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John Carr & the Elgin Marbles

The articles in The Times about the Zachopoulos attempted suicide in relation to the Elgin Marbles [1] have stirred up controversy on The Times’s own website, as well as in Athens News. John Carr (the writer of the original article) has since had a response published that is littered with inaccuracies & preconceptions.

The story is covered in more detail here [2].

Athens News [3]

No. 13269
Press watch

THE SCANDAL surrounding sacked culture ministry official Christos Zahopoulos continued to preoccupy the Greek press, with opposition parties and newspapers using it as a potent ramming rod against the government. But the reporting of the once-venerable Times of London stirred almost as much press ire as the scandal itself. The paper’s Athens correspondent declared that the scandal “called into question the moral authority of the culture ministry as it presses its case for the return of the ancient masterpieces”. Of course, Greeks believe it is the entire Greek nation that has the moral authority of a people whose patrimony was expropriated (most would say stolen) when they were under foreign occupation. From the Greek point of view, two centuries after one of the greatest monuments of Western Civilisation was mauled and hacked apart by a Briton, it is the Parthenon itself that cries out to be reunified. The labyrinthine details of the Zahopoulos case continued to unravel in the press, with bombshell charges by rightwing LAOS party president George Karatzaferis. He charged that the head of the PM’s press office received four audio CDs with conversations of Zahopoulos that were so serious that they were unfit to be broadcast (some journalists hint it is because they are enormously embarrassing for the PM himself). Moreover, Karatzaferis charged that for years the culture ministry has issued bogus receipts worth billions to ghost companies. That could mean huge graft and money to political coffers. He said 4 billion euros was disbursed this way under New Democracy rule and 2 billion under Pasok (1996-2004), but no concrete evidence was offered for any of the allegations.

They caught the Lotto of Zahopoulos, said Ethnos on January 10 about culture ministry stipends paid out under Zahopoulos (2004-5). The report implied that Lotto money was used for rampant pork barrel patronage, with 1,600 NGOs (including ones Zahopoulos had founded or was involved in) receiving funding. Escape to India was how Avyi saw the PM’s departure that day for an official visit, on which he took the embattled head of his press office, Yannis Andrianos. Editors obviously thought the title (alluding to EM Forster’s Passage to India) so clever that Eleftherotypia used it verbatim. And his name is… was Eleftheros Typos’ title (taking the words used in Orthodox baptisms and featuring a photo of a press card with name and photo empty). The title referred to the mystery of which journalist gave the PM’s press chief a sex video with which Zahopoulos – and as it turns out the entire Greek government – was being blackmailed. Tremors on political stage was To Vima’s view of the repercussions of the Zahopoulos affair. The paper said the scandal – which some in a country fond of conspiracy theories attributed to foreign powers’ anger over Karamanlis’ energy overtures towards the Russians – has turned Greek politics topsy-turvy. The report said New Democracy cadres are positioning themselves to succeed Karamanlis (Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis is first in line), while in Pasok George Papandreou’s intra-party opposition charges the “socialist ” leader with wanting to show them the door.

Zahopoulos belies Maximou [PM’s office], said Ta Nea on January 9. It seems the once-omnipotent culture ministry official told a close friend on December 17 that “they have the material (sex and audio) at Maximou and have finished me off”. The PM’s press chief Yannis Andrianos told prosecutors he hadn’t seen the video until December 21 (a day after Zahopoulos attempted suicide) and government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos backed him up.

ATHENS NEWS , 11/01/2008, page: A99
Article code: C13269A992

John Carr’s responded to this with the following letter.

Athens News [4]

Zahopoulos and Elgin

George Gilson devotes quite a slab of his Press watch of January 11 to taking me and the newspaper I represent to task for connecting the apparently bottomless can of worms of the Zahopoulos scandal to the Greek demand for the return of the Elgin Marbles. His unstated question is: What has the one to do with the other?

Oh, but a great deal. The call for the Marbles’ return is not a legal issue but an ethical one. The British Museum breaks no law and violates no international treaty in hanging on to the Marbles, which were acquired fully in accordance with the administrative rules of the Ottoman Empire, which was the legitimate authority of the Balkans at the time. (Greece was not “under the occupation of” the Ottoman Empire as Mr Gilson would have it; it was the Ottoman Empire. There was no Greek “state-in-exile” claiming legitimacy, as there was in World War II, ergo the “occupation” argument does not hold. The sultan, as owner of the Acropolis and what was on it, could do what he liked with them, as he did.)

What remains is the Greeks’ ethical argument, which is quite legitimate and worked for selflessly by a great many people. Yet lacking a legal leg to stand on, it is based completely on a woolly appeal to the noble sentiments of the British Museum and by extension to the British government and people. Now if you are a culture ministry and if you’re going to appeal to someone’s noble side, should you not be noble yourself, instead of – in the Greek media’s portrait – something resembling a den of sexually-perverted thieves?

As for Mr Gilson’s invocation of “the Greek people”, a popular myth (that the Marbles were “stolen”) does not a moral authority make. The naïve argumentum ad populum (as Mark Dragoumis points out in the same issue of Athens News) is a fallacious debating tool.

Besides, there are more ordinary Greeks who agree with me that I suspect he suspects.

Let’s leave the Marbles where they can be seen and admired by 40 million people each year, and try and clean our own house.

John Carr
The Times

Reader’s comment in The Times.

The Times [5]

January 9, 2008
Sex, lies and DVDs shake culture ministry in Greece

The Elgin should go back to Greece.
With them gone they’d be more room for archaeological artifacts from the UK to go on display.
While I think it’s important to see artifacts from other cultures very little interest is taken in our ancient history.
People still think that the Druids built Stonehenge and that our prehistoric ancestors went around with clubs going ugg.
Britain has some marvelous archaeological finds.
Lets put more of those on display.

