LONDON – It hasn’t happened for more than 200 years and the British Museum said it will never happen, but a survey for Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper showed 78 percent of respondents want the stolen Parthenon Marbles returned to Greece.
Some 11,315 people participated in the poll, with only 22 percent saying the British Museum, which bought the stolen goods from Scottish diplomat Lord Elgin after he ripped them off the Parthenon, should keep them.
The poll came just after the Deputy Director of the British Museum, Jonathan Williams, said the Marbles could be returned to Greece from the United Kingdom through a new “Parthenon partnership” – which Greece would have to return them and the museum remaining the owner.
The museum hasn’t been moved by international campaigns, cajoling, celebrity admonishments, suits, negotiation calls or any other pressure, even from British groups which want them sent back to Greece.
The museum’s board Chairman George Osborne, earlier said that there is a “deal to be done” over sharing these ancient treasures with Greece as long as Greece acknowledged the Greek treasures aren’t Greek anymore but British.
Now British author Victoria Hislop, who writes novels set in Greece and was given honorary Greek citizenship for it, wrote in Kathimerini that she’s shifted toward wanting their return as well.
She wrote: “For many years, I sat on the fence in the debate over where the Sculptures truly belonged. As a child I was regularly taken to the British Museum and marveled at the many majestic and ancient sculptures that towered above my head. I, like most British children of the 1960s, felt it was our birthright to walk through this imposing building and learn about the history and culture of civilization” to admire them.
She said it never dawned on her that many of the objects in the musem weren’t British but stolen from other countries, including those that were British colonies, and taken to stock the facility with stolen treasures.
“The Sculptures were called “the Elgin Marbles” in those days (at least that has changed) and I for one happily believed that Lord Elgin had “saved” the sculptures for posterity and brought them to England for a new audience to appreciate (because, surely, the Turks did not).”
That was in reference to Elgin getting permission from the occupying Ottoman Empire at the time to take them even though the Turks didn’t own them, but an argument the British Museum said proves they weren’t stolen.
UK REVISES HISTORY
“History was so simple for British children in those days. Our history books were full of heroic victories and we believed that the British Empire had brought great benefits to many different parts of the world. Bringing objects of both artistic and spiritual value from many other countries, all of them poorer than ourselves at the time, seemed perfectly normal,” Hislop wrote.
“This was a case for me of questioning all the facts and circumstances surrounding how they ended up in a gloomy, badly lit gallery in the British Museum, thousands of miles from the translucent Hellenic light where they were created,” she added.
“For me, Elgin’s action was a simple story of theft. I am massively embarrassed by it and the British Museum’s stubborn and outdated stance on the matter,” she said, no indication anyone at the museum cared.
She said she read everything she could find about the Parthenon Marbles, renamed by the late actross and former Greek Culture Minister Melina Mercouri to put the Greek imprimatur on them and that she found, “That much of the Elgin story that many in the UK believe is entirely untrue.”
She said Elgin was given permission to take impressions and drawings of the sculptures but not hack them off the Parthenon, no explanation then why the Turks let him do it as it took a year and 300 men to accomplish.
Upon getting them back to the United Kingdom and finding himself deep in debt, he sold them to the museum for what amounted to less than half his expenses for removal and transport and creating a centuries-old dilemma.
“The one unquestionable thing in this long debate is that the British government did hand over money for these priceless objects. But not to their rightful owners,” added Hislop.
She said it was Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s interview with a Greek newspaper in which he implied that the sculptures would never go back which led her to join the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles.
She said that if British politicians ever come around to changing their minds about the unlawful possession of the marbles that “The tidal wave of opinion will be irresistible. It’s a matter of them using their hearts as well as their minds and, quite simply, doing the right thing – and recognizing that history itself will see them doing it too.”