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Politics

Greece Offers British Museum Antiquities Loan for Marbles Return

February 14, 2023

ATHENS – After rejecting the idea of a loan of other antiquities to the British Museum for the return of the Parthenon Marbles – details not set in stone – Greece has reportedly offered just that.

It came as the Parliament controlled by the ruling New Democracy government approved a new law allowing rare treasures to be loaned outside the country and create satellite branches outside of Greece, which drew a backlash from critics.

Culture Minister Lina Mendoni, who had said the stolen marbles were the “product of theft” by the British Museum now said the government has proposed “intertemporal exhibitions” of Greek artifacts in Britain for the “return and reunification” of the Parthenon Marbles, said Agence France-Presse (AFP.)

It wasn’t clear whether that would be a return of the marbles or whether those would be only loaned to Greece in return for the museum displaying other Greek treasures, which the government said wouldn’t’ happen.

Instead, Mendoni spoke of a “return and reunification,” which critics had said was language disguised to show it wouldn’t be a loan and other reports indicating that both sides were trying to avoid language showing a loan of the marbles.

The Financial Times earlier reported that the famed prehistoric frescoes of Santorini “have been mentioned in Athens” as potential candidates for a loan swap and that Greece could send to other countries artifacts from the National Archaeological Museum and the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens, the Archaeological Museum and Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki, and the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, Crete.

Mendoni had also said the changes give the museums more freedom to plan exhibits and raise sponsorship but the association of Greek archaeologists has said it will block the law in court.

“Important antiquities could be sent abroad for 50, a hundred years or more” the association warned in a statement, the loan idea following the Culture Ministry working out a deal to to acquire 161 Bronze Age antiquities formerly in the collection of US billionaire and philanthropist Leonard Stern.

CULTURE OR BARARISM

It wasn’t clear how those were obtained but the agreement worked out by Mendoni would see the artifacts gradually returning to Greece over the next 25 years after display at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The association of Greek archaeologists said Stern was a “proven recipient of smuggled archaeological discoveries” and that the agreement was a precedent to let rich wealthy collectors off the hook, said AFP.

The archaeologists said Stern had previously owned a Bronze Age marble idol from Sardinia that was later seized in 2018 from billionaire collector Michael Steinhardt as illegally trafficked.

The loaning of Greek rare antiquities was attacked by the major opposition SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance leader and former premier Alexis Tsipras – who, while in power, stopped a suit to get the marbles back and they belonged to the world and not just Greece.

He cited the late former actress and one-time culture minister Melina Mercouri who fought for the permanent return of the marbles without conditions and who said that, “Without Culture we are nobody. Culture is our soul. Culture is Greece. That is why our people, who have both a history and memory and an identity and carry the cultural heritage of thousands of years, have always given the correct response in conditions of poverty, occupation, persecution to the dilemma many times presented by life’s cruelty: Culture or barbarism.”

Tsipras said that “Culture and its people were persecuted for a long time in Greece and in the most brutal way,” and that “today we are seeing the same history repeat itself and, unfortunately, not as farce,” said the state-run Athens-Macedonia News Agency AMNA.

“Once again, culture and the people of culture are under persecution. Systematically and with a plan by a government that behaves like a regime and with every step seeks to impose barbarism,” he said.

He added in a shot at the government that, “Faced with the dilemma, culture or barbarism, you have chosen barbarism. And you are attempting to impose it on culture by subordinating, devaluating and grinding down its people.”

 

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