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Greece considers Parthenon Marbles strategy

More coverage of the recent visit to Athens by a team of three lawyers [1] from the UK to discuss options for the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles.

Amal Clooney nee Alamudin is shown around the New Acropolis Museum by Professor Pandermalis [2]

Amal Clooney nee Alamudin is shown around the New Acropolis Museum by Professor Pandermalis

Greek Reporter [3]

Alamuddin-Clooney Concludes Greece Visit on Positive Note
by Philip Chrysopoulos – Oct 16, 2014

This afternoon, Amal Alamuddin-Clooney leaves Greece following a three-day visit to Athens in which she counseled the Greek government on the proper legal route for reclaiming the Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum.

The 36-year-old lawyer – along with cultural heritage lawyers Norman Palmer and Geoffrey Robertson, as well as David Hill, chairman of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles – met with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Minister of Culture Kostas Tasoulas to discuss the repatriation of the Marbles, an issue of long-standing discord between the Greek and British governments. According to witnesses, discussions between the legal team and the Greek government ended on an optimistic note.

The team claims that Greece has strong legal grounds for demanding the return of the Marbles. However, Minister of Culture Kostas Tasoulas has indicated that litigation is currently off the table. “We decided not to go to the courts. We decided to ask UNESCO to mediate so that the Parthenon Marbles will be reunited, having on our side distinguished Greek and foreign counsels.”

“We decided to invite the United Kingdom to the mediated talks,” the minister added. “The waiting period for the UK to respond is six months, during which an intergovernmental UNESCO committee will be formed. During this period, this group of distinguished counsels along with the ministry’s legal department will provide all neccessary legal advice.”

Touring the Acropolis Museum, Alamaddin-Clooney was able to witness firsthand the Parthenon Marbles in their incomplete state. The Parthenon is the cradle of modern civilization, she noted, adding that Great Britain should recognise the fact that the Marbles must be reunited and that Greece has the right to claim them back.

Mr. Palmer said that, despite the British Museum’s refusal to return the sculptures, “we live in an ever-changing world and laws evolve. As international laws change, so do museums.”

Mr. Robertson clarified that Greece will not pursue a legal course of action. “There are alternative ways to resolve the issue, such as mediation, international treaties, international courts… Great Britain is great because it respects international law.”

Camps within the British press were highly critical of Alamuddin’s visit. In a report entitled “Amal Alamuddin is the Latest Exhibit in the Museum of Disempowered Women,” Time narrowed in on the “frenzy of flashbulbs and fashion commentary.”

A Daily Mail commentary recommended that Mrs. Clooney stick to posing for photographers. The article goes on to suggest that the Parthenon friezes were “rescued by Lord Elgin” and that “their return has been exploited by Greek politicians who see votes in making the issue a pressing matter of national pride.”

Wall Street Journal [4]

Greece Seeks Unesco’s Aid to Regain Elgin Marbles From U.K.
By Nektaria Stamouli
Updated Oct. 16, 2014 4:27 a.m. ET

ATHENS—After decades of efforts to bring home the famous Greek sculptures Greece says were looted from the Parthenon two centuries ago, the government is now turning to the United Nations’ cultural agency to mediate a deal for their return.

Speaking at a news conference, Greek Culture Minister Costas Tasoulas said Wednesday that Athens is waiting for Britain—where the sculptures are now housed—to respond to the agency’s offer. He played down, but didn’t rule out, taking future legal action to force the return of the sculptures—widely known as the Elgin Marbles—to Greece.

“Unesco’s proposal for mediation has progressed and for the first time has been forwarded to the U.K.,” said Mr. Tasoulas. “Obviously, there are also legal options. But Greece will weigh all the factors and awaits a response from Britain.”

His remarks came at the end of a three-day visit by lawyers from the London-based law firm of Doughty Street Chambers, which has acted as a consultant to the Greek government since 2011. The lawyers from the firm said they would formulate a plan for legal action in coming months.

Since the early 1980s, Greece and Britain have been at loggerheads over the sculptures that decorated the Parthenon’s frieze on the Acropolis for more than 2,000 years, but were removed at the beginning of the 19th Century by the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Thomas Bruce, the Seventh Earl of Elgin. The sculptures have been display at the British Museum in London since 1816.

Even though there is little sign of a resolution to the dispute, this week’s visit to Athens nonetheless received blanket media coverage in Greek and foreign media thanks to the presence of Amal Almuddin Clooney —the glamorous Lebanese-born attorney who last month married Hollywood film star George Clooney in Venice.

