LONDON – If British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak gets his way, the only way that Greeks will see the stolen Parthenon Marbles housed in the British Museum for 191 years is to take a trip to London to see them.
While some hopes had arisen of a deal that would see the museum and Greece share the treasures – the British keeping ownership – Sunak said there won’t be any change in the law that would allow for their return, The Guardian reported.
He said that’s in keeping with what his predecessors as premier had said, including Boris Johnson who, after the the position, reversed his former stance that Greece should get back the marbles ripped off the Parthenon by Scottish diplomat Lord Elgin, who sold them to the museum.
Museum Chairman George Osborne had been in secret talks with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and now with other Greek officials, to find a diplomatic compromise to share the marbles but also require Greece to send the museum other artifacts that had never left Greece.
“The UK has cared for the Elgin marbles for generations,” Sunak said. “Our galleries and museums are funded by taxpayers because they are a huge asset to this country,” he said, not mentioning they belong to Greece.
“We share their treasures with the world, and the world comes to the UK to see them. The collection of the British Museum is protected by law, and we have no plans to change it,” he said.
Museum and government officials have gone back-and-forth over whose responsibility it would be for return of the marbles, tossing the idea back into each other’s court in perpetuating the limbo.
The newspaper though said that while the museum manages the collections, including those stolen from other countries and those who were British colonies, that the government won’t change the law to allow it.
Ministers are said to have no intention of amending the British Museum Act, which prevents the museum from returning any of its collection permanently except in very limited circumstances, the paper added.
The marbles have been displayed in the British Museum since 1832 after Elgin took them, with – he and the museum have noted – permission of the occupying Ottoman Empire at the time, which didn’t own them.
A LOAN BY ANY OTHER NAME
Greece had long said it would accept only an outright return but Mitsotakis’ government has been open to the idea of a loan or sharing arrangement, major media reports have said, with contradictory positions coming from Greece.
Before Sunak dug in his heels, a campaigners group for return – or reunification in some fashion – for the marbles hoped the two sides could work out a deal that wouldn’t include the thorny question of ownership.
That came as the Vatican said it would “donate” to Greece some Parthenon fragments it obtained under unexplained circumstances, that raising hopes that the British Museum would follow, said Reuters.
The Parthenon, which is on the Acropolis in Athens, was completed in the fifth century BC as a temple to the goddess Athena, and its decorative friezes contain some of the greatest examples of ancient Greek sculpture, the report noted.
The Parthenon Project, which has been backed by British politicians from different parties, said the British Museum’s Parthenon collection could be returned to Greece under a long-term cultural partnership agreement.
They would be reunited with Greece’s artefacts in the Acropolis Museum in Athens, “as a complete artistic work consistent with its creators’ vision,” the campaign group said, an idea that had been gaining traction.
The plan would see a rotation of Greek masterpieces offered to the British Museum to fill spaces left empty by sending some of the marbles on loan to the Acropolis Museum in Athens, possibly in a British Museum annex there.
They would be reunited with Greece’s artifacts in the Acropolis Museum in Athens, “as a complete artistic work consistent with its creators’ vision,” the campaign group said according to the news agency.