of Greece and people of Greek heritage world­wide . . . part of our pride of self is the difference that we made through a contribution 2½ millen­nia ago, back to the time of Solon and the beginnings of democracy,” she said in the Senate earlier this week. “While I am not a govern­ment interventionist, we should urge the government of Great Brit­ain to press and urge the British Museum to return the Parthenon Marbles to the country in which they will be fully cherished. . . .”

Yesterday, Ms. Merchant said she is not really bothered by the Prime Minister’s and Foreign Min­ister’s lack of awareness on this issue. However, she wishes “they were aware of it.”

Mr. Chrétien’s European visit will end with the opening of a me­morial in Normandy commemmorating the Canadian landing on D-Day.

It seems Mr. Chretien and Mr. Graham were about as well informed as Canadian Alliance MP Jim Abbott was when he debated the Elgin Marbles issue in the Commons last month. At that time, Mr. Abbott admitted that he “assumed we were talking about a small box of marbles that we would play marbles with.”

However, Mr. Abbott quickly got himself up to speed, and supported Mr. Cannis’s motion.

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