ATHENS – In a letter, Culture Minister Lydia Koniordou asked British Culture Minister Matt Hancock to accelerate talks aimed at returning the stolen Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum – which has refused to do so.
That came after her visit to London earlier and after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, on a visit there, asked British Premier Theresa May to help force the return, which she politely ignored and after Greece’s ruling Radical Left SYRIZA said it wouldn’t sue to get back the Marbles ripped off the facade of the famed building 200 years ago by a Scottish diplomat, Lord Elgin, when Greece was under the Ottoman Occupation.
In her letter, Koniordou emphasized the cultural and moral dimensions of the issue and cited the recent call for dialogue by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation (ICPRCP).
The case of the 5th century B.C. works in London’s British Museum is one of the longest-running cultural heritage disputes in the world and has seen Greece unable to get the British side to budge an inch.
SYRIZA said the marbles belong to the world but not Greece but Tsipras nonetheless apparently asked May to intervene in some fashion, ArtNet and the news agency Reuters reported.
The stolen goods had been referred to as the Elgin Marbles before the late actress and former Greek Culture Minister Melina Mercouri dubbed them the Parthenon Marbles and Greek Marbles to show their ownership.
Elgin later sold them to the British Museum which said they aren’t stolen because he had permission from the occupying Ottoman Empire to take them and years of outcry from a number of groups around the world for their return have been ignored.
Greece built a new Acropolis Museum with space reserved to showcase them with a view of the Parthenon behind them, taking away one argument from the British who said Greece had no place to keep them.
Greece has repeatedly asked for their return to no avail, but Tsipras could be hoping to capitalize on a wave of recent high-profile repatriations, including property returned from the US to Lebanon and Greece, ArtNet said, but he wouldn’t respond to them for a comment.
A previous Greek government hired a legal team including human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, wife of actor George Clooney who said the marbles should be returned but Tsipras didn’t allow the suit to go on.
Tsipras told Reuters that, “The Marbles belong to the world cultural heritage but their natural place is the Parthenon.” they comprise roughly half of the 160-meter-long (525 foot) frieze that was on the Parthenon temple.
Britain has resisted campaigns for the return of what it calls the Elgin Marbles, often citing legislation that bans its museums from permanently disposing of their collections.
“We know Britain’s position but what has a particular value is that this effort is continued,” Tsipras said, the news agency added. “In due course, we’ll find increasingly more supporters of Greece’s just stance.”
The British Museum refused to comment, telling ArtNet to read its position on its website defending keeping the stolen goods, which cites the marbles “are a vital element in this interconnected world collection. They are a part of the world’s shared heritage and transcend political boundaries,” to justify keeping them.
It said half the sculptures from the Parthenon are lost, having been destroyed over 2,500 years and that, “The sculptures that remain are found in museums in six countries, including the Louvre and the Vatican, though the majority is divided roughly equally between Athens and London.”
The trustees also say it would be impossible to reincorporate the sculptures into the Parthenon.
“Though partially reconstructed, the Parthenon is a ruin. It is universally recognized that the sculptures that still exist could never be safely returned to the building: they are best seen and conserved in museums. For this reason, all the sculptures that remained on the building have now been removed to the Acropolis Museum, and replicas are now in place,” the trustees write.