ATHENS – Talks about the possible reunification or return of the stolen Parthenon Marbles Greece are still shrouded in secrecy but one report said it could see the British Museum open an annex in in Athens to display them.
There’s been no details from the office of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who was said to have been in private talks with British Museum George Osborne for a year over a deal to bring back the marbles.
But Mitsotakis hasn’t made clear whether it would be a loan or outright return, nor whether Greece would get ownership and the British Musem said it would never “dismantle” its collection.
That has led to speculation about what any deal would involve to see the marbles back in Athens some 200 years after they were ripped off the Parthenon by Scottish diplomat Lord Elgin.
He said he had the permission of the then-ruling Ottoman Empire, which didn’t own them, and sold them to the British Museum after getting into financial trouble. The musem has said it’s the legal owner, not Greece.
But with pressure mounting on the museum internationally as well as in the United Kingdom for their return – and Mitsotakis facing a re-election campaign in 2023 – there’s been stepped-up negotiations for a deal.
The UK correspondent for the Greek TV station ANT1, Isaac Karipidis, said a possible scenario could see the British Museum open a branch in Athens to display the marbles and keep ownership.
Citing an unnamed British government official, he said he was told that, “Given that no Greek government will ever accept the loan solution, the only way to return the Sculptures of the Parthenon in Greece, without changing the 1963 law, which expressly and categorically forbids the British Museum to remove objects from its collections, is for the British Museum to open a kind of annex in Greece.”
A British official also said that, “The Parthenon Sculptures will still belong to the British Museum, as the law requires, but at the same time they will be in Athens, as the Greek side wishes,” in a political compromise.
The Greek newspaper Iefimerida said if true: “This is how they will return to Greece – The ‘trick’ with the establishment of a branch of the British Museum,” but Greek officials have only confirmed the secret talks with no details.
The Art Newspaper said that there’s another likelihood. The British Museum is on a 1 Billion Pounds ($1.23 billion) fund-raising drive to renovate the aging facility where conditions are especially bad in the area holding the marbles.
“A museum spokesperson declined to say when the renovation of the Greek and Assyrian galleries is expected to begin and end, what its projected cost is and, crucially, where the Parthenon Marbles will go while the work is underway,” the report said – indicating they could be loaned to Greece without specifying whether they would then be returned to London.
“A British Museum spokesperson declined to confirm whether trustees are now seeking to arrange a loan of the 5th-Century BC sculptures to Athens while renovation work is underway on the Greek galleries in London,” the report said.
But it noted that Osborne, speaking to the British Museum’s trustees annual dinner said the museum would not agree to return any of its treasures to any country from which they were stolen.
“There are partnerships we can strike. If you are willing to find common ground with us, we will find common ground with you,” he said after earlier insisting the only option was a loan with Greece agreeing to give up ownership.
“But there is little common ground as far as the Parthenon marbles are concerned. The Greeks have said repeatedly that they would reject a loan of the sculptures and have called instead for the permanent return of the Parthenon Marbles to Athens,” the site said.