LONDON – Whether the British Museum should return the stolen Parthenon Marbles has become a never-ending story but now a former United Kingdom Culture Minister, Lord Vaizey, will lead a panel set up by a Greek-American businessman, John Lefas, trying to determine whether they should ‘come home’.
Vaizey, who served from 2010-16, told the BBC that he was confident that “a deal is within reach,” echoing previous comments from the museum Chairman, George Osborne, who said that there is “a deal to be done.”
But that, said Osborne, was only lending the marbles to Greece, and getting other Greek treasures as valuables to exhibit in London when the Marbles are in Greece – and that the Greek government would have to stipulate the Greek marbles are now British property forever.
That was rejected by Greece’s New Democracy government with Culture Minister Lina Mendoni complaining that the marbles were stolen – but Greece wasn’t willing to go to court to push the case.
The aim is to also get the House of Lords to debate an act which restricts museums from disposing of objects in their collections, though current UK Prime Minister Liz Truss said Greece will never get them back – how long she will in power being up in the air at the moment, however.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said: “the British Museum is prevented by law from removing objects from its collections, except in some narrow circumstances. The government has no plans to change this act.”
In a statement, the museum said: “We will loan the sculptures, as we do many other objects, to those who wish to display them to the public around the world, provided they will look after them and return them,” after earlier saying the Greeks weren’t capable of caring for their own marbles.
“Deepening public access and understanding, creating new ways and opportunities for collections to be shared and understood right across the world, and forging connections between the present and the past, remain at the core of what the British Museum seeks to achieve,” they added.
Asked recently about a potential deal that could lead to the return of the Marbles, it was noted that The British Museum has always said that only the government can decide their fate, though the government says the “collections are a matter for the trustees,” allowing both sides to avoid any responsibility.
A majority of the British public, however, said Greece should get the marbles back, the BBC said, citing a poll it had seen, the government and museum long ignoring any public sentiment. The strongest reason for supporting the return was because they “rightfully belong to Greece,” the poll showed.
Lord Vaizey is joined by other founding members on the advisory board of the Parthenon Project, an organization founded by Lefas who said he’s willing to spend a fortune to get them back to Greece.
The Board also includes two other Conservative peers, the renowned author Lord Dobbs and Baroness Meyer. They’re joined by Stephen Fry – who champions the Marbles’ return – and the journalist Sarah Baxter.
Vaizey said that, “support for the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures in Athens from the public, and in particular Conservative leaning voters, is clear,” but the museum and governments have shown they don’t care.
He added it would be “in the best interests of the British Museum and UK government to begin meaningful engagement on this issue,” with no sign that would happen and everything suggesting that the panel would be spitting into the wind.
The British Museum said it doesn’t want to return the Parthenon Marbles because it would have to return other stolen treasures it acquired as well as those plundered by the British when it had colonies.
Nevertheless, Fry said he was “delighted” to be supporting the Parthenon Project, adding: “I firmly believe that we now have a real chance to find a solution that benefits both Britain and Greece. It is time to put our energies into an exchange involving a revolving collection of never-seen-in-London before artifacts populating the Duveen Gallery in the British Museum, whilst the sculptures are returned to Greece.”