Mrs. Clooney, who works at Doughty Street Chambers, was accompanied by her boss, Geoffrey Robertson, her colleague Norman Palmer, and Australian business executive David Hill, who heads the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures. But beginning with their arrival in Athens Monday evening, Mrs. Clooney was the center of attention as she and her associates were mobbed by photographers and cameramen that scrutinized every detail of their visit.

“Frenzy over the attorney of the sculptures,” declared the Greek tabloid Espresso on its front page Wednesday under an accompanying photo of Mrs. Clooney, while the left-leaning Efimerida Ton Syndakton asked on its website: “She got Clooney, will she bring us the marbles?” Even the Greek Embassy in the U.S. weighed in with a tweet saying: “Greece will wait for Unesco mediation on Parthenon marbles first. But thank you Amal!”

Speaking at a news conference in Athens’s Acropolis Museum—specially built for the sculptures—Mrs. Clooney told the media that Greece had a “just cause.”

“It is sad to note that three years later, one of the most beautiful pieces of art in the world has still not been reunited for anyone to behold,” she said. “The Greek government has just cause and it’s time for the British Museum to recognize that and return them to Greece. The injustice has persisted for too long.”

Although Lord Elgin was given permission by the Ottoman Empire, which ruled Greece at the time, to remove the sculptures, the Greek government has long maintained that they were illegally taken while the country was under the yoke of a foreign empire. In the early 1980s, Greek actress-turned-politician Melina Mercouri began a campaign to press for their return.

More recently, in July 2013, Greece asked Unesco to mediate the dispute with Britain, but the British government has yet to respond to Unesco’s overtures. Earlier this month, Unesco’s Intergovernmental Committee for the Restitution of Cultural Property made a formal recommendation to the U.K. government to participate in mediation and gave it six months to respond. It was the first time the committee had made such a recommendation.

Daily Express [5]

New Mrs Clooney makes impassioned plea for Britain to hand back Elgin marbles
By: Rebecca Perring
Published: Wed, October 15, 2014

In what Greeks hope may inject new energy into their national campaign – the Lebanese-born Briton was on a three-day visit to the Greek capital that included meetings with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

Newley-wed Mrs Clooney is part of a legal team advising the Greek government on its bid to secure the return of the sculptures from the United Kingdom.

Also called the Elgin Marbles, the treasures comprising roughly half the 160-meter-long frieze on the Parthenon are housed in the British Museum, which has refused to return them back despite Greek accusations their removal was an act of vandalism.

Speaking at the Acropolis Museum, Mrs Clooney said she hoped for an amicable settlement that would allow the world to enjoy the sculptures re-united in their home.

She said: “We’re talking here about an injustice that has persisted for too long.

“A horseman has his head in Athens and his body in London. The Greek god Poseidon has his torso separated between Greece and the UK. This means nobody can celebrate the marbles united in the place that they come from.”

Mrs Clooney, who married in a star-studded wedding in Venice last month, arrived in Athens on Monday to a horde of cameras and gushing praise in Greek newspapers for an “Amal hurricane” to win back the national treasures.

She has previously represented Ukrainian former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko at the European Court of Human Rights and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in extradition proceedings.

Greece has stepped up its campaign to get the Marbles back since it opened the glass-and-steel museum at the foot of the Acropolis in 2009, which it said voids arguments that Athens lacks a suitable place to preserve them.

The sculptures were removed in 1801 by Thomas Bruce, seventh Earl of Elgin and British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, who then sold it to the British government.

The British Museum, which was given the Marbles “in perpetuity” has refused to return them on the grounds they were acquired by Elgin through a legitimate contract with the Ottoman Empire that then ruled Greece.

It also argues its Marbles are in better condition than those that were left behind, which have suffered from pollution.

Earlier this year, Mr Clooney also weighed in on the issue, saying that returning the Marbles to Greece was the “right thing to do”. His wife was circumspect when asked if she would encourage her husband to more actively support the cause.

“I hope that even at this very early stage of marriage I’m wise enough to know that it’s up to my husband which causes he chooses to support,” she said with a smile.

Daily Telegraph [6]

Amal Clooney: Greece has just cause to claim return of Elgin Marbles
By Nick Squires, Athens
8:13PM BST 15 Oct 2014

Blame it on an unfortunate choice of footwear, or a late running schedule, or the media circus that shadowed her every move.

