Elgin marbles: Greece offers Britain other treasures in exchange for return of ‘stolen’ Parthenon sculptures

‘We need to discuss this issue in earnest,’ says Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis

Zoe Tidman
Saturday 13 November 2021 19:16 GMT
<p>Greece has offered to strike a deal for the return of the Elgin marbles</p>

Greece has offered to strike a deal for the return of the Elgin marbles

The Greek prime minister has reiterated his offer that Athens could loan alternative treasures to the British Museum as a way of resolving the decades-old dispute over the return of the “stolen” Parthenon marbles, also known as the Elgin marbles.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis raised the issue ahead of a meeting with Boris Johnson, and criticised his British counterpart’s stance that the fate of the marbles was not up for discussion.

The sculptures – which adorned the Parthenon temple in Athens before they were removed by Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, and brought to the UK more than 200 years ago – have long been a source of tension between Greece and the UK.

Earlier this year, Boris Johnson insisted that Britain was the legitimate owner of the marbles, now labelled the “Parthenon Sculptures” in their British Museum exhibit.

But Mr Mitsotakis has reiterated Greece’s position that the treasures should be returned to their country of origin, and confirmed he would bring up the matter in the talks with Mr Johnson.

“Our position is very clear,” the Greek prime minister said in an interview with theTelegraph.

“The marbles were stolen in the 19th century, they belong in the Acropolis Museum, and we need to discuss this issue in earnest.”

He also explained his proposed solution to the deadlock, which he first raised just weeks after his centre-right government came to power in the summer of 2019.

“I am sure that, if there was a willingness on the part of the government to move, we could find an arrangement with the British Museum in terms of us sending abroad cultural treasures on loan, which have never left the country,” he said.

“Refusing to discuss the topic seems to me, given the context of everything that has been happening in terms of the return of cultural treasures, to be rather an anachronistic approach,” he said.

Mr Johnson earlier this year ruled out returning the marbles, telling Greek newspaper Ta Nea he understands the “strong feelings” of the Greek public and its prime minister on the issue.

“But the UK government has a firm, long-standing 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,” the UK prime minister said.

The British Museum says it first received a request from Greece for the permanent return of the marbles in the 1980s.

On its website, it says Lord Elgin received permission from the authorities to remove half of the remaining sculptures from the ruins of the Parthenon in the early 19th century.

This took place while Lord Elgin was the British ambassador to the Ottoman empire, which ruled Athens at the time.

Greek campaigners have insisted the occupying power did not have the legitimacy to authorise such an action involving a central part of Greek cultural heritage.

Mr Mitsotakis also raised the issue of the marbles in a speech in France earlier this week, calling for talks between the UK and Greece to bring the marbles back to their original country.

“It is essential that the Parthenon marbles in London should be reunited with the majority of the Parthenon sculptures in Athens,” he said.

Greece’s half of the marbles take pride of place at the Acropolis museum in Athens, with panoramic views of the Parthenon itself, in a display designed to easily house the other half in the event that they are returned.

In 2019, the then president of Greece called for the sculptures to leave the “murky prison” of the British Museum where they were being “held as trophies”.

Additional reporting by agencies

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