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Simitis thinks resolving Elgin Marbles issue would help him win election

The Greek Prime Minister has been overheard pleading with Tony Blair while at a conference, asking him to try & sort out the Parthenon Marbles situation, as it would boost his ratings in the polls.

From:
Macedonian Press Agency [1]

FRIDAY, 17 OCTOBER 2003
ELECTORAL BATTLE FOR THE RETURN OF THE MARBLES
Athens, 17 October 2003 (12:44 UTC+2)

The issue of the return of the Parthenon Marbles prior to the 2004 elections was raised by Prime Minister Costas Simitis in a meeting with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, in the margin of the informal EU Summit in Brussels. “Mr. Simitis confessed he is losing the elections”, commented ND Spokesperson Thodoros Roussopoulos, who accused Mr. Simitis of “using a national issue for party and electoral interests”. “The event that the return of the Marbles is being discussed by the Greek and UK Prime Ministers should be greeted by all Greeks, without a party reflex”, stated Minister of Culture Evaggelos Venizelos. However there is information that there had been prior discussion between the two PMs on the return of the Marbles in correspondence between them, while Mr. Blair’s last letter “left room for hope”, according to “Flash” radio.

“The Prime Minister’s first and foremost goal is that the Marbles be back before the 2004 Olympics”, stated Government Spokesperson and Minister of the Press Christos Protopapas, in response to ND’s criticism.

“Greeks fully comprehend that the three months between the elections and Olympics – with the interjection of Euroelections – will not suffice for this venture to be completed”, he added.

“But, unfortunately, ND is once again scorning our national goals, shrinking them to the level of party interests”, he concluded.

ND’s criticism was also characterized as a tragic political mistake, if not a strike at the effort for the return of the Parthenon Marbles by Minister of Culture Evaggelos Venizelos, in statements he made this morning to “Flash” radio. He also wondered if ND would prefer Cyprus not be incorporated to the EU, since there is always the chance that PASOK will use that to its electoral advantage. He also mentioned that the Greek and British PM had also communicated on the Marbles issue in letters.

“The fact that the issue of the return of the Parthenon Marbles is being discussed by the Greek and British PM – and not for the first time today – is very important in this issue and should be greeted by all Greeks, without a “party reflex”, said Minister of Culture in statements yesterday.

“The formal Greek position on the return of the Marbles, as I have repeatedly expressed it in Greece and abroad, aims at the formation of an exhibition of the entire sculpture decorating the Acropolis, with the signature of both the Acropolis and the British Museum”, said Mr. Venizelos.

“As I have repeatedly stressed to the British Media, the British Prime Minister is the one who can provide a solution, overcoming traditional resistance and promoting a modern perception of his country on international cultural cooperation”, he noted.

From:
Macedonian Press Agency [1]

FRIDAY, 17 OCTOBER 2003
HITIRIS: THE ND REACTION TO THE PARTHENON MARBLES ISSUE IS UNACCEPTABLE
Athens, 17 October 2003 (17:26 UTC+2)

Acting government spokesman Tilemachos Hitiris characterized as unacceptable the reaction of the right-wing main opposition party of New Democracy to the issue of the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece and called on its spokesman Thodoris Rousopoulos to retract its statement because it undermines the efforts made for their return.

Mr. Hitiris stated that Mr. Rousopoulos says that the Marbles should not come to Greece because the government could take advantage of such a development during the pre-election period. Mr. Hitiris said that the return of the Marbles is not being used for the governing party to win the next elections but in order for Greece to have a success in an effort that lasts for years. The elections are used as a time limit because the Olympic Games will take place almost immediately afterwards, said Mr. Hitiris.

From:
MSNBC [2]

Greek PM hopes Elgin marbles will be vote winner
ATHENS, Oct. 17 — Can 2,500-year-old marble carvings help win an election? Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis seems to believe they can.

Speaking to his British counterpart Tony Blair on the sidelines of a European Union summit on Thursday, Simitis, seemingly unaware of nearby TV cameras, asked if there could be some progress in a 200-year dispute over a set of ancient Greek marbles ahead of general elections he faces by early May.

”We should start thinking about the marbles…can you do something….you know I have elections next year and this could be useful,” Simitis said. A smiling Blair gave no answer.
Greece has long fought for the return of the carvings depicting gods, men and monsters, that were removed from the Parthenon in Athens by Lord Elgin in 1801 and held on display in the British Museum.

The Greek media had a field day on Friday with daily Ta Nea’s headline reading ”Codename: Marbles for elections.”
Simitis later told reporters in Brussels he wanted to point out to Blair that there was not much time left to strike an agreement and ensure that the artefacts return to Greece in time for the 2004 Olympics.

Athens is eager to have the marbles back, even if it is only on a short-term loan, for display during the Athens Olympics held next August.
Britain has long refused to return the sculptures arguing that they were initially removed to save them from destruction and are now best displayed in London’s British Museum where they are viewed by more than six million people a year.

From:
Kathimerini (English Edition) [3]

Friday October 17, 2003
PM cites polls in Marbles bid

Taking advantage of a brief encounter during yesterday’s EU intergovernmental conference in Brussels to pressure Tony Blair for the return of the Elgin, or Parthenon, Marbles ahead of the 2004 Olympics, PM Costas Simitis reminded his British counterpart that time is running out.

But the PM’s linking of the fifth-century BC sculptures with the forthcoming parliamentary elections drew the ire of opposition parties in Greece, which accused him of trying to squeeze political kudos out of a national issue.

“All Greeks want the Parthenon Marbles to return to Greece,” Simitis told a press conference in Brussels. “They also know that the closer we come to the elections, the more intense the dispute over the matter can get. Therefore, it is in our interest to solve this matter as soon as possible. For if the issue is brought up again after the elections, it is not going to be solved — if we want it to be solved before the Olympic Games.”

He further clarified that the elections will be “in April or on May 2.” The Games start on August 13.

In the face of repeated rebuffs from Blair’s government, Greece still holds out hope that the British will suddenly change their minds and allow the exhibition of the ancient sculptures — which have been held in London’s British Museum for the better part of two centuries — in Athens during the Olympics. To boost its negotiating position, Athens points out that it is building a brand-new museum under the Acropolis to host the works should London ever decide to return them, even in the form of a long-term loan with the Bloomsbury museum retaining ownership. But the project is woefully behind schedule.

Opposition New Democracy and Synaspismos Left Coalition accused Simitis of trying to exploit the issue for electoral gains.