UK’s EU Exit Stirs Return of Parthenon Marbles Debate

A few of the sculptures from the Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum. PHOTO: (by Yair Haklai, Creative commons license, via Wikimedia Commons)

While Greece’s ruling anti-nationalist ruling Radical Left SYRIZA has show no desire to stamp a veto on the United Kingdom’s exit deal from the European Union unless the Parthenon Marbles stolen more than 200 hours and kept in the British Museum are returned, negotiations for the departure have raised the issue again.

“What we have now is the only opportunity in 200 years to force the return of the Parthenon Marbles,” Alexis Mantheakis, co-founder of the activist group International Parthenon Sculptures Action Committee the site Public Radio International (PRI) reported.

Once the UK Brexits the EU at the end of March, the negotiations start all over again, over trade, security and the rest of the future relationship. Greece could stymie the deal over the Parthenon Marbles but Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has said not only would the country not sue for the marbles return but that they belong to the world and not Greece.

“There is no blackmail. This is political bargaining. I mean Britain’s doing it right now with Brexit, they’re doing it all over the place,” said Mantheakis. “When you want something, you put on pressure.”

If the marbles mean nothing to Greece they do to most Greeks. “What does Shakespeare mean to England? St. Paul’s cathedral?” asked the late Greek actress and culture minister Melina Mercouri in 1982, when she launched the modern campaign for the sculptures’ return. “The Parthenon marbles are our pride. They are our identity.”

Marlen Godwin of the campaign group British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles said using Brexit to force the issue is “mixing apples and pears.” Brexit, she said, is complicated enough already, said PRI.

“There’s not that many months to go and there’s still no answers,” she says. “So I don’t think that the bargaining chip of a peerless work of art that is the sculptures from the Parthenon is going to really make any difference to that trade agreement whatsoever.”