ATHENS – Days after saying British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s refusal to intervene with the British Museum to return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece wouldn’t affect relations between the countries, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has resumed the fight.
Johnson, a classics scholar who long before becoming Premier said he supported the return of the stolen marbles, has turned tide and said that’s up to the British Museum to decide and he can’t interfere politically.
Before their meeting in London, Mitsotakis had said that there would be a discussion about the return of the treasures taken off the Parthenon by Scottish diplomat Lord Elgin from 1801-12.
But Johnson quickly ruled that out when they sat down, taking the wind out of Mitsotakis’ sails, but the Greek leader wrote in the British newspaper The Sunday Mail that Johnson said he wouldn’t “stand in the way of Greece establishing a formal dialogue with the British Museum over the future of the marbles.”
It wasn’t clear what that meant because Johnson had already used the excuse that the museum wasn’t a government institution to duck away from any idea of pushing for their return.
Mitsotakis, the paper said, has again has offered to lend some of his country’s treasures, such as the Artemision Bronze – an ancient Greek sculpture of Zeus or Poseidon – to the UK in exchange for the return of the 2,500-year-old sculptures.
British museum officials said they were legally obtained although the then-ruling Ottoman Empire occupation of Greece didn’t have the authority to let Elgin take them and have said returning them would set a precedent in which other stolen artifacts would have to be sent back to their homelands.
Mitsotakis said that Johnson “understands the unique bond that ties modernity to ancient history,” but the Greek Premier didn’t use a veto power when the United Kingdom was leaving the European Union to force their return and hasn’t resorted to legal action.
He wrote: “This year marks the 200th anniversary of Greece’s war of independence against the Ottoman Empire, a war in which Britain stood with Greece in the fight for freedom.
“What greater manifestation of the Prime Minister’s vision of a new, self-confident, open, and truly global Britain could there be, then, than for his government to take a bold step forward and, with the British Museum, repatriate the Parthenon Sculptures?’
He added “Reuniting the marbles would be made very much easier if the British Government cut the political restraints in the form of the British Museum Act of 1963 that tie the hands of the museum.
“Now, given that the Prime Minister has told me he would not stand in the way of Greece establishing a formal dialogue with the British Museum over the future of the marbles, I can only assume that … he will not obstruct any future agreement and that, instead, the Prime Minister would seek to amend the relevant legislation to allow the sculptures’ return.”
NO MORE EXCUSES PLEASE
The piece came as a poll in the UK showed 62 percent of people believe the marbles should be returned and only 20 percent believe they are now the property of the British people and museum although they are Greek. Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, the wife of Hollywood actor George Clooney – who has clashed with Johnson over the marbles – is still advising the Greek Culture Ministry, the paper said.
That’s despite the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA in 2015 dropping a court fight to force the return with then-premier Alexis Tsipras saying the marbles belonged to the world and not Greece.
A new Acropolis Museum that opened in 2009 was designed with an all-glass face to put the marbles on a top floor facing the original home of the Parthenon, taking away another reason the British Museum had against their return – that Greece had no proper place to display them.
“Neither the frieze nor the Parthenon can be viewed as complete without the missing sculptures,” said Mitsotakis.
Writing in the British newspaper The Guardian, columnist Simon Jenkins said the British Museum has run out of reasons not to return the marbles whose theft it’s curator, Hartwig Fischer said was a “creative act.”
“Anyone who has seen the other half of the Parthenon frieze, now on display in Athens’ magnificent Acropolis Museum, will agree that this greatest of European treasures should not be cut up and divided between Athens and London. It belongs where it was created, radiant in the Greek light and laid out within sight of its original temple. Half of it should not be sitting, frigid and out of context, in a bleak Bloomsbury mausoleum,” Jenkins wrote.
“The missing Parthenon frieze in its original state is a reminder of the country’s humiliation by the Turks, and by a British aristocrat. They feel these stones are theirs, just as the Stone of Scone belongs to Scotland, and Stonehenge would “belong” to every Briton, had the Emperor Claudius decided to cart it back to Rome,” he said.
“Johnson is being feeble in fobbing off Athens’ request as not being under his purview. The museum is a state institution. Instead of keeping his promise and doing the right thing by the marbles, he has performed another U-turn and funked it,” he added.
“If Londoners want to experience the aesthetic appeal of Greek carving, they can: technology can replicate it for them, as it is now replicating famous statues across Europe. But let the stones return,” he said.