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Society

British Think Tank Fears Greece Wouldn’t Return Parthenon Marbles

LONDON – A deal reportedly being discussed that would see the British Museum loan Greece the stolen Parthenon Marbles is too risky because they likely would not be returned, warned a report by the British think tank Policy Exchange.

According to the British newspaper The Telegraph, Greece’s New Democracy government, which has rejected the idea, was nonetheless willing to accept a loan of the 2,500-year-old treasures ripped off the Parthenon by Scottish diplomat Lord Elgin 200 years ago.

It is important to replace the word percent or “pct” with the % symbol to adhere to American English conventions. Additionally, “ripped off” could be replaced with a more formal term such as “removed”.

Noel Malcolm, a Senior Research Fellow at Oxford University, wrote for the think tank that, “Whatever promises Athens makes, or whatever items it offers in temporary exchange, the risks that the marbles will not be returned to London are too great.”

He said that includes the possibility of “judicial seizure” in the form of legal action taken by individuals or groups in Greece that could lead to a ruling that the marbles should not be returned, according to the report.

The report also stated that the return of the marbles could prompt mass protests for them to be kept permanently, which could force a Greek government to change its stance and keep them.

However, earlier reports stated that the plan being discussed would have seen the museum lend only some of the marbles to the Acropolis Museum, which was opened in 2009 and has a top glass-walled floor dedicated to showing them, with a direct view of the nearby Parthenon.

In return, Greece would have to lend the British Museum other valuable artifacts that have never left the country and would be kept as collateral, in case a Greek government refused to return the marbles sent.

British Museum trustees, including chairman George Osborne, are due to meet to discuss a possible new deal that could see the marbles temporarily returned, the paper said, after he was in secret talks with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, with elections on the horizon in Greece.

The think tank noted that new polling that shows only 11 percent of the public think the Parthenon Marbles will be sent back to London at the end of the loan period if they are sent to Greece, the British Museum having insisted anyway that Greece would have to give up ownership.

WON’T LET GO

The British Museum should not lend the marbles to Greece without Athens accepting the museum’s legal ownership, the report said, an idea anathema in Greece and would see a government agree the Greek treasures aren’t Greek.

Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni has repeatedly said the marbles were stolen despite British Museum claims they were legally obtained because Elgin had permission to take them by the ruling Ottoman Empire, which didn’t own them.

The deal said to be under discussion would avoid the word “ownership,” although it could de facto mean they belong to the British Museum and not to Greece despite Greece’s insistence otherwise.

In September 2022, The Telegraph revealed that a new Parthenon Project was established by Greek plastics magnate John Lefas, which aimed to fly British politicians to Athens and persuade them of the Greek cause.

Lord Vaizey, the former Conservative culture minister who now heads the Parthenon Project, criticised Policy Exchange’s position. “Their view that Greece could not be trusted to return them says everything about their outdated and patronizing view of this issue,” he told the paper.

But he also said that., “We should support George Osborne’s imaginative efforts to move beyond the status quo,” which would be only a loan and could end Greece’s efforts for an outright return.

The report also argued that the marbles are part of Britain’s cultural heritage as much as Greece’s, the British Museum long maintaining that its the best place for world travelers to see them, not Athens.

New British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he has no intention of changing a law which forbids the museum from sending back displays that include those stolen from former colonies because it would leave empty halls.

British Member of Parliament Tim Loughton, Chairman of the British Museum All-Party Parliamentary Group said: “Recent siren calls by celebrity-backed campaigns funded by millionaire plastic magnates to give the marbles to Greece are misguided and dangerous and threaten to open the floodgates for the despoilation of our world institutions,” the paper said.

He added that the report by Policy Exchange “brings a welcome injection of fact and good sense to a recently confected debate that completely misunderstands the role of world museums, and which worryingly treats some of the world’s greatest cultural treasures as mere bargaining chips for diplomatic or political advantage.”

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