ATHENS – After not commenting on foreign media reports that negotiations were being made for the reunification – or loan – of the stolen Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum, Greece’s government said there are talks.
Goverment spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said that the “partial return of the Parthenon Marbles” has already begun, in an apparent reference to The Vatican sending back a few pieces it has held.
He said there was also a “radical shift in public opinion in the UK,” but that Greece wouldn’t accept any terms for the marbles to be sent back to Athens if it’s on a loan basis, as reports in the British media and other outlets indicated.
“The Greek government does not recognize any right of ownership, possession and ownership for British Museum,” he said despite reports that the government was discussing that prospect to get them back ahead of 2023 elections with New Democracy facing a challenge again from the major opposition SYRIZA.
The Leftists leader and former premier, Alexis Tsipras – whose government dropped a lawsuit seeking the Marbles return and said they didn’t belong to Greece but “to the world” – has now seized on the issue.
Now, however, he’s complained that the government wants to cede ownership of the Marbles just to get them back as a political ploy to stay in power, which was bitterly refuted by Oikonomou and other officials.
He dismissed accusations by critics that the government is exploiting the issue although the story keeps changing about whether there are talks or not for return of the marbles stolen 200 years earlier by a Scottish diplomat, Lord Elgin, who said he had permission of the ruling Ottoman Empire.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis a year earlier was reportedly in secret talks with British Museum Chairman George Osborne, who said that the institution wanted a partnership with Greece but that it would be a loan.
A day before Oikonomou said there were talks, there were reports that the government hadn’t held any since Mitsotakis and Osborne met – but British media and Bloomberg before that said there were discussions going on.
A THIEVES GAME
There weren’t any reports whether the government has floated the idea of a loan to gauge public opinion to prevent any blowback that anything other than an outright return would amount to the British Museum winning.
Earlier, after the British Museum confirmed talks with Greece over the Parthenon Marbles’ return to Athens, the Greek Ministry of Culture released a statement renouncing the possibility of any agreement that affirms United Kingdom’s claim to ownership of the contested antiquities.
“We repeat, once again, our country’s firm position that it does not recognize the British Museum’s jurisdiction, possession and ownership of the Sculptures, as they are the product of theft,” the ministry said.
That came after the British newspaper The Telegraph and Bloomberg said that Osborne and unnamed Greek officials were in “advanced talks” on a loan agreement that could entail a “proportion of the marbles sent to Athens on rotation over several years.”
Greek sources told the Telegraph that an exchange of antiquities, with items from National Archaeological Museum in Athens heading to the United Kingdom could begin “sooner rather than later.”
In December, 2022 the Greek newspaper Ta Nea reported that Greece and the British Museum had been secretly meeting for months about the marbles, which have been on view in the British Museum since 1832, after they were ripped off the Parthenon facade by Elgin.
Bloomberg said that the plan, based on an agreement Greece made earlier to see the return over decades of Cycladic treasures owned by a New York businessman, was close, citing sources that weren’t named.
In return, Greece would have to loan the British Museum other Greek artifacts to display but it wasn’t said over how many years the return would cover nor what Greece would have to put up – and that the museum could also get plaster copies of the sculptures to show off instead.