- Elginism - http://www.elginism.com -

Why recent articles about Amal & the Marbles are misleading

A number of the papers this weekend carried a similar story relating to the recent change of government in Greece [1].

The basis of the story is relatively factual – that the country is reviewing existing contracts that the government holds and is looking to save money where possible. From that point onwards though, the story is a complete fabrication, unless somebody else can point me to evidence to the contrary.

The story relates to the visit late last year [2] to Greece of a team of Laywers, which included Amal Clooney [3]. The way the story is portrayed is that whatever was agreed in Athens is now to be ripped up – and that her law firm is no longer likely to be a part of any initiative.

The reality (to the best of my knowledge) is something more like this.

1. Amal travelled to Athens with Geoffrey Robertson and Professor Norman Palmer and was very much the junior one of the three there. To describe it as Amal’s law firm is laughable. However the papers have a love of celebrity stories, so I doubt I can stop them from framing the story in this way. In some ways, I don’t have such an issue with it, if it gets readers who might otherwise have been uninterested to find out more about the Parthenon Marbles – although they won;t learn a great deal from this particular article.

2. The team of lawyers were in Athens to advise the government about the legal options available to them with regard to securing the return of the Marbles. To the best of my knowledge, they were not signed up to anything and if they received any money, it was likely to be merely their out of pocket expenses for travel, accommodation etc while they were there. To suggest that a government would sign any sort of contract on a first meeting over a subject as complex as the Parthenon Sculptures reunification is ridiculously naive. In the previous coalition, various ministers were trained lawyers and would have wanted to give the matter full consideration & have it assessed by their own in-house legal advisors and others before signing on the dotted line.

3. Much is made of the cost, but as highlighted above, as yet, there is no clear cost associated with this, as nothing has been agreed. Furthermore, the sort of cost talked about for a legal case, while a massive amount to the average man in the street, is tiny for governments that are regularly moving about far larger amounts on a daily basis. That is not to say that it is not an issue – but if there was a motivation to proceed, then the cost impact would be unlikely to be the major consideration. Indeed, if it was a major issue for the government and they were willing to swallow their pride, I am aware of various wealthy Greek foundations and individuals around the world, which would be happy to assist in funding such an initiative.

All in all, its a bit of a non-story. The new government is renewing contracts, the new culture minister is asked about the marbles & says he’s reviewing the strategy (as any new government would). That is all that has happened.

Personally, I hope that the government continues along the lines of the previous coalition with regard to the Marbles. I know that in Greek politics, there is often a tendency to rip up everything that the previous government did and head in the opposite direction, but I personally believe that great steps forward were made in the last few years – far more than was managed by any previous governments. Not only was an advisory team specifically focused on the Marbles set up, but on their advice, an invitation to mediation via UNESCO was issued and more recently, discussions have been made about other possible legal approaches. Finally the country has moved from talking about the issue to acting on it, and it would be a great shame to lose this momentum. For a relatively small outlay (for a nation, even an impoverished one), something great could eventually be achieved – something that could give the average Greek citizen a sense of achievement and success, a reason to be proud in their country once more.

David Hill, Amal Clooney & Geoffrey Robertson in Athens [4]

David Hill, Amal Clooney & Geoffrey Robertson in Athens

Daily Mail [5]

Curtains for the new Mrs Clooney? Amal’s law firm could be ditched as advisor on Elgin Marbles as Greece’s new left-wing government reviews contracts
By Flora Drury For Mailonline
Published: 12:10, 31 January 2015 | Updated: 13:37, 31 January 2015

Amal Clooney could find herself with one less high profile case to fight after Greece’s new culture minister revealed they were reconsidering how to win back the Elgin Marbles.

Aristides Baltas revealed they were looking at the ‘strategy’ behind his country’s attempts to get the 5th century BC statues returned – and were willing to ‘tweak’ it if necessary.

What this means for Mrs Clooney and the legal team from London chambers Doughty Street, who have been advising the Greek government on possible action in the international court to force the British Museum to hand over the marbles, is not yet known.

Mr Baltas was quoted in The Times as saying: ‘Our campaign will continue, but the strategy and how we go about that may be tweaked, if required.

‘We’ll be looking over these details in the coming weeks and if we see a need to alter them, we will.’

His comment comes as Greece’s new left-wing government – which has pledged to ditch austerity and negotiate a better deal for the country – looks at other ways to save money.

Syriza were elected to lead the country last Sunday.

It is thought the chambers are charging hefty fees, something which has raised eyebrows in the cash-strapped country.

However, Mrs Clooney’s attachment to the case brings with it a high profile.

She and her husband, the actor and director George, have both spoken passionately on the subject.

Mrs Clooney said in October: ‘The Greek government has just cause and it’s time for the British Museum to recognise that and return them to Greece. The injustice has persisted for too long.

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

MailOnline has contacted Doughty Street for a comment.