LONDON – After Britain’s former premier Boris Johnson said return of the stolen Parthenon Marbles to Greece was up to the British Museum, a new government said it’s up to them and won’t allow it.
That came amid reports about a return or reunification of the marbles in Athens that were swirled in uncertainty about what terms would be after the Greek newspaper Ta Nea said that Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and museum Chairman were in secret negotiations that began a year earlier.
“A win-win solution can be found that will result in the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures in Greece, while at the same time taking into account concerns that the British Museum may have,” the Greek premier added.
But even as the Greek government backed away from talk there was hope for the marbles coming back – Mitsotakis had said it might not a return without clarifying what he meant – the British government said it’s not going to happen.
The British Museum’s trustees are free to talk to whom they want, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman told reporters in response, said Agence France-Presse about the unresolved issue.
But he said that, “We have no plans to change the law, which prevents removing objects from the museum’s collections, the British Museum’s collections, apart from certain circumstances. Our position on that hasn’t changed.”
Under the 1963 British Museum Act, which updated previous legislation, the museum can only sell or give away items from its collection under only three limited conditions that have protocols.
They include if the trustees decide that “the object is unfit to be retained in the collections of the Museum and can be disposed of without detriment to the interests of students, the report added.
Sunak’s spokesman refused to say if the museum might be able to seek a special license from the government to break up the Marbles that the British name after Lord Elgin, the Scottish diplomat who ripped them off the Parthenon 200 years earlier and then sold to the museum, which claims it’s the rightful owner of the stolen property.
Osborne had also said while he and Mitsotakis were talking about a reunification of the marbles that the museum wouldn’t dismantle its collection, adding to the confusion about what was going on.
That was followed up by the museum issuing a similar statement that, “We operate within the law and we’re not going to dismantle our great collection, as it tells a unique story of our common humanity,” without mentioning much of its collection was looted from other countries and former colonies.
But it also said it wanted “a new Parthenon partnership with Greece” that Osborne earlier said would be a loan with the stipulation that Greece would have to agree the museum is the owner and would put up collateral for the museum with other Greek treasures to be displayed.
The Ta Nea report by its London correspondent Yannis Andritsopoulos said that Greece’s Ministry of Culture has also been working on a “reunification strategy” under the supervision of Minister Lina Mendoni.
A Greek official not named said that senior British Museum figures have privately conceded that the sculptures will eventually be restored to Athens as a single work of art and that Greek would have to put up rare artifacts in return.
Several solutions were being discussed, the report said, including ways for Mitsotakis to get around Greece claiming ownership which wouldn’t be mentioned in an agreement, which he hinted at in his earlier statement.
“It is understood that British officials have proposed a ‘partial return’ of the Marbles. They have also mooted the idea that London and Athens could ‘share’ the sculptures. A Greek official said that Athens has not signed up to such ‘solutions,’” the report added about the efforts.