News & Current Affairs

June 21, 2009

Greece urges return of sculptures

Greece urges return of sculptures

Greek President Karolos Papoulias has renewed his country’s call for Britain to return sculptures removed from the Parthenon in Athens 200 years ago.

At the opening of the Acropolis Museum, Mr Papoulias said it was “time to heal the wounds” of the ancient temple.

The new museum, opened five years behind schedule, houses sculptures from the golden age of Athens.

Britain has repeatedly refused to return dozens of 2,500-year-old marble friezes housed in the British Museum.

“Today the whole world can see the most important sculptures of the Parthenon assembled, but some are missing,” said Mr Papoulias.

“It’s time to heal the wounds of the monument with the return of the marbles which belong to it.”

‘International context’

The sculptures, also known as the Elgin Marbles, originally decorated the Parthenon temple and have been in London since they were sold to the museum in 1817 by Lord Elgin.

He had them removed from the temple when he was visiting Greece, then under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.

After several adventures, obstructions and criticism, the new Acropolis Museum is ready
Antonis Samaras

The British Museum long argued that Greece had no proper place to put them – an argument the Greek government hopes the Acropolis Museum addresses.

The opening ceremony was attended by heads of state and government and cultural envoys from about 30 countries, the UN and the EU.

There were no government officials from Britain, but the most senior British guest, Bonnie Greer, the deputy head of the board of trustees of the British Museum, said she believed more strongly than ever that the marbles should remain in London.

She argued that in London they are displayed in an international cultural context.

She said a loan was possible, but that would require Greece to acknowledge British ownership, something Greece refuses.

The British Museum holds 75m of the original 160m of the frieze that ran round the inner core of the building.

‘Act of barbarism’

Their reconstruction in the Acropolis Museum is based on several elements that remain in Athens, as well as copies of the marbles in London.

The modern glass and concrete building, at the foot of the Acropolis, holds about 350 artefacts and sculptures from the golden age of Athens that were previously held in a small museum on top of the Acropolis.

The structure is Greece’s answer to the British argument that there is nowhere in their country to house the Elgin marbles
Razia Iqbal, BBC arts correspondent

The £110m ($182m; 130m euros) structure, set out over three levels, also offers panoramic views of the stone citadel where they came from.

The third floor features the reconstruction of the Parthenon Marbles.

The copies are differentiated by their white colour – because they are plaster casts, contrasting with the weathered marble of the originals.

Museum director Prof Dimitris Pandermalis said the opening of the museum provides an opportunity to correct “an act of barbarism” in the sculptures’ removal.

“Tragic fate has forced them apart but their creators meant them to be together,” he said.

Bernard Tschumi, the building’s US-based architect, said: “It is a beautiful space that shows the frieze itself as a narrative – even with the plaster copies of what is in the British Museum – in the context of the Parthenon itself.”

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September 18, 2008

Greek ship attacked off Somalia

Greek ship attacked off Somalia

Map

A Greek-owned ship has been attacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia.

The fate of the crew members – who are said to be of Filipino origin – is not known.

According to an official at the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), the ship was hijacked by armed pirates on its way to Kenya.

Pirates operating out of war-torn Somalia regularly attack vessels using the major commercial shipping routes off the country’s waters.

The threat of hijack and robbery has hampered the delivery of much-needed aid to people affected by the conflict.

The Greek vessel is the 13th ship seized by pirates off Somali waters in the last two months, Noel Choong of the IMB told the Associated Press news agency.

He said this latest attack indicated that Somali pirates had expanded their area of operations southwards from the Gulf of Aden, targeting vessels off the coast of Mogadishu.

A multinational naval force patrolling the area had been informed of the attack, Mr Choong said.

Earlier this week, French commandos rescued two sailors who were being held for ransom by pirates believed to be based in the port of Eyl in Somalia’s Puntland region.

Somalia has been without a functioning central government for 17 years and has suffered from continual civil strife.

