EU Puts Parthenon Marbles Return on Brexit List

Elgin Marbles, also known as the Parthenon Marbles, at the British Museum. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Marcos Houzouris)

LONDON – With the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union, Greece’s long-standing demand for return of the stolen Parthenon Marbles kept hostage in the British Museum is getting a new impetus.

The EU has added the Greek cause to its negotiating list over the UK’s so-called Brexit from the bloc, tied to discussions about the return of stolen cultural artifacts, with the British Museum saying it owns the marbles after obtaining them 200 years earlier from Scottish diplomat Lord Elgin, who ripped them off the Parthenon during the Ottoman Occupation.

A draft of the 27 EU nations’ position on negotiations with Britain on their future relationship, which was seen by Reuters, seeks the “return or restitution of unlawfully removed cultural objects to their countries of origin.”
While that didn’t specify any cultural objects, an EU diplomat not named by the news agency said that it was added at the request of Greece’s New Democracy government after Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis earlier had requested only they be loaned as part of 2021 Greek celebrations marking independence from the Turks.

Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni in January said demand for the return of the marbles would be pushed but the government hasn’t moved to renew a legal challenge brought forth under an earlier New Democracy government which hired a British law firm including Amal Clooney, wife of actor George Clooney, also a champion for their return.

Greece could ironically get a boost with Brexit as the UK has lost influence in the bloc and is backpedaling in the negotiations and expected to take a major trade hit but the British Museum has been steadfast the marbles will never be returned.

There was no immediate comment from the office of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who led the UK out of the European Union on January 31, more than three years after Britons voted in a referendum to leave.

The British Museum said the marbles, about half of a 160-meter (525-foot) frieze atop the Fifth Century Parthenon were acquired by Elgin under a legal contract with the Ottoman Empire, which didn’t own them.

An EU source, who declined to be named because discussions on the mandate are confidential, said the reference to stolen artifacts was included in a draft of the document as early as the previous week, said Reuters.

The source said it also had support from Cyprus and Spain and that along with Greek demands for the return that other EU countries were more concerned about the illegal trade of artifacts through London auction houses that have been kind of legal fences to sell off stolen goods from the bloc.