Great, so when do we get La Valette’s sword back?

Greece gets its Marbles back… we get La Valette’s sword… Poland gets back everything that was stolen from it by the Nazis… and hey presto! Everybody’s happy again

A lot of people predicted that Brexit would plunge the UK into chaos and confusion… but who would ever have guessed that the British people would also literally ‘lose their marbles’?

Well, OK, maybe those Marbles didn’t belong to Britain in the first place. They were, after all, plundered from the Parthenon in the late 19th century, by a British diplomatic named Lord Elgin.

All the same, however: the British Museum may now stand to lose its priceless collection of Greek sculptures, after the EU decided to include a demand for the return of the Elgin Marbles as part of its ongoing negotiations for a post-Brexit EU-UK trade deal.

Actually, the wording of the EU’s draft negotiating guidelines suggest that Britain may lose far more than just those Greek statues. It specifies a commitment to the “return or restitution of unlawfully removed cultural objects to their country of origin”… whether or not the ‘country of origin’ is an EU member state.

Taken literally, this implies that the British Museum should also have to return all its Egyptology collection (including the Rosetta Stone) to Egypt; its fragments of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus and Temple of Artemis to Greece and/or Turkey – depending on whose claim to those artefacts we decide is more valid – as well as its extensive Mesopotamian collections to Iraq, Iran and Syria… all its indigenous Aboriginal art to Australia… and so on and so forth, until there’d be nothing left in that museum at all, except maybe an assortment of rusty old Celtic relics.

And fair enough, you might be thinking. After all, why shouldn’t the Greeks get their precious marbles back? What’s so wrong with a little long-overdue justice, for all the crimes perpetrated by the United Kingdom in the name of 19th Century British Imperialism?

Ah, but then again… Britain was not exactly the only European power to have indulged in a little looting and plundering in the course of its expansionist history. What about Germany?

From Poland alone – an EU state, please note – the Nazis stole “over 516,000 individual art pieces: including 2,800 paintings by European painters; 11,000 paintings by Polish painters; 1,400 sculptures; 75,000 manuscripts; 25,000 maps; 90,000 books, including over 20,000 printed before 1800; and hundreds of thousands of other items of artistic and historical value.” (Note: yes, I use Wikipedia. Who doesn’t?)

Much of this booty still remains in Germany – either in museums, or in private collections – despite decades of requests by Poland for their restitution.

And don’t even get me started on the Louvre in Paris: which boasts Greek, Roman and Egyptian collections rivalling those of the British Museum in London… all ‘acquired’ under entirely analogous conditions.

Even now, the Italians are still trying to reclaim the Louvre’s most celebrated possession: Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’… which has been stolen and re-stolen dozens of times since it was painted in 1519. (Note: makes you wonder why the Italians don’t just steal it back again, and get it over with…)

Not to mention our own little claim on plundered historical artefacts: including the bejewelled, ceremonial sword that once belonged to Grand Master La Valette… until it was stolen from Malta, along with countless other valuables, by a French thief named Arsenio Lupin III (or was it Napoleon Bonaparte? Can’t remember now…)

In any case, that sword was removed from Malta – where, culturally and historically, it rightly belongs – as part of a systematic campaign of despoilment during the French occupation, between 1798 and 1800. It is now housed in the Louvre; and just like Poland and Italy, Malta has been unsuccessfully trying to get it back ever since.

So: do Germany and France also get to “return […] unlawfully removed cultural objects to their country of origin”? Or does that condition only apply to countries which have had the affrontery to actually leave the Union… while those that obediently remain get to keep all their ill-gotten treasures, with the full blessing and protection of the EU?

I thought I’d ask, because this is after all the same European Union that lectures us all about ‘integrity’ and ‘good governance’. Yet there it is, seeming to argue that cultural theft and/or appropriation is perfectly acceptable… so long as the thieving country in question remains an EU member state.

When a country chooses to leave the EU, however, it suddenly seems to lose all the ‘impunity’ it had enjoyed for centuries… which is just another way of saying that ‘EU membership’, at the end of the day, is really the equivalent of a protection racket: “Stay with us, and you will be free to carry on enjoying the fruits of all your historical crimes. Leave us, and…” Well, you can work the rest out for yourselves.

I mean, honestly: and then they have the temerity to call Malta a ‘mafia state’…

Meanwhile, there are plenty of other indications that the EU changes its own stances towards individual countries, depending on whether or not they remain within its own fold.

For as long as the UK was still an EU member state, the European Commission was adamantly opposed to Scottish independence. Ahead of the 2014 referendum, former Commission President Barroso even warned Scotland that it would have to reapply for EU membership in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote.

Today? A whole different ball-game. Now that the UK has well and truly ‘Brexited’… taking a reluctant Scotland with it… the doors of the EU have been flung wide open to the prospect of a newly independent Scotland taking its rightful place as a fully-fledged member state: needless to add, without any talk of having to re-apply.

Oh, and on the subject of ‘newly independent countries’, there’s also the curious case of Kosovo: whose independence was immediately recognised by the EU, while similar bids for self-determination by other European regions remain less fortunate to this day.

What makes a region like Kosovo eligible for independence… but not, say, Catalunya in Spain: which has its own language, its own cultural identity, and its own aspirations for self-rule?

The only justification given at the time was that the people of Kosovo had been subjected to genocide during the war of the Balkans in the 1990s. But by that reasoning, the newly-proclaimed (in 1948) state of Israel should really have been located in Germany, where the Holocaust took place.

And besides, other European regions can make similar claims: including the Basque territories, which were the site of untold atrocities during the Spanish Civil War (as attested by Picasso’s ‘Guernica’, which – never having been stolen – can still be admired in Madrid’s Museo Reina Sofia).

But these, I admit, are irrelevancies. The stark truth is that the EU recognised Kosovo’s bid for independence – but no one else’s – for the same reason that it changed its position on Scotland after the Brexit referendum in 2016: i.e., because it was in the EU’s own interest to do so… nothing more, nothing less.

It’s exactly the same with the Elgin Marbles, you know. The EU is not insisting on their return out of any sense of historical justice towards Greece… otherwise, it would be insisting on the restitution of ALL Europe’s wealth in stolen treasure – including La Valette’s sword – and not just Britain’s.

No, the real reason for the inclusion of that clause is as glaringly visible as it is childishly petty: to make negotiations as difficult and awkward as possible for the UK, in retaliation for its departure.

This, I might add, at a time when the EU seems to be suffering the consequences of Brexit far worse than the UK itself… being unable to reach an agreement over the next European budget, in the face of a €17 billion shortfall caused by the lack of any contribution from Britain.

In other words, it is a classic case of ‘lover’s revenge’. The EU is behaving precisely like the aggrieved party in a messy divorce… throwing at its estranged partner literally everything it can possibly lay its hands on, in the hope that some of it might actually hurt.

But hey! Far be it from me to get involved in an acrimonious tiff between two divorcing partners. There’s only one thing that really interests me in all this… that it creates the perfect opportunity for us to finally get La Valette’s sword back (without even having to declare war on France, either. Fancy that…)

It’s very simple, too. All it would take is to convince the British government to accede to the EU’s demand, and give the Elgin Marbles back to Greece… on condition that all other EU member states do likewise, and return all their plundered patrimony to its rightful owners.

That way, Greece gets its Marbles back… we get La Valette’s sword… Poland gets back everything that was stolen from it by the Nazis… and hey presto! Everybody’s happy again.

Well, everyone except the British, perhaps (but they’ll have lost their marbles by then anyway… so they’ll never even realise what happened).

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