Battles between Islamist insurgents and Ethiopian-backed government soldiers have forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes in the last 18 months.

September 7, 2008

Laying to rest Cyprus’s ghosts

Laying to rest Cyprus’s ghosts

A Greek-Cypriot woman holds a picture of relatives missing since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974.

The issue of the “missing” is still a contentious topic in divided Cyprus

Talks this week on the reunification of Cyprus look more hopeful than many would have dared to think possible. But the discovery of remains from some of those killed during the 1974 Turkish invasion is refreshing old grievances, as Tabitha Morgan reports.

The Cyprus police museum is perhaps not high on the list of must-see attractions for the tourist but it does draw a steady stream of visitors, mostly Greek Cypriot children on school trips.

One of the main exhibits is a dark blue prison wagon, one of a pair used during the final years of the British occupation for transporting captured guerrilla fighters between the central court and Nicosia prison.

Nine of them were hanged there by the colonial authorities during the 1950s, some no more than teenagers.

In transit the prisoners were locked behind a heavy sliding door, while their guards enjoyed marginally greater comfort sitting on a pair of blue padded seats.

Greek Cypriot pupils are shown the bars on the floor of the vehicle to which prisoner’s feet were chained. They are urged to reflect on the courage of those young men who struggled to overthrow colonial rule, and taught to take a pride in the story of their national heritage.

Ethnic identity

What is less well chronicled is how, just three years after Cypriot independence, when inter-communal killings began in 1963 the van was used to transport a Turkish Cypriot prison officer to his death at the hands of right-wing paramilitaries.

Air strike by Turkish Air Force during their invasion of Cyprus, 1974.

An air strike by the Turkish Air Force during the 1974 Turkish invasion

On 21 December 1963 Mustafa Arif, a senior officer at Nicosia prison, was admitted to hospital in what is today the Greek Cypriot side of the city to be treated for a heart condition.

By the next day relations between the two communities had collapsed. Riots broke out in Nicosia, shops were looted and burned and the Turkish Cypriot community retreated behind barricades in the north of the city.

Shortly after, Mustafa received a visit from his Greek Cypriot colleagues who urged him leave the hospital and to go with them in the prison van, to a safer place. He agreed to be driven away.

No-one knows for sure what happened next. Was the sick man allowed to sit on one of the comfortable blue padded seats? How long was it before he realised that something was dreadfully wrong?

On the other side of the city, in the Turkish Cypriot enclave, Mustafa’s 10-year-old son Kutlay had just learned to ride a bicycle. He was eager to show his father what he could do, so every day Kutlay brought his bike to meet the bus that he confidently expected would bring his father home.

But Mustafa Arif was listed as “missing” and for the next 44 years he has been considered “missing”: one of those Cypriots killed because they had the wrong ethnic identity.

Burial sites

Greek Cypriots have their own missing, mostly men killed at the time of the Turkish invasion in 1974. The stories of their grieving children, and of families pulled out of joint, are just as raw.

A man shovels dirt into the grave of relatives in southern Cyprus

Scientists have identified the remains of many missing people

These ghostly figures whose killers have never been punished have a symbolic and political potency. There has been little reconciliation, no attempt to reach across the divide and listen to the stories told by Cypriots from the other side of the island.

But recent work by United Nations forensic pathologists may soon force that to change. Over the last 12 months the scientists have located and identified the remains of many missing people and returned them to their families.

Burial sites that were isolated in the 1960s and 1970s are today in the center of urban development. One excavation took place in the car park of Nicosia’s new multi-screen cinema.

Kutlay is now a middle aged man with a family of his own. Until recently he was the mayor of Northern Nicosia. Earlier this summer he received a phone call from the technicians at the UN lab explaining that most, but not all of his father’s skeleton had been recovered from a well in a Nicosia suburb.

Kutlay and his family were invited to view the remains, spread out on a plastic table draped in a white sheet.

Kutlay has spent much of his career campaigning for the island to be re-united. His views on his father’s killers are clear.