Morrigan, Cardiff,

“Two wrongs dont make a right!”
Return the marbles to their rightful homeland. The brits are known for their own “extramarital” affairs and they even crowned that hussy that broke up the royal home—-

cleopatra, Las Vegas, NV

I have to agree with many of the above in saying that the subtlety of implying that a sex scandal would jeopardize the right of the Greek nation to get the Marbles back is astonishing.
A scandal as such will undoubtably shake the credibility of the Greek government but isn’t it perhaps a much greater crime to civilization that some of the finest pieces of art ever have been rendered into a incomplete jigsaw?

Athanassios D, Manchester, UK

Ha ha ha ha, a sex scandal is a reason for which the STOLEN Marbles should not be returned to their HOME country? And it’s coming from the birthplace of morality, Britain!!! Indeed, British humor is like no other.

Vrasidas Komninos, Athens, Greece

I don’t see a single line or phrase in this article that suggests any opinion about where the marbles should or should not be housed.
The fact that the Chief of Staff of the Culture Ministry was involved in such a scandal is problematic for the process of returning the marbles to their rightful place. After all, he has been intimately involved in this process and his absence as well as the scandal surrounding him will create nothing but problems, real or imagined. That is the consequence of poor leadership and prehaps in this case, also the consequence of cronyism. The suggestion of blackmail is also something that we, as supporters of the marbles return, should be keenly sensitive to. Personally, I’m interested to find out if blackmail was going on. If so, are the insinuations in the article true? Have other unknown and potentially equally important artifacts been comprimised for the benefit of a few greedy developers?
It would shatter our argument for returning the marbles.

Gregoris, Dallas, Texas,

As a british educated person and having lived in the UK for many years I admire and repsect this country for the opportunities it gives to foreigners. However the question of Elgin Marbles has a strong moral ground and a solution should be found. Maybe a middle solution would be good for a start.

example: Contruction of Copies and rotation of copies and originals to the two museums.
Good for a start!

antonios kalyvas, iraklion, Greece

The only valid question should be, “Was she worth it?”

Bill Drew, Redmond, Ohio USA


You are absolutely right when you questions the moral high ground of the particular former Greek beaurocrat. However, you would appear less hypocritical if you had supplied a good explanation why your country is holding on to stolen propertty for more or less two centuries. As for government scantals you made me laugh as I said to myself: Look who is talking. Do you remember Kristen Keller?

Dr. Tom Papadopoulos
Windsor, Ontario, Canada

Dr. Tom Papadopoulos, Windsor, Ontario, Canada

If a trustee of the British Museum had been caught in a compromising position or was tainted with a corruption scandal would it follow that the museum’s position on retention of the Parthenon Sculptures would similarly be compromised? I don’t think so. The campaign for reunification of the sculptures in the New Acropolis Museum rise above any one individual – whether it be Neil MacGregor or James Purnell or their Greek counterparts – and is only really concerned with reuniting the known surviving sculptures within sight of, and in the context of, the Parthenon and the Acropolis. The “sex, lies and DVDs” scandal in Greece is a convenient distraction for the British Museum, but rest assured that the clamour for return will become fiercer than before.

George Vardas, Sydney, Australia

It’s understandable that the British would immediately associate *any* story about the greek Culture Ministry with the decade-long demand for the Parthenon Marble return.

However, it makes no sense to assume any moral highground for their coming home to the new Acropolis Museum is lost, if one chief of staff is involved in a sex scandal.

Extramarital affairs have been around at least since the ancient Greeks and UK officials are no strangers to them either. This really is a cheap shot. Hopefully this means all sensibler-sounding arguments have been discussed and used up, and the marbles will return soon.

Isabella Eisenach, Corfu, Greece

The Elgin Marbles should be returned to their home! It’s that simple!

Kostas, New Jersey, United States

There was nothing than a typical sex scandal that could hustle this leading government that is doing an excellent job, and has been voted for with a significant difference from the corrupt socialists in September.

Theodore, hove, Sussex

As an Brit expat living in Athens I’ve been following the story closely but don’t see how it should affect the return on loan of the Elgin Marbles to the new Acropolis museum. I’m afraid you’ve taken a rather local approach to a major political issue which is why prime minister Karamanlis put so much power in the hands of an unelected politician? We now know that the attempted suicide was an acquaintance of the prime minister’s wife – nothing salacious in that fact – which may have contributed to this fatal appointment. Furthermore, all the subsequent appointments to the committee which takes critical archaeological decisions came from the prime minister’s own party. If this scandal finally gets the political establishment to identify which jobs are for the boys, ie political appointments, and which are not, then progress will have been made. Meanwhile, if I were a European commissioner who had disbursed funds to the Greek ministry of culture, I would be a little uneasy this evening.

Dr David Green, Athens, Greece

The return of Elgin Marbles to their original site has nothing to do with the aforementioned scandal in the Greek Culture Ministry. Elgin Marbles should return to Athens as soon as possible because they were stolen from our country during foreign occupation.


I fail to comprehend how the fact that Mr Zachopoulos had an extramarital affair destroys the moral high ground of an entire nation’s request for the Elgin Marbles return. Without getting into a discussion of whether an extramarital affair is ethically wrong or not, the corruption and lack of integrity of an official, no matter how high ranking, cannot be simplistically projected on the entire Greek Ministry of Culture. In the future, the British Museum and media should strive to find more convincing counterarguments to the Elgin Marbles return.

Ilias Demagos, Paris, France