Author:Scharf, Michael
Position:The Art of International Law - Discussion

Broadcast quarterly, "Talking Foreign Policy" is a one-hour radio program hosted by Case Western Reserve University School of Law Co-Dean Michael Scharf in which experts discuss the salient foreign policy issues of the day. The broadcast on October 7, 2016, addressed international law and art.

Dean Scharf created "Talking Foreign Policy " to break down complex foreign policy topics that are prominent in day-to-day news cycles, yet difficult to understand. "Talking Foreign Policy" is produced in partnership between Case Western Reserve University School of Law, the only U.S. law school with its own foreign policy talk radio program, and WCPN 90.3 ideastream, Cleveland's National Public Radio affiliate. Archived broadcasts are available for viewing in video format online at Foreign-Policy.

This broadcast featured:

* Paul R. Williams, President and co-founder of the Public International Law & Policy Group, who has advised parties to treaty negotiations around the world;

* Mark Ellis, Executive Director of the International Bar Association;

* Bill Schabas, a professor at Middlesex University and a leading expert in human rights law, who has served as a commissioner on two international investigative commissions;

* Shannon French, Director of the Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence and an expert on law and morality; and

* Milena Sterio, Associate Dean and Professor of Law at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, who is also one of the permanent editors of the IntLawGrrls blog and an expert in the field of international law.

Talking Foreign Policy: Art, Diplomacy, and Accountability--October 7, 2016 Broadcast

MICHAEL SCHARF: Welcome to Talking Foreign Policy! I'm your host, Michael Scharf, Dean of Case Western Reserve University School of Law. In this broadcast, our expert panelists will be discussing art, diplomacy, and accountability. Joining us remotely from a studio in Washington, D.C., is Dr. Paul Williams, President of the Public International Law & Policy Group, who has been working on issues of accountability for international crimes in Syria. Good to have you on, Paul!

PAUL WILLIAMS: Thanks, Mike. It's my pleasure.

MICHAEL Scharf: Here at the WCPN ideastream studio here in Cleveland, we are joined by Dr. Mark Ellis, Executive Director of the International Bar Association, who is visiting this week from London.

MARK ELLIS: Wonderful to be here.

MICHAEL Scharf: Also with me here in the studio is Professor Bill Schabas of Middlesex University in London, a leading expert in human-rights law, who has served as a commissioner on two international investigative commissions.

BILL Schabas: Thank you for having me.

MICHAEL Scharf: Our panelists also include Dr. Shannon French, with us on the show again. She's the Director of the Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence and an expert on law and morality.

SHANNON French: Delighted to be here, Michael.

MICHAEL Scharf: And our final panelist is Professor Milena Sterio, Associate Dean at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. She is a frequent guest on our show and an expert on international law and policy. Thank you all for being with us today!

In our first segment, we will look into one of history's great, great art disputes, the case of the so-called "Elgin Marbles." At the British Museum, which is just a few Tube stops from Bill Schabas's office in London, millions of people every year visit a famous collection of huge marble statues that once covered the walls of the ancient Greek Parthenon. Bill, can you tell us the story of how these statues, considered the most important examples of ancient Greek art and building design, ended up in the British Museum?

BILL SCHABAS: Sure. Well, around 1800 the British ambassador to Turkey, because Athens and Greece [were] still a part of the Ottoman Empire, decided that he was going to start collecting these marbles off the Parthenon. He originally had a plan just to do drawings of them, but then he got greedier and actually just started ripping them off. He allegedly got permission from the Turkish government, although this is all kind of mired now in the fog of the archives and no one can find a document that actually gave him permission to take them down. He took them all down over a period of about ten years. He took the best of the marbles, about half of them, and shipped them to England. Originally, he was going to put them in his own castle somewhere in Scotland. Later, he sold them successfully to the British government. So now they're placed in the British Museum, about half of them. There are little bits of the marbles from the Parthenon that are in other museums around the world--there are a few pieces in the Louvre, in Paris, and in some German museums--but the bulk of them and the best part of the Parthenon are there in London. (2)

MICHAEL SCHARF: I was always struck that they call these marbles, because it sounds like something small, but they are literally the sides of the Parthenon. (3) I suppose everybody in this room has been to the British Museum. They have a scale replica of the Parthenon, where the real walls of the Parthenon are. When you go up to the Acropolis in Greece, you're seeing a skeleton of the Parthenon, which used to be full, other than what Lord Elgin did. Right?

