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Politics

Return? Reunification? Loan? Parthenon Marbles Wheeling and Dealing

February 19, 2023

The secret deal being worked on about whether the stolen Parthenon Marbles would ever be seen in Athens again is still shrouded in code words about whether Greece would get them back all at once and permanently, or in batches as a loan.

George Osborne, Chairman of the British Museum that has kept them for 220 years after buying them from a Scottish diplomat, Lord Elgin, who ripped them off the Parthenon, clouded his answers about whether it would be a loan.

He has been negotiating privately with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who was keen on agreeing on some kind of deal that would see the marbles back in Greece ahead of the coming spring elections.

Osborne told BBC radio that he wants a mutually beneficial deal but that the museum would not give up ownership, indicating that Greece would have to stipulate it no longer owns the 2500-year treasures if it wants to see them again.

Mitsotakis has run into a fusillade of criticism from rival parties not to accept anything other than outright return but his responses have been equally vague, calling for a “reunification,” or “return,” and as Osborne suggested Greece was willing to discuss a loan.

The Art newspaper, one of the cultural sites of record, said that, “If his proposals are accepted by Greece, Osborne hinted that the marbles would be shared by and exhibited in both Greece and the UK.”

Speaking on the BBC’s Today program, he said: “It’s a very hard problem to solve. But I think there is a way forward where the sculptures could be seen both in London and in Athens, and that will be a win-win for Greece and for us,” suggesting a compromise that would avoid the word “loan.”

He called it a “hybrid” deal amid speculation that the museum would only loan Greece part of its own treasures but that it would in return get other Greek artifacts to fill the space and essentially kept as a guarantee that a Greek government would send back the first batch.

SET IN STONE

“We’re talking to the Greek government about a new arrangement,” he said. “What I didn’t want to do is force the Greeks to accept things that they find impossible, and equally they can’t force on us things that we would find impossible,” he said.

The 1963 British Museum Act currently prohibits a full return of the artifacts and every Culture Secretary has refused to seek to amend the law although it could be done so by a Prime Minister.

Changing the law is “beyond my authority,” Osborne acknowledged in the interview, allowing him to shift the responsibility to the government – which has said it’s the responsibility of the museum.

Osborne’s usage of the term “hybrid” marks a change from earlier rhetoric on the issue, the site said after he earlier said that, “We hear the voices calling for restitution. But creating this global British Museum was the dedicated work of many generations. Dismantling it must not become the careless act of a single generation,” digging in his heels.

Speaking at the relaunch of the new Manchester Museum in Manchester, England, Mayor Andy Burnham, a former Labour leadership candidate, said, “Yes, Yes, George Osborne should give the Elgin Marbles back,” using the name the British call them to deflect Greece’s ownership.

In response to Osborne’s statements, Greek commentators once again expressed doubt that the “hybrid” deal Osborne has outlined would be accepted ahead of elections, the site said.

There’s been curiously little reaction from those outside of Greece who support the outright return but George Vardas, Arts & Culture Editor of Melbourne’s Greek City Times and Secretary of the Australian Hellenic Council encapsulated the doubt about the current talk yielding anything.

“If this is the supposed deal for a ‘win win”’solution, then cultural diplomacy will reach a stalemate yet again insofar as Parthenon Sculptures” could be seen both in London and Athens, he said.

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