ATHENS – Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis reportedly discussed a 20-year loan from the British Museum of the stolen Parthenon Marbles, a deal he said he would never accept and could see the pieces then shipped back.
The New York Times said talks are ongoing but further apart than recent more optimistic media reports that indicated a deal was imminent, with the idea of a loan initially leading the New Democracy government to reject it.
But the story said that while the museum wants to loan Greece – without giving up what it claims is the rightful ownership – of only a portion of the marbles and keeping the rest hostage, that Greece wants them all at once.
Citing sources not named – from both sides – the Times said Mitsotakis wanted a 20-year loan deal that would see Greece give up its long claims of unconditional return with hopes a future government could work out an extension.
In return for the frieze, Greek museums would supply the British Museum with a rotating selection of priceless artifacts, some of which had never left Greece, one of the sources told the paper.
Museum Chairman George Osborne reportedly said the institution would return a smaller portion of the frieze as well as carvings of gods and centaurs, as a short-term loan, the person said. The museum could offer up to a third of the Parthenon artifacts in its collection, the source said.
Once Greece returned them, more would be sent to the Acropolis Museum to replace them and that over time more would be loaned to Greece, the key being that The British Museum would still own them.
Either way, it could create an embarrassing moment in time when Greece, having displayed some or all of the marbles in Athens, would then have to pack them up and send them back to London.
The talks have been ongoing in secret in London since November 2021, between Mitsotakis and Osborne, in luxury hotels and the Greek Ambassador’s townhouse, the report and other media said.
At several of those meetings, Giorgos Gerapetritis, a minister without portfolio in Greece’s government, acted as Mitsotakis’s representative, according to the unnamed sources.
The British Museum 200 years earlier bought the marbles from a Scottish diplomat, Lord Elgin, who ripped them off the Parthenon and said he had permission of the ruling Ottoman Empire, which didn’t own them.
The museum said it can’t legally give back the marbles because it’s barred under British law, without mentioning that the law could be changed to allow it, adding to a number of reasons it has given for wanting to keep them.
But pressure is growing on the British Museum, the story said, noting that in 2022 Italy returned a fragment from the Parthenon that for more than 200 years had been on display at a museum in Sicily.
And in December 2022, the Vatican announced it would give three Parthenon fragments to the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church, which is expected to pass them on to the Acropolis Museum.
Michelle Donelan, Britain’s Culture Minister, told the BBC that returning the artifacts would open a “complete can of worms” and could lead to demands for other plundered items tobe return. “Sending them back is a dangerous road to go down,” Donelan said.
It was also unclear whether Greece would accept a “partnership” if that implied that the marbles belong to the British Museum. Sia Anagnostopoulou, from Greece’s major opposition SYRIZA – its spokeswoman on culture – said Greece should never accept a loan or give up ownersip.
“It is a matter of dignity for all Greeks,” she said, “as it would be for the British people, if they were asked to temporarily ‘borrow’ stolen pieces of Stonehenge,” some standing rocks that are part of England’s history.