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Politics

UK Won’t Budge, Mitsotakis Pushes for Parthenon Marbles Return

November 16, 2021

LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already said the answer is “no” but Greek Premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis will in a meeting with him in London ask again for the return of the stolen Parthenon Marbles housed in the British Museum.

Mitsotakis didn’t use a Greek veto power when the United Kingdom was leaving the European Union to force the return of the invaluable marbles stolen off the Acropolis more than 200 years ago but said he will try again now.

Greek government spokesman Yiannis Oikonomou told reporters the issue would be raised when Mitsotakis and Johnson meet although the British leader earlier ruled out any chance of the marbles being returned, claiming they no longer belong to Greece.

The marbles – 17 figures and part of a frieze that decorated the 2,500-year-old Acropolis monument – were stolen by Lord Elgin, the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, in the early 19th Century.

Britain maintains that Elgin acquired the sculptures legally when Greece was ruled by the Ottomans, who also didn’t own the treasures and Greece said there’s no legal standing for them being taken.

“The obligation to return the Parthenon sculptures is entirely up to the government of the United Kingdom,” Oikonomou said. He added that the Greek request for government-to-government talks on the issue was backed by the United Nations’ cultural agency, UNESCO which has done nothing else to help.

Greece has said the new Acropolis Museum that opened in 2009 would be used to display the sculptures if they were returned but British Museum officials have scoffed at the idea and said they will never come back to Greece.

Johnson earlier this year ruled out returning the marbles to Greece, telling Greek newspaper Ta Nea: ‘I understand the strong feelings of the Greek people – and indeed Prime Minister Mitsotakis – on the issue.

“But the UK Government has a firm longstanding position on the sculptures which is that they were legally acquired by Lord Elgin under the appropriate laws of the time and have been legally owned by the British Museum’s Trustees since their acquisition,” although they were stolen.

The Parthenon Marbles are a collection of classical Greek marble sculptures, inscriptions and architectural members that were mostly created by Phidias and his assistants. After he removed them, Elgin sold them to the British Museum, which denied it’s holding stolen goods.

Elgin’s agents subsequently removed half of the surviving sculptures, as well as architectural members and sculpture from the Propylaea and Erechtheum. It’s not been said why he didn’t just take them all.

The site The Art Newspaper, in a feature, said the marbles have been in jeopardy from rain and poor maintenance at the British Museum, which is due to reopen its Greek galleries to the public on Dec. 13.

They have been closed during the COVID-19 pandemic and the site noted a crumbling infrastructure in the museum and said that, “The shoddy state of the galleries, which house the celebrated marble sculptures removed from the Parthenon, has fueled Greek demands for their restitution.”

In July a heavy rain caused a roof leak there, threatening the state of the Nereid monument although British Museum officials said their facility is the best place for them to be housed, now the new Acropolis Museum which has a top floor reserved for their return with a full window view of the Parthenon.

In 2018, Greek TV showed images of water dripping into the Parthenon Marbles gallery, with the Greek Culture Minister, Lina Mendoni, responding that it “reinforces Greece’s rightful demand for the sculptures’ permanent return to Athens,” but Greece’s tactic has been repeated failed use of diplomacy.

The leak was caused by a 40-year-old glass ceiling pane cracking, a museum spokesperson said, the site reported.

“Such cracks are due to general wear and tear, which is expected over time in an old and historic building. This was addressed in 2018 and the glass was replaced with new fixings.” None of the sculptures were damaged, the museum said.

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