Whatever the reason, Amal Clooney cancelled a visit to the Parthenon on Wednesday, on the third and final day of her mission to champion Greece’s demand that the friezes which once adorned the 2,500 year old temple be relinquished by the British Museum and returned to Athens.

According to her official schedule, the British lawyer was to have climbed up to the Parthenon, which was built on top of the Acropolis in the fifth century BC in honour of the goddess Athena, at 4pm local time, after a press conference at the Acropolis Museum.

Mrs Clooney turned up to the museum impeccably dressed in a cream cropped jacket and pencil skirt by Chanel.

She was in high heels, prompting speculation among the Greek press that later she perhaps gazed at the dusty, rock strewn path leading up the steep flanks of the citadel and thought better of attempting the climb. The prospect of being trailed by dozens of photographers, cameramen and reporters under a hot autumn sun probably did not appeal very much either.

She had, at least, seen the friezes, known in Britain as the Elgin Marbles, during a guided tour of the ultra modern Acropolis Museum led by its director and Greece’s culture minister.

Mrs Clooney said Greece has “just cause” in its fight to reclaim the Elgin Marbles from Britain, blaming the “intransigence” of the UK in the decades-long stand-off over the priceless 2,500-year-old sculptures.

Speaking in the shadow of the Parthenon, where Lord Elgin removed the sculptures 200 years ago, the British lawyer wryly acknowledged the intervention of her new husband, George Clooney, in the seemingly intractable dispute.

He spoke out earlier this year in favour of the marbles returning to Athens while promoting his film, The Monuments Men, about a team of American art experts dragooned into recovering art stolen by the Nazis in the Second World War.

“I hope that even at this very early stage of the marriage, I’m wise enough to know that it’s up to my husband to decide which causes he chooses to support,” she said with a smile, insisting that she would not be enlisting the support of the Hollywood actor in the legal brief she will compile for the Greek government.

Mrs Clooney spoke out after being shown the top-floor gallery of the Acropolis Museum where Greece displays the 40 per cent of the friezes that it retained after Lord Elgin, a British diplomat, took the remaining 60 per cent in the early 1800s.

The museum, unveiled in 2009, sits directly opposite the ancient citadel of the Acropolis, which is topped by the Parthenon, the temple dedicated to the goddess Athena.

“The Greek government has just cause and it’s time for the British Museum to recognise that and return the marbles to Greece. The injustice has persisted for too long,” she said.

Mrs Clooney has been greeted with the sort of fanfare normally reserved for Hollywood stars like her husband since landing in Athens. On Wednesday she was mobbed by around 100 cameramen, photographers and reporters when she arrived at the Acropolis Museum, wearing a cream cropped jacket and pencil skirt by Chanel.

But she looked every inch the international lawyer when she arrived at the press conference.

With a pair of earphones clamped to her head to provide translation of Greek into English, she sat behind a long desk with a heavy black ring-binder file open in front of her, diligently taking notes whenever Greece’s culture minister spoke.

She and Geoffrey Robertson QC, her boss at London’s Doughty St Chambers, were first asked by the Greeks for advice on the contentious issue in 2011.

“It is sad to note that today, three years later, one of the most beautiful pieces of art in the world has still not been reunited for everyone to behold,” said Mrs Clooney.

“The Greek government has the right to ask for the return of the marbles, 200 years after they were taken to the United Kingdom.”

The fact that individual friezes had been split between London and Athens should be a source of embarrassment to the British Museum.

She cited the example of the figure of a horseman, “whose head is in Athens while his body is in London.”

Earlier Mrs Clooney, along with Mr Robertson and David Hill, a British-born businessman from Australia who is the head of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures, had a meeting with Antonis Samaras, the prime minister.

“Greece is not alone in this campaign,” said Mr Hill, a former chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“Greece has many friends. We will not stop until the marbles are back here, where they belong. This is a noble and just cause. Opinion polls in Britain have shown that an overwhelming majority of people are in favour of their return.”

Unesco, the cultural arm of the UN, asked the British government to enter mediation on the issue in 2013, but the UK has so far failed to respond.

The deadline for the Unesco request is next March, after which the Greek government may commence legal proceedings against the British government and the British Museum.

“The British Museum has said they will never give back the marbles, so the next step would be to go to an international court,” such as the International Court of Justice or the European Court of Human Rights, said Mr Robertson.

