Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said earlier this week that Greece would be officially requesting the temporary return of the Parthenon Marbles to Athens, for the bicentennial celebrations commemorating the 1821 Greek War of Independence set for 2021.
Mendoni’s announcement came after Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told the Observer that he would request from his British counterpart, Boris Johnson, to initially lend the Parthenon Marbles to Greece as a first step toward their permanent return.
In response to the demand, the British Museum said it would only be considered if Greece acknowledged British ownership of the sculptures, which were removed from the Parthenon in the 1800s, taken to England, and sold to the museum in 1816, by Lord Elgin.
“A pre-condition for any loan is the acceptance of the lending institution’s ownership,” a British Museum spokesperson told The Telegraph. “No museum or gallery in the world would loan objects unless the other institution that was borrowing them accepted ownership.”
Mendoni was quick to react to the museum’s claims that requesting a “loan” was equivalent to acknowledging ownership.
“As this is a matter of theft, it automatically excludes ownership rights,” she said. The Greek position has not changed in any way,” said Mendoni.
“A loan… the prime minister’s proposal to exhibit the sculptures in Athens, is unrelated and does not change our long-standing demand. Rights could not arise from theft,” she said, adding that any request would be worded in such a way so as to “safeguard Greek claims”.
The idea behind the temporary return of the prized Greek sculptures would be for Greece to send over to the British Museum a number of Greek antiquities as a sign of cooperation.
It should be reminded that last year, in a statement UNESCO said it recognized the historical, cultural, legal and ethical dimensions of the issue of the return of the Marbles to the Parthenon, which is a World Heritage Site and as such of universal significance.
The Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation has called on both sides to resolve the issue with a “mutually acceptable solution”. Support in this direction was expressed by UNESCO committee members from China, Turkey, Japan, Armenia, Mexico, Iraq, Korea, Egypt, Argentina, Cyprus, Zambia, and France.