Changing Tune, SYRIZA Suggests Suit for Parthenon Marbles Return

FILE - Tourists take pictures in front of the fifth century BC Parthenon temple at the Acropolis hill in Athens, Wednesday, July 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

After rejecting legal action in favor of diplomatic efforts – all of which have failed previously – Greece’s ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led government now reportedly is ready to go to court to force the return of the stolen Parthenon Marbles housed in the British Museum.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, whose party believes the stolen goods belong to the world and not Greece, two years ago rejected the recommendation of a London-based team of human rights lawyers, including George Clooney’s wife, to take legal action against the museum.

Greek Culture Minister Lydia Koniordou told the British newspaper The Times in an exclusive interview that, “Greece is determined to break the deadlock caused by the continuous refusal by the British government to return the Parthenon sculptures to their country of origin. We are using both diplomatic channels and alternative means . . . without excluding the use of judicial means.”

The paper said that showed a shift in her government’s previous thinking to keep talking to British and museum officials, a tactic that has failed for generations even though Greece built a new Acropolis Museum to house the marbles that were stolen from the Parthenon 200 years ago by a British nobleman, Lord Elgin.

The British Museum has said he got them legally with permission of the occupying Ottoman Empire which didn’t have the right to give them away, Greece and backers of their return have argued.

Koniordou wouldn’t elaborate, the paper said, not indicating to which court Greece might potentially seek out to get the marbles back, a campaign that accelerated under a former Culture Minister, the late actress Melina Mercouri, who renamed them the Parthenon Marbles although they are still often referred to as the Elgin Marbles.

In 2015 Clooney’s wife, lawyer Amal Alamuddin, and leading lawyers of the Doughty Street Chambers issued a 150-page report in which they gave Greece a 15 percent chance of victory if Athens waged a legal battle in either London or the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Since then Greece has reconsidered its strategy, reviving offers to loan some of its ancient treasures in an exchange for displaying the marbles in Athens, but without taking back their ownership, unacceptable to groups which said they belong to Greece, not England.

“Greece and its supporters will not rest until all the known surviving sculptural elements from the Parthenon are reunited in the Acropolis Museum in full view of the monument which they once adorned,” Professor Louis Godart, Chairman of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures, has said.

Last month Stelios Kouloglou, a member of the European Parliament from SYRIZA, said Greece could obstruct the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union unless the marbles are returned but his party hasn’t acted on that and Koniordou rejected it.

“At this stage, this line of argumentation does not reflect the position of the Greek government,” she said, without explaining why as it could give Greece a game-changing bargaining chip.

The British Museum argues in its pamphlets that its free entry attracts millions of visitors every year, making the ancient Greek masterpieces available to large numbers of people without explaining why they wouldn’t come to Athens or Greece, which gets far more tourists than does London.