He said Athens provided the cultural context for the Parthenon friezes and that those held in the British Museum, whose trustees he described as “philistines”, were poorly displayed.

“They’re under bright lights, lit up as if they were corpses in a mortuary. Only 40 per cent are under the blue skies of Athens, where they can best be appreciated.”

He wore a tie with an Aboriginal dot painting design – a nod to his success in 2007 in getting the Natural History Museum to return indigenous artefacts and remains to Australia.

He had a few choice words for Lord Elgin, who was serving as Britain’s ambassador to the Ottoman Empire when he ordered the removal of the sculptures from the Parthenon.

“He was a bankrupt. He used his diplomatic position to get a license to take the marbles and to profit personally by selling them to the British Museum. If he did that today, he would be in prison,” he said.

Supporters of Lord Elgin have argued that he was just trying to safeguard the friezes, at a time when parts of the Parthenon were being carved off and burned to produce lime by ordinary Athenians.

The British Museum declined to comment to The Telegraph, but reiterated its long-standing position that the sculptures are “a part of the world’s shared heritage and transcend political boundaries.”

A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, said: “The Parthenon Sculptures are the legal property of the British Museum. They were not stolen. When Lord Elgin removed them from the Parthenon, he was acting under a licence issued by the Ottoman authorities – the legal government of the day.

“British law prevents national museums from breaking up and disposing of their collections. “Successive governments have believed that this is right in principle, and there are absolutely no plans to change the law in this respect.

“That said, the British Museum would consider any request for any part of the collection to be borrowed and returned, provided the borrowing institution acknowledges the British Museum’s ownership.”

Mrs Clooney’s high-profile involvement in the dispute has endeared her deeply to Greeks, who see the return of the sculptures as a matter of national pride.

Journalists publicly thanked her for her visit and a teenage boy presented her with a bouquet of yellow roses when she arrived at the Acropolis Museum.

“It’s a big issue here. It’s part of our heritage,” said Photis Kostamis, 55, a businessman strolling in central Athens. “With the economic crisis, when pensioners are struggling to survive and unemployment is so high, having the marbles back would lift the spirits of the Greeks.”

Greek Reporter [7]

Alamuddin Tours the Acropolis Museum
by Daphne Tsagari – Oct 15, 2014

Tourists gathered outside the Acropolis Museum today to give a warm welcome to Amal Alamuddin-Clooney, the human rights lawyer who arrived to Greece on Monday to help the Greek Government establish the proper legal framework to re-claim the Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum.

Alamuddin arrived at the museum just prior to noon. Earlier in the morning, she met with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. Their meeting lasted approximately an hour.

Alamuddin, accompanied by Greek Culture Minister Costas Tasoulas, was received by Acropolis Museum Director Demitris Pantermalis, who gave her a tour around the exhibits. Asking many questions about the statues and the artwork, she appeared highly impressed by the museum’s exhibits. She paused for a brief moment in front of the “missing Caryatid,” now one of the exhibits housed in the British Museum, and even shook her head. She also expressed her admiration for the “Girl from Chios” statue (510 BC), though touching the hand of the sculpture aroused the disapproval of bystanders.

Immediately following her tour, Alamuddin gave a short press conference in which she reiterated her determination to find a means of returning the Parthenon Marbles to Greece. She did not, however, give any specifics on the strategy she plans to follow. When asked about the support her husband George Clooney has expressed for the repatriation of the Marbles, she said, “Although we are newlyweds, my husband George Clooney is on your side on this matter.”

Alamuddin was expected to visit the Acropolis itself, but her high-heels prevented her from making the journey.

Speaking exclusively to the Guardian, Alamuddin said that “repatriating the classical masterpieces to their original home would only be fair.”

“In my view returning the Parthenon Marbles to Greece is the just thing to do,” said the 36-year-old on her first day in Athens. “I hope that an amicable solution to this issue can be found, given the longstanding friendship between Greece and the UK,” she added.

“But I believe it is prudent for the Greek government to seek legal advice – including in relation to ongoing efforts to engage UNESCO – and of course it is for them to determine their next steps in light of this legal context.”

For nearly 40 years Athens has argued that the sculptures – part of a giant frieze which adorned the Parthenon until its removal by Lord Elgin, England’s ambassador to the Ottoman Empire – should be “reunited” with surviving pieces in Athens in the name of respect for a monument of universal importance.

In a preview of the arguments Greece could deploy, Geoffrey Robertson insisted that the Marbles posed a unique case and, as such, would not endanger the British Museum’s collections.