BILL SCHABAS: Well, you know the Parthenon, which was built of course at the time of Pericles, 500 or so BCE, has been gradually withering over the years. Parts of it have been destroyed by a variety of manners. (4) It was converted into a church at one point, and that involved ripping out parts of it so that they could put in the religious architecture necessary for it to be a church. Then, when the Ottomans took over, they converted it into a mosque and built a minaret. There were some bombs that went off there, some explosions (it had been used as a powder magazine). So, it was in rough shape already when Elgin got to it and he was able to go and pick off some of the pieces.

MICHAEL SCHARF: I suppose he could say, "Well, I'm saving it for the future." Now Bill, our radio audience can't see this, but you're wearing a t-shirt with Greek wording on it--and it's all Greek to me. (I always wanted to say that.) What does it say?

BILL SCHABAS: Well, in Greek it says, "The Parthenon Museum." I visited the Parthenon Museum last week, actually. I was on vacation in Greece visiting friends and went to the museum for the first time. It opened fifteen years ago or more, and it was built by the Greek government to house the sculptures and the marbles on the Parthenon. What they've done, in effect, is rebuild how the marbles were on the Parthenon. You can see the Parthenon from the museum, it's just next to it, but the marbles are in better condition. And they've re-assembled all the pieces together with plaster casts of the parts that are in the other musUums, including the parts in the British Museum. So you see the original parts that remained, about half of the pieces--not the best ones--in the original marble, then you see the plaster casts that were made. They're not a great copy. I'm sure if you go down to the gift shop in the museum, you can buy beautiful plaster copies of the art, but I think the Greeks intentionally left them a little bit rough to make the point that these are not the original marbles, they are poor copies of the originals in London. (5)

MICHAEL SCHARF: Why is it so important for the Greek people and the Greek government to have the return of their marbles?

BILL SCHABAS: Well, Greece has been claiming them back literally since it became independent. Lord Byron, who was a great supporter of Greek independence, wrote a poem condemning Elgin's theft of the marbles at the time (6) and Greece has regularly repeated its demand to get them back. It's quite symbolic--this is the center of the great Greek classical culture. And it's very, very important for the Greeks--in a moral, philosophical sense, in terms of their own feeling of whom they are--to have those marbles there, next to them so to speak, in their capital city.

MICHAEL SCHARF: And I mentioned that Lord Elgin, or the British, have made the argument that they are saving the marbles for the rest of the world. Let's turn to Shannon French, our famous ethicist who is with us today. Shannon, Greece argues that because its new, high-tech Acropolis Museum makes it possible to exhibit the Elgin Marbles in Athens, in a large exhibition space (the one that was just described to us) where they can be protected and observed by everybody who comes to visit, that Britain no longer has any excuse not to return them. Now, the British Museum has their own argument. They say, "All right, it's not just about protecting them for the future. We're a better venue because we present all the cultures of the world (I guess all the places that they stole things over the years), so you can see everything in one place, and we have many more visitors, so the marbles should stay with us." As an ethicist, how do you evaluate those competing claims?

SHANNON French: Well, I think this is one of the relatively rare cases where the ethical perspective is actually a little easier to nail down than maybe the legal issues involved. I think it helps sometimes to just think in terms of, "What is the decent thing to do?" To use a very simple analogy: imagine that you heard of a village that was being overrun by some invader and you happen to be a disinterested party. You wander into the village just after the invasion, and all the villagers have been chased out and you see a beautiful, very fragile vase. If you took it out of--perhaps, let's give the benefit of the doubt--the desire to protect it for posterity. But then later, the villagers recover their village and they come back and they say, "Gosh we really want that vase back that we would have preserved." Wouldn't the decent thing to do...

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