“They were fascist thugs,” he says, “they happened to be Greek Cypriots, but that is not what is important about them.”

While the remains of the missing lay lost underground, issues to do with culpability, justice and retribution could be set aside. Now they are being unearthed, Cypriots will have to decide how deeply they want to search for answers to these more difficult questions.

Mustafa Arif was buried earlier this summer next to his wife. It is a mark of how much times are changing here that one of those present was an official Greek Cypriot representative of the President, Dimitris Christofias.

There is no doubt that among the current Greek and Turkish Cypriot leadership there is a strong desire to overcome the past. What is not so clear is whether Cypriots at large are ready to follow their lead.

August 21, 2008

Greek helicopter fugitive caught

Greek helicopter fugitive caught

The helicopter that was used in the jailbreak

The helicopter pilot said he was forced on the mission at gunpoint

Police in Greece have re-arrested the country’s most wanted fugitive, two years after he escaped from a high-security prison by helicopter.

Vassilis Paleokostas, 44, was serving a 25-year prison term for robbery and kidnap when he was whisked from an Athens prison in 2006 by accomplices.

Police say they believe he is behind the kidnap of northern Greek industrialist George Mylonas in June.

Mr Mylonas’s wife said she was relieved Paleokostas had been caught.

“It’s a kind of vindication for us to know who this man was,” Nelly Mylonas told Greek television on news of Paleokostas’ arrest.

Mr Mylonas – who was kidnapped at gunpoint outside his home – was released in June, after his family paid a ransom.

Greek industrialist George Mylonas

Mr Mylonas was kidnapped by a team said to have been led by Paleokostas

His kidnap helped police find Paleokostas, as they were able to trace the marked ransom money paid back to him. Three other men suspected in involvement in his kidnapping were also arrested.

Paleokostas is the brother of Nikos Paleokostas who has been convicted of 16 bank robberies, among other crimes.

He was considered the country’s most wanted fugitive until his arrest two years ago.

August 9, 2008

Clinton says she wants Obama to win White House

Clinton says she wants Obama to win White House

LAS VEGAS – Hillary Rodham Clinton told an exuberant crowd Friday she wants Barack Obama to win the White House, even though he dashed her own presidential dreams — and she wants her supporters to vote that way, too.

“Anyone who voted for me or caucused for me has so much more in common with Sen. Obama than Sen. McCain,” Clinton told her cheering audience in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson. “Remember who we were fighting for in my campaign.”

Though she has endorsed her former rival, the speech was Clinton’s first appearance at a rally for Obama since the two appeared together in Unity, N.H., in June.

In another sign of growing detente between the House of Clinton and the House of Obama, Democrats said Bill Clinton would speak on the third night of this month’s national convention in Denver.

The Clinton’s’ efforts on Obama’s behalf may ease worries within the party that bad feelings from the long primary battle might erupt at the convention.

She said Friday that “we may have started on two separate paths, but we are on one journey now.” She said her long primary campaign against the Illinois senator showed her “his passion, his determination, his grace and his grit.”

The crowd let her know they still held her in high regard. They cheered Obama’s name and waved his campaign signs, but no mention of him won as loud a roar as Clinton’s introduction.

Still, she kept her focus on making his case, mentioning key Democratic issues where Obama and McCain would differ — U.S. Supreme Court nominations and health care reform, for example.

She noted Democrats have had difficultly reaching the White House recently and said Obama would need a surge in turnout — and registration — to win in November.

“Which is why Sen. Obama needs all of us, he needs us working for him,” she said.

Some of her backers have complained loudly about the way the only female candidate was treated during the primaries. And Clinton supporters have succeeded in getting language into the draft of the Democratic Party platform that says, “We believe that standing up for our country means standing up against sexism and all intolerance. Demeaning portrayals of women cheapen our debates, dampen the dreams of our daughters and deny us the contributions of too many. Responsibility lies with us all.”

The platform committee will be reviewing the draft Saturday in Pittsburgh.

