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20 Jun 2004 10:22
It is Europe’s longest-running cultural heritage dispute, yet the row over the rightful home of the Elgin Marbles is still so hotly contested it will almost qualify as an Olympic sport in Athens this summer.
Undiplomatic comments made by a British archaeologist in a new BBC documentary on the subject will now take the temperature of debate still higher. Dr Dorothy King, a supporter of the British Museum’s position on the ownership of the marbles, has offended members of the Greek community in the UK by comparing the would-be custodians of the Parthenon frieze to abusive parents.
Speaking in the BBC2 film, to be screened on Saturday, King says: ‘If we knew a woman was abusing her child, we wouldn’t let her adopt another.’ She is suggesting that the Greeks do not look after the marbles they have and so should not be entrusted with precious antiquities.
This weekend King confirmed this is her view, although she said she could not remember making the comment used in the film.
‘You cannot even begin to discuss the matter until they start looking after what they have,’ she said.
King, from Kensington, west London, has been at the centre of academic controversy before. News of her strongly expressed opinions in the BBC film has incensed some of those campaigning for the return of the marbles.
‘That lady really should restrict herself to talking about things which she knows something about,’ said Dr Nicholas Papadakis, of the Greek embassy. ‘It takes some cheek on her part to make such an impertinent comment that reverses the facts entirely.’
The programme, presented by art expert Andrew Graham Dixon, is an assessment of the arguments in the run-up to the cultural events surrounding the Athens Olympics. The Greek government has requested the loan of the marbles, hacked from the city’s ancient Acropolis by Lord Elgin in 1801, as a gesture of good will and the UK culture secretary Tessa Jowell will be meeting her Greek opposite number at the games to discuss the issue.
The Greek government is building a Â£55-million state-of-the-art showcase for the 79 marble panels it still has and plans to leave gaps where the British Museum’s pieces should go. ‘If the British Museum want to improve relations it would be a good first step if they were to distance themselves completely from such offensive remarks,’ said Papadakis.
A spokesperson for the British Museum said that King’s comments were her own and were not part of the museum’s own argument. The loan of the marbles, however, was not up for negotiation, she said, adding that in this case ‘loan’ meant a permanent arrangement. The museum is already lending Â£2-million worth of antiquities to Athens in the preparations for this summer’s Olympic Games. - Guardian Unlimited Â
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