Mrs Clooney sets Athens astir

Mrs Clooney sets Athens astir

“Amal, do you want me to propose you for president of the republic and live in the Presidential Palace?” “Forget it, Antonis, I will stay with the hunk!” 

This “dialogue” that supposedly took place between Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and the British-based Lebanese barrister Mrs. Amala Alamuddin-Clooney was published in the latest edition of the Greek satirical weekly “To Pontiki.” Amal in a sleeveless black evening dress looks at Samaras with an all-confident smile while next to him in a small “bubble” the number 180 appears, indicating what he is actually thinking: ensuring there are 180 deputies in Parliament so that they can elect the new president of the republic early next year. If he fails to do so, the country will have to go to early elections, an option that Samaras would hate to face.   

The cartoon could not be more to the point. Mrs. Amal Clooney visited Athens last week on her first business trip after her much-publicized marriage to American actor George Clooney, in Venice.  

Amal Alamuddin, is one of the barristers of Doughty Street Chambers, “probably the largest and most wide-running civil liberties legal practice in the world” as claimed by the firm’s website. She visited Athens accompanying Geoffrey Robertson, QC, and Norman Palmer, QC, to meet with the Greek prime minister, Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos, the culture and tourism ministers as well as other senior Greek officials in order to discuss the issue of the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece. 

Her presence in the Greek capital monopolized the headlines. The Greek and international media lost no opportunity to confide to their audience the important information about Mrs. Clooney, such as which international fashion house she buys her outfits from, as well as the price of each item. Or, what the menu, in exhaustive detail, was at the Greek restaurants where Mrs. Clooney was hosted by Greek officials and what her comments were about the food to the Greek chef, and so on. The Amal-mania that followed the young barrister’s two-day visit to Athens, made Greeks forget the boredom of the political wrangling at home but failing to notice the real reason for the visit.

Actually, there was a serious reason and an important timing.

It dates from last year when UNESCO wrote to the British government requesting that Britain agree to participate in a UNESCO process of mediation to settle the dispute of the Parthenon Sculptures. The idea was that the process should take place in a spirit of cooperation and respect to national sensitivities. You may also remember a poll conducted by the Guardian newspaper back in February on whether the British government should return the Parthenon Sculptures (they had been taken away by Lord Elgin, then British ambassador to the Sublime Porte in 1801 and have been on display since then in the British Museum in London). A surprising 88 percent of respondents had voted in favor of the return of the pieces to Greece. Numerous organizations in more than 15 countries adopted a similar stance after that and the Greek government decided to move thinking that the mood was right.

“At this moment we are at a very interesting stage with regards to developing our tactics. UNESCO unanimously adopted our recommendation to the U.K. to participate in a mediation process. At the same time there is a six-month deadline for a response to this invitation. We cannot forecast the outcome,” said the Greek minister of culture during a joint press conference with the British legal team, who are expected to deliver their concrete legal advice to the Greek government by the beginning of 2015.

Mrs. Clooney may have charmed the Greeks with her elegant presence, but she and her team may have to prove their legal skills soon against the powerful lobby of the great world museums. And that is a tough battle.