After weeks of private talks about exactly what the Clintons will do at the national convention, no decision has been reached on whether delegates will actually hold a roll call vote that includes her candidacy.

Such a move could disrupt or distract from the point of the convention — showing a unified party raring to return a Democrat to the White House.

On the other hand, she has suggested that letting her supporters whoop and holler for her might provide a catharsis and help the party move on.

“It’s as old as, you know, Greek drama,” Sen. Clinton told supporters in a recent speech to a private gathering, which was later posted on the Web.

In this particular drama, the Clinton’s insist they are doing everything they can to get her supporters on board with Obama. Any reluctance, she says, is not hers, but comes from those who committed to her historic bid and are still unhappy that she did not prevail.

Clinton did not mention any convention disputes in her remarks Friday. She later told reporters the two campaigns were still in negotiations.

“We’re going to have a very clear message about how the campaign will cooperate and how the convention will be conducted when it’s appropriate to make that announcement,” she said.

Clinton and Obama may be on the same team, but in the past week they seemed to be running in different directions.

In political terms, one candidate’s catharsis is another’s car wreck. Conventions at which the party appears divided can prove disastrous to the nominee’s chances in the general election.

Obama told reporters Thursday he thought the negotiations with Clinton aides had gone “seamlessly,” but he also rejected the notion that there might be a need for emotional release on the part of some Democrats.

“I don’t think we’re looking for catharsis,” said Obama. “I think what we’re looking for is energy and excitement.”

Giving both Clintons big speeches at the convention may help generate excitement, but it also gives them a lot of attention at a gathering that’s supposed to be about the nominee, Obama.

And Bill Clinton in particular has at times seemed grudging in his praise of the man who stopped his wife’s able ascent.

Asked earlier this week if Obama was ready to be president, Clinton gave a philosophical, not political answer.

“You could argue that no one’s ever ready to be president. I mean, I certainly learned a lot about the job in the first year. You could argue that even if you’ve been vice president for eight years that no one can ever be fully ready for the pressures of the office and that everyone learns something, and something different. You could argue that,” Clinton said.

The Clinton’s argued through much of the primary that she, a former first lady, was ready to be president on “Day One,” suggesting Obama was not.

The Obama campaign is pretty tired of that argument, particularly since it has become a key refrain of Republican John McCain.

August 8, 2008

Kosovo lives: Not gone with the wind

Kosovo lives: Not gone with the wind

Courtesy BBC

Sani, Lili and Dani Nikolic in their room at the Greek K-For camp

The three women thought they would be left alone in Urosevac after the war because there were no men in their house

In the fifth and final piece by BBC journalists on life in Kosovo today, Patrick Jackson meets three Slovenian-Serb women who intend to be the bane of K-For’s life until they regain their ancestral home.

Their great-grandfather built Urosevac, the Nikolic daughters like to say, so how can they leave it now?

Sani (Santipa), the very image of mildness and physical slightness, beams mischievously at the memory of how she floored a US soldier with her karate skills, the day K-For came to evacuate her family.

I am not saying she is over 60, because her disabled younger sister Lili (Liljana) reminded me, when I inquired, that you must never ask a lady her age. A smile of assent crossed the mask-like face of their blind mother Dani (Daniela).

However, the soldier’s commanding officer was certainly impressed by Sani’s resilience, telling her she was “as tough as a Texan lady”, according to Lili.

The Americans evacuated them from Urosevac (Ferizaj in Albanian) on 18 March 2004, to save them from Albanian rioters, who then destroyed the house.

But the Nikolic women have refused to join the thousands of other non-Albanians who fled (most of them in June 1999).

They argue that K-For failed to defend their property and removed them against their will, so it should take them back.

And that is how they come to be living today inside a Greek army base outside Urosevac.

Sickbay

The sole civilians to live on a base in K-For’s eastern sector have a medical ward to themselves at Camp Rigas Fereos.

