Cycladic Figurines Return Pact Splits Greek Cultural Leaders

September 13, 2022

ATHENS – A deal in which Greece will share with the New York Metropolitan Museum and eventually get return of 161 stolen Cycladic figurines has divided cultural experts.

The agreement will see the treasures eventually returned in full to the Cycladic Museum in Athens over a period of years, after loaning them to the New York Metropolitan Museum.

The legislation outlining the agreement between the Ministry of Culture, the Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens, the Metropolitan Museum of New York and the Delaware-based Institute of Ancient Greek Culture was ratified by Parliament by ruling New Democracy lawmakers.

The Greek state will have principal ownership of the private collection compiled by billionaire Leonard Stern – who didn’t say how he acquired them – and the Museum of Cycladic Art will be loaned 15 idols via the Delaware institute, said Kathimerini in a report.

The figurines will be shown in Athens for one year before being returned to the Met, and stay there for 10 years, coming back to Greece in batches of 15 every five years, which means they won’t fully be back until 2087.

But maybe not even then because the agreement extends to 2049 and the Greek state can decide then whether to get the figurines back or let the Met keep them for another 25 years, which won’t see their return until the 22nd Century.

Even though they will be kept mostly at the Met, the museum has to agree they belong to Greece, while also organizing campaigns to promote the Cycladic civilization and giving scholarships for Greek archaeologists.

“A country has an obligation to get its cultural commodities back,” Culture Minister Lina Mendoni told lawmakers before the vote that wasnt in doubt, defending the deal after insisting the British Museum has to return the stolen Parthenon Marbles.

She said that legal claims could be used, but won’t in the case, and that Greece is using “moderate strategies,” instead of pressing for the outright return of all the stolen figurines without conditions.

Nicholas Kaltsas, Honorary Director of the Ministry of Culture, also baked the agreement and told Kathimerini that, “It is clear that the antiquities in the collection are key to studying and better understanding the civilization that flourished in the Cyclades island group of the Aegean Sea roughly between 3000 and 2000 BC. Greece must aim to acquire this entire collection, to repatriate it and exhibit it in the country’s museums.”

But Maria Andreadaki-Vlazaki, Honorary Director-General of Antiquities of Cultural Heritage and former president of UNESCO’s Subsidiary Committee of the Meeting of States Parties to the 1970 Convention said the idols “are clearly the product of illegal excavations and looting.”

She told the paper that, “Ratifying the controversial agreement indirectly legitimizes illegal antiquities being held by museums in storage for fear of confiscation,” adding that Greece undermined its claim to the Parthenon Marbles through the pact.

“It is a resounding defeat for Greece. The argument that millions of people will be able to enjoy the figurines at the Met is the same one the British Museum uses for the Parthenon Sculptures,” she said.

The Met first reached out to the Greek Ministry of Culture in June 2020, informing it that Stern had expressed an interest in showing and donating the stolen figures to the museum, setting off negotiations.


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