LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has again rejected out of hand any idea Greece has of getting back the stolen Parthenon Marbles housed in the British Museum for some 200 years, saying they don’t belong to Greece.
He said that the 2,500-year-old cultural treasures stolen by Scottish diplomat Lord Elgin and then sold are “legally owned by the British Museum’s Trustees,” which refuse to accept they were unlawfully taken.
Elgin had permission of the then-ruling Ottoman Occupation and all attempts at diplomacy to get them back have failed but Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis didn’t use veto power to block the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union to get them back.
Greece this year is marking 200 years of independence and Mitsotakis wanted them returned for display and a celebration but asked only they be loaned and that the British Museum would get other Greek treasures as collateral to insure their return to the London institution.
“I understand the strong feelings of the Greek people – and indeed Prime Minister Mitsotakis – on the issue,” Johnson said in his first public comments on the issue since Premier, in an interview with the Greek daily newspaper Ta Nea,
“But the UK government has a firm longstanding position on the sculptures which is that they were legally acquired by Lord Elgin under the appropriate laws of the time and have been legally owned by the British Museum’s Trustees since their acquisition,” he also added ominously.
Greece’s former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA gave up a legal fight that had seen Greece employ a team that included British lawyer Amal Clooney, wife of actor George Clooney, who also championed the return of the marbles to Greece.
SYRIZA said the treasures weren’t only Greek but belonged to the world and Mitsotakis’ New Democracy government also hasn’t chosen to use international courts to get them back while other museums are seeing the return of stolen goods.