The Globalist 6 December 2014
Britain’s Christmas Gift to Putin
Cameron commits a shocking diplomatic mistake and loses yet another European ally.
By Denis MacShane, December 6, 2014
David Cameron has given Vladimir Putin a Christmas gift. The Russian strongman will now get a chance to forget about the plunging ruble, falling oil prices, G20 nations furious over his dispatch of troops and arms to destabilize Ukraine, the growing NATO presence in Poland and the Baltic States — as he gazes upon the beautiful present London has sent him.
It is a carving – the front half of a statue – of the Greek god of rivers, Illissos, and represents the highest accomplishment of ancient Greek classical art.
Britain can send this statue to Russia because it forms part of the Parthenon Marbles that were looted by a British imperialist two centuries ago and brought back to London to symbolize the right of London to help itself to anything, anywhere in the world without any check or balance.
The statue was part of a frieze that decorated the Parthenon temple, which stands atop the Acropolis in Athens.
For more than two millennia the Parthenon has symbolized the birth of western civilization. Democracy, philosophy, literature and the greatest sculptures known to humankind were all shaped at the foot of the Parthenon.
Condemning the art thieves
At the beginning of the 19th century, the Greeks, inspired by the revolution in France and the United States escaping from British rule, were starting their path to independence from the decadent Ottoman Empire.
Greece became independent in 1822. The great poet, Lord Byron, joined the Greek independence struggle and died in the country.
Before he died, he condemned a fellow Lord who had robbed Greece of some of its finest art. Lord Elgin was the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.
As the Napoleonic wars ravaged Europe, it was clear that the Ottomans who held sway over Athens were on the way out.
Elgin climbed up the Acropolis and hacked off the beautiful carved statutory that formed the top of the Parthenon under its triangular topping. He shipped the marble carvings back to London in the best fashion of plunder that has always accompanied great power and no responsibility.
He claimed some Turkish official had given him permission, but the Parthenon was deprived of its masterpieces in a moment of ugly British superiority, which the Americans came to appreciate when, in another vicious pointless act, the British burned the White House in 1812.
For two centuries the marbles – known in Britain as the “Elgin” Marbles, as if the looter should be immortal for having taken what belonged to the Greeks back to England – have been kept in London.
The marbles can be seen in a dull, badly lit room in the British museum far from the sun and blue skies and the glint of the Aegean where they belong.
Now, for the first time one of the marbles has been sent outside of England. Of all people, it has been sent to Vladimir Putin, specifically to his native city of St. Petersburg and its Hermitage Museum.
The Greek government, which has loyally supported the EU sanctions against Putin after his missiles shot down the Malaysian airliner, is reeling in shock.
From one imperialist to another
David Cameron likes to talk tough about Putin, but he has been careful to avoid taking any action against Russian oligarchs in London. Some of them donate to both the Conservative Party and to the British Museum.
This is a rather too obvious appeasement of the Russian leader. Cameron is sending him one of the plundered marbles while at the same time, he refuses to enter into discussion with the Greeks about the return of the marbles.
He even refuses to talk with the Greeks about a sharing agreement between the British Museum and the special state-of-the-art museum built for the marbles at the foot of the Acropolis.
In the past, great works of art have been sent on loan as part of warming up relations. General De Gaulle sent da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to Washington as signal of France wanting to warm up relations with the United States when Kennedy was elected.
For the Greeks, nothing
But the continuing British snub to Greek demands that the marbles — removed by a high-handed British official from an occupying power — should first come home to Greece for a while has now turned into something worse, as Britain provides Putin with such a Christmas present.
Like St. Paul’s Cathedral without its dome or the Statue of Liberty without its torch, the Parthenon without its marbles does not have the full synthesis of harmony that these sublime achievements of Greek art would bring.
That the first time one of the marbles can be seen outside London, it is not Greeks who will see it, but Putin and his St. Petersburg siloviki ex-KGB chums, is an insult to a fellow EU member state without parallel in recent British history.
“Beware of Greeks bearing gifts,” wrote Virgil about the Trojan Horse. Britain’s Christmas gift to Putin will have cost London a friend in a European Union where Britain has fewer and fewer left.
And looking at this major misjudgment in cultural diplomacy by a country once famed for it, many will be asking if David Cameron is finally losing his marbles.