ATHENS – Greece said it was “unprecedented” and “disrespectful” for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, upset over an interview Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis gave to the BBC over the stolen Parthenon Marbles, to meet him.
The Greek leader was in London for talks with officials and to attend an investor event as he’s trying to lure more businesses during Greece’s accelerating economic recovery and used the occasion to push for return of the Marbles.
Those have been kept in the British Museum since 1816, bought from a Scottish diplomat, Lord Elgin, who took them off the Parthenon with the permission of the then-ruling Ottoman Empire, which didn’t own them.
The museum has said that’s proof they own them and offered Greece only a loan with the stipulation they belong to the museum and not to Greece, which Mitsotakis rejected although he said he’s seeking some kind of reunification.
Sunak, who is facing trouble in the polls in his short tenure and is of Indian descent, snubbed Mitsotakis, a rarity between heads of state who talk over more important issues, including near-conflicts.
“It is not something that is done. We are looking for a precedent and cannot find one,” Greece’s New Democracy government Pavlos Marinakis told SKAI TV about what Sunak did.
Marinakis said that it was “not only disrespectful to the Greek Prime Minister but also to the Greek people,” the row putting another obstacle to any hope the Marbles would ever be returned, more than 200 years after they were stolen.
“We are assuming the obvious, that he (Sunak) was annoyed by comments reiterating the country’s fixed position on the return of the Parthenon Sculptures,” Marinakis said, referring to the BBC interview.
“Expressing a difference is better, especially when a Prime Minister from a different country is on a visit with a heavily laden agenda, like the Mideast crisis,” Marinakis told SKAI.
That repeated Mitsotakis’ annoyance at the insult by another head of state, the Greek leader saying he had planned to talk with Sunak about Israel’s war with Hamas and other world issues apart from the Marbles.
The Financial Times quoted a senior British Conservative party official as confirming that the meeting “became impossible… following commentary regarding the Elgin Marbles prior to it.”
That’s the name the British use to call the Parthenon Marbles that were stolen by Elgin, the British Museum long refusing any idea of returning them before bringing up the idea of a temporary loan – if Greece provided other artifacts.
“Our position is clear: the Elgin Marbles are part of the permanent collection of the British Museum and belong here. It is reckless for any British politician to suggest that this is subject to negotiation,” the official told the FT.
Mitsotakis said having some of the Marbles in London and the rest on the Parthenon was akin to “cutting up the Mona Lisa,” which apparently offended Sunak enough to call off the meeting although Greece’s position is well known.
Keir Starmer, head of Britain’s major opposition Labour Party, said if he comes to power he would block any attempt at returning the stolen Marbles but would go along with a loan that would require a future Greek government to return them.