When she became the Greek minister of culture, Melina Merkouri invented the European Cultural Capital event. She had also fought for the Elgin marbles. Unsuccessfully. The British Museum is not amused. Greek art is safer with us, they claim in public. We shall never return. Perhaps. If Germans consider reparations for World War II damages, the Brits might consider returning the stolen treasures to the rest of the world. Even Russians might start returning stolen works of art.
I saw Melina Merkouri as the minister of culture once, visiting Sicilian city of Syracuse. We were sitting in the Greek amphitheatre, about to watch the tragedy by Sophocles – “Antigone”. The mood was relaxed, the weather friendly, the experience uplifting. And yet, following the tragedy, I could not help thinking about the immortal lines of the Auschwitz short stories by the Polish poet and short story writer, Tadeusz Borowski. Borowski, together with his Jewish fellow-prisoners, worked for the Sonderkommando burning the dead bodies of the victims of gas chambers. They survived by random mistake in German killing machine. Writing “This way to gas chambers, ladies and gentlemen”, and “Farewell to Maria”, Borowski remarked that Plato had lied. His beautiful lies were made possible due to a slave labor in the stone quarries and elsewhere. Greek citizens of Syracuse watching the theatre performance sat on top of the underground gulag. On top of what gulags for illegal immigrants did we sit in 1993, when watching “Antigone” with Melina Merkouri?
History was not kind to Plato’s protégé, a tyrant of Syracuse, whom he advised. Citizens rioted, killed the tyrant, Plato barely managed to escape in a boat. Today, many class wars and many concentration camps later, we wonder about the evolutionary road. Does it lead to the return of the Elgin marbles and German reparations?
Haarlem, April 21, 2019