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Politics

Greece Denies Report British Museum Will Return Parthenon Marbles

ATHENS – Yet another report that the British Museum and Greece’s New Democracy government are closing a deal to see the gradual return of the stolen Parthenon Marbles over a number of years has been shot down.

The financial news agency Bloomberg said an agreement was at hand, following earlier reports a deal was close – which proved wrong – and the Culture Ministry is shooting down the new report, said media reports.

The news site 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 not 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.

With elections looming in the first half of 2023, an agreement – if worked out – would be a coup for Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who earlier reports said was making secret negotiations with museum Chairman George Osborne.

With Italy and the Vatican also saying it would return some stolen Greek treasures the heat was turned up on the museum which has always claimed the marbles were legally obtained in a purchase from Lord Elgin, a Scottish displomat who took them off the Parthenon 200 years earlier.

That was with the permission of the Ottoman Empire with Greece under Turkish rule, although the occupiers had no rights to the marbles – which was disregarded under the British argument of ownership.

Osborne had said previously the museum could only loan Greece its own marbles – with the stipulation that the museum, not Greece – was the rightful owner but Mitsotakis wouldn’t along with that although he made a similar suggestion before.

In another apparent attempt to deflect Greece’s claim, the museum and British refer to the Greek treasures as the Elgin Marbles, named for the man who stole them – and Greece now has turned to calling them objects of theft.

LOAN? RETURN? COLLATERAL?

The Greek Embassy in London didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment and a museum spokesperson told Bloomberg that it would “operate within the law” – which prohibits return of even stolen pieces.

“We’re not going to dismantle our great collection as it tells a unique story of our common humanity,” the museum said, adding to British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak saying the law won’t be changed.

That contradiction to the report of a return wasn’t explained but was another seeming snafu adding to decades of them around any idea of the marbles being returned, none of which have come close to fruition.

A loan or rotation arrangement based on a cultural exchange may provide a way through that legal hurdle, the report said. The Parthenon Project, led by the United Kingdom’s former Culture Minister Ed Vaizey which is working with the British and Acropolis Museums to find a solution, said an outcome is “finally within reach.”

“We have argued for a deal that is beneficial to both Greece and Britain, centered on a cultural partnership between the two countries,” a spokesperson for the project said of the dilemma.

“This would see the British Museum continue in its role as a ‘museum of the world’ displaying magnificent Greek artifacts as part of rotating exhibits, with the Parthenon Sculptures reunited in their rightful home in Athens.”

The British newspaper The Telegraph said that any deal made with Greek officials would effectively be a loan under which the Marbles could be moved from London to Athens “sooner rather than later,” sources said.

But the paper said it would effectively be a “gesture” instead of a capitulation and will not end the dispute over ownership, as Greece intends to keep fighting to gain full legal ownership of the 2,500-year-old cultural treasures.

The deal discussed between Osborne and Greek representatives would allow some objects to be sent to Athens from London on long-term loan, in exchange for Ancient Greek treasures moving on loan the other way, the paper also said.

“This is unlikely to entail the full complement of marble frieze scenes, metopes (carved plaques) , and statues being shipped immediately, and the agreement may start with a small token loan, should negotiations advance any further,” it said.

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