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Parthenon Marbles Dispute Heats Up After UK PM’s Comment

Sculptures from the Parthenon temple on display at the British Museum. Photo source: British Museum

Greece reacted strongly this week to claims made by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson that Britain will not return the Parthenon Marbles to legal owner Greece, reigniting an age-old dispute.

“Greece does not accept the legal acquisition and ownership of 2,500-year-old Greek sculptures by the British Museum,” said Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni, adding that the ministry can provide evidence that demonstrates the illegal actions of Lord Byron. 

Mendoni underlined that according to historical data, Elgin did not legitimately acquire the Marbles, which also means that the British Museum in London cannot claim ownership.

“For Greece, the British Museum does not have legitimate ownership or possession of the Sculptures,” she said in a statement, adding that it was obvious that Johnson was uniformed before making the statement concerning the new historical data that has come to light

The Greek Marbles, which are the leading money-making attraction in the British Museum, were torn off the Parthenon Temple together with a section of the Parthenon Frieze in the early 1800s by Lord Elgin.

Claiming to be passionate about Classical Greek studies, Johnson’s comment to Greek daily Ta Nea created a stir worldwide with committees working for the return of the Marbles expressing discontent.

Marble relief (Block XLVII) from the North frieze of the Parthenon. Athens, 438–432 BC., Photo source: British Museum

Kris Tytgat, president of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures, said that Johnson’s comments demonstrate that “we still have a lot of work to do in terms of raising awareness, even in Greece, as people do not know exactly what we are requesting and are unaware of the exact conditions under which the looting took place”. Tytgat went on to express the committee’s support.

A day after the Johnson’s remarks, European Commission Vice-President for Promoting the European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas said: “The Marbles belong in the Parthenon. In these difficult times, universal cultural heritage should uplift humanity, not divide it.”

The UK and the British Museum have repeatedly been slammed for their refusal to return the Parthenon Marbles to their country of origin, amid an ever-growing number of supporters worldwide.

The British Museum has cited a number of arguments, many of which are no longer founded, including the fact the Greece has no adequate space to house the Marbles. 

Meanwhile, US congress has called for the return of the Parthenon Marbles and UNESCO for a “mutually acceptable solution” recognizing the historical, cultural, legal and ethical dimensions of the issue, which has been the subject of an ongoing dispute between Greece and the UK. 

It should be noted that a legal clause in the Brexit trade agreement foresees the return of unlawfully removed cultural objects and stolen artefacts to their legal owners. 

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