The Nikolic family's cooking arrangements in the camp

The facilities in the room meet the family’s basic needs

It is a large, spotlessly clean room equipped with the bare essentials such as a fridge and a microwave oven, but no television set or radio.

From the window they can see only the camp and the mountains in the distance. Some paper religious icons are stuck to the blank white walls.

What personal effects they have seem all to come from charity.

Asked what she misses most from her home, Daniela says her family photographs and her jewellery, including her wedding ring from her husband who died before the war (she had taken it off to wash her hands the morning they were evacuated).

There is also the antique furniture, her library of 1,800 “beautiful books in five languages” and her paintings, especially a 17th-Century Italian Madonna she brought with her from her native Slovenia when she married her Serb husband.

Theirs was a wealthy family in its time, Lili explains. Their great-grandfather helped found Urosevac, a late 19th-Century town that arose around the new Belgrade-Thessaloniki railway, after he persuaded the Turkish authorities to let him build there.

Thessaloniki played a new role in the Nikolic family’s history in 2004, when Greek K-For, having sheltered the evacuees at Camp Rigas Fereos for four months, transferred them to its military hospital.

All three women needed specialised medical help.

A military ambulance parked outside the family's room

Life for the women at the base is punctuated by bugle calls

During the evacuation, Lili, paralysed in one leg since a car crash in her youth, was struck by a rioter’s stone, which broke her bad knee.

Daniela was already going blind and Sani suffered from arthritis.

Nearly five years of constant stress had also taken its toll.

Their house was placed under 24-hour K-For guard in the summer of 1999 after intruders robbed and beat them.

The last time Sani had left the building was in October 2000, when she slipped past the guards to go to the nearby market.

Some teenage boys recognised her as a Serb and started to beat her. She fought back with her karate, but she says she “did not want to hurt them”. She returned home covered in blood.

The boys told the police she had fired a gun at them, she adds, and an Albanian policeman turned up at the house. But when he saw the K-For guards, he just said “no problem” and left, Sani says.

In November last year, the women left the hospital in Thessaloniki and returned to Camp Rigas Fereos at their own request.

Private property

While they were in Greece, new buildings were erected illegally on the site of their property, a prime location in the centre of Urosevac.

Sani Nikolic in her room at the Greek K-For camp
We have just this one card left to play, and we are playing it now. We have nothing else to lose
Sani Nikolic

Sani says she was phoned by an Albanian when she was still in Thessaloniki, and advised not to try to come back because there was “no room” in the town for her family now.

“I said to him: ‘You Albanians want to join the EU and from what I know, the English and the Americans respect private property very much. I don’t want yours, I just want my own back. And nobody can deny me that’.”

The UN refugee agency has offered them a new home in a village enclave near Urosevac but they are refusing.

“What would I do in a village?” asks Sani, an architect by profession.

“I have never lived in a village. I know nothing about agriculture. I am ill.

“If we agreed to be relocated to a village enclave somewhere, we know that we, like the other IDPs [internally displaced persons], would never get our home back.”

The newly elected mayor of Urosevac has taken an interest in their case and visited them at the camp this June. They gave him a file of property deeds.

The mayor pledged to ensure their information was processed through the legal system, K-For says.

Last card

K-For also says the Nikolic family cannot stay on the base indefinitely.

After all the family has suffered, and given their ill-health, age and isolation from other Serbs, I ask the women if it is not better to yield and accept a peaceful existence somewhere other than Urosevac – perhaps in Greece, which has they say, offered them asylum.

How can these three women, so proud and outspoken about their Serbian identity, even think of living again in a town that war turned against them?

They admit themselves that they feel uncomfortable in the camp, ever grateful to the Greek army for its hospitality and ever embarrassed about getting in the soldiers’ way.

Sani accepts the difficulty of returning now but her sense of grievance is greater.

“I will be frank,” she says.

“We know that we are like a thorn in the side for the Greek camp because as long as we are here, we are a problem they have to resolve.

“But this is the last card we have to play. We have nothing else to lose.”

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