“The Parthenon friezes are an amazing and unique snapshot of human civilization 2,500 years ago. They show not war but happy, well-liquored discourse between the first truly civilized peoples. Half of this snapshot is in Athens beneath the blue sky above the Acropolis. The other half is in a sterilized gallery as if on a hospital bed in a museum,” he told the Guardian.

Robertson further described the British Museum’s refusal to return the carvings to Greece as an act of “arrogant cultural vandalism.”

“It is a great project, not for Greece but for the world, to reunite the marbles so we can see them clearly where Phidias first carved them, to juxtapose the beginning of human civilization with the threat to it posed today by Isis,” added the barrister, referring to the barbaric tactics employed by Islamist terrorists just east of Greece.

Robertson, who, along with Palmer, helped secure the return of Aboriginal artifacts to Australia from London’s Natural History Museum, denied that the repatriation of the Parthenon Marbles would open the floodgates to similar claims. “This case will not set a precedent, the British Museum can keep its mummies but not marbles that, united, belong to the world,” Robertson clarified.

BBC News [8]

15 October 2014 Last updated at 14:37
Amal Clooney meets Greek PM Samaras in Parthenon campaign

The new wife of Hollywood star George Clooney, lawyer Amal Clooney, has had talks with Greek PM Antonis Samaras as part of a campaign to return the Parthenon sculptures from Britain.

Greece has hired her London law firm to ramp up its claim to the sculptures.

The 5th Century BC treasures, known as the Elgin Marbles in the UK, are kept in the British Museum in London.

Fellow lawyer Norman Palmer said he hoped a “conciliatory and amicable resolution” could be found.

“If it cannot, then other considerations will have to be examined,” he added.

The marbles – depicting gods, men and monsters – were removed from the Parthenon in Athens in 1811 by Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, which controlled Greece at the time.
‘World heritage’

Mrs Clooney and her colleagues from Doughty Street Chambers in London were visiting the Parthenon on Wednesday after taking part in a news conference with Culture Minister Costas Tassoulas.

Mr Tassoulas told reporters his country was campaigning to have the marbles returned in the name of Greece but also “in the name of world heritage”.

Red carpet for Clooney
– by Nick Malkoutzis in Athens

Greece gave Amal Alamuddin Clooney a rare treat today as she was guided around the Acropolis Museum by its president Dimitris Pantermalis and Culture Minister Kostas Tassoulas – an honour usually reserved for foreign dignitaries.

The Greek government has asked the human rights lawyer and her colleagues to secure the return of the Parthenon Marbles – a momentous mission.

The legal complexities will come later. For now Greeks are simply basking in her celebrity glow. Local media have been poring over her chic dresses and what she had for lunch. Reporters are following her every step, literally, even debating whether she would have the appropriate shoes to walk up the slippery marble steps to the Parthenon.

During a news conference at the museum, the new Mrs Clooney described the Greek claim to the Marbles as a “just cause”. She didn’t have to say anything more.

The Marbles

Friezes and pediment figures which decorated the Parthenon temple in Athens, built 447-432 BC

Many were removed by agents of the British diplomat Lord Elgin in the early 19th Century, and eventually sold to the British Museum

Most of the surviving sculptures are roughly equally divided between London and Athens

The new Acropolis Museum opened in Athens in 2009. It is designed to display all the surviving sculptures, in their original layout

Celebrities previously involved in the Greek campaign include late actress and former Culture Minister Melina Mercouri

Greece maintains the marbles were illegally removed and should be returned for display in a new Athens museum.

But the British Museum and British government reject the argument.

A leading Oxford expert on classical archaeology, Sir John Boardman, recently warned that such a move would set an “appalling precedent” for the British Museum and museums like it.

“It would set a whole flood of things going as well,” he told the Daily Telegraph. “It would… ruin any of the major museums of the world”, such as the Louvre in Paris or museums in Berlin, he said.
‘Very good case’

Correspondents say the hiring of Mrs Clooney will raise the profile of the Greek campaign.

She married her actor husband in Venice on 27 September at a wedding which attracted other top show business stars.

Amal Alamuddin, as she was before she married, is a Lebanese-born British lawyer who has defended Julian Assange of Wikileaks and former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko among others.

George Clooney himself backed the campaign earlier this year, when asked by a reporter at the Berlin Film Festival.

“I think you have a very good case to make about your artefacts,” he said.