ATHENS – The departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union will strengthen the case for the return of the stolen Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum, Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said.
Decades of diplomacy have failed to move the British Museum or any UK government to send the marbles back, and not even the opening of a new Acropolis Museum in 2009, with a top windowed floor built to house them under the Acropolis aiding the cause.
Mendoni told the news agency Reuters that Greece now expects to get more support from other countries with the UK out of the EU, believing British influence will wane as it puts itself outside the bloc after leaving on Jan. 31.
Since independence in 1832, Greece has repeatedly called for the return of the 2,500-year-old sculptures that Scotti diplomat Lord Elgin stole, removing them from the Parthenon from 1801-12, with permission from the ruling Ottoman Turks who didn’t own them, but as the British Museum said that means they weren’t stolen.
The British Museum in London has refused to return the sculptures – about half of a 525-foot frieze atop the 5th Century BC monument, with the British Museum claiming to to be the legal owners.
“It is the mentality that has changed, the fact that Britain is distancing itself from the European family, it is 200 years since the Greek revolution. I think the right conditions have been created for their permanent return,” said Mendoni.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had asked for the British Museum to loan them – not return them – to Greece to be part of cultural events in 2021 marking the 200th anniversary of four centuries of Ottoman rule.
His government switched gears to wanting their return after the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA backed away from a legal challenge being held by British attorney Amal Clooney, wife of movie star George Clooney, who supports their return.
Mendoni told a conference in the Greek capital, “As Britain distances itself from Europe and the ideas that it advocates, Greece, rebounding from the recent crisis will in coming years have the opportunity to attract attention and interest from an international audience.”
The British museum has said “the sculptures are part of everyone’s shared heritage and transcend cultural boundaries,” using the argument shared by SYRIZA, that the marbles don’t belong to Greece but to the world.
The British Museum for generations said Greece had no adequate area to put, preserve or show them but then switched to other excuses after the Acropolis Museum, voted one of the world’s best, was opened, the British using what critics called a Colony approach as reasons to exhibit stolen treasures from other countries.
Mendoni said Greece would never give up the campaign, accusing Elgin of being a thief. He sold them to the British Museum after running into financial trouble and there are international committees in support of the return, including in the UK.
“Motivated by financial gain, publicity and self promotion, Elgin deployed illegal and untoward measures to extract from Greece the Sculptures of the Parthenon and a plethora of other antiquities in a blatant act of serial theft,” she said.