It appears that the UK is ready to sit at the table with Greece to discuss the return of the Parthenon Marbles amid mounting pressure by the international community on the British Museum to return the illegally removed antiquities to Athens.
The decision was announced this week by UNESCO during the 23rd session in Paris of the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation (ICPRCP).
According to the announcement, the issue is set to be discussed between Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni and Lord Stephen Parkinson, under-secretary of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. A date of the meeting has yet to be announced.
During an event in Athens earlier this for the reunification of the Marbles, Mendoni said the issue holds an international, cultural and human dimension. Unlike other looted artworks and monuments which are singular items, the Parthenon Sculptures complete a whole.
“It is now becoming increasingly clear that the British Museum has committed itself to a sterile, counterproductive and long-term deadlocked policy,” said Mendoni.
However, despite the announcement this week, the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles (BCRPM) tweeted that a UK Government spokesperson told Ta Nea daily that “there had been no change to the UK’s position on the Parthenon Sculptures and no change to the nature of our formal engagement with Greece on the issue”, after it emerged that Britain and Greece have agreed to formal talks.
.@CommonsDCMS #respect warranted for cultural heritage & for these specific sculptures. Greece's request is wholly justified, but more importantly, the surviving #ParthenonMarbles belong to themselves + the Parthenon, which after millennia of history, wars and more, still stands https://t.co/gCabvPYIXD pic.twitter.com/vBwKk3FoPf
— British Committee (@BCRPM) May 19, 2022
According to media reports, the UK spokesperson for the culture ministry said: “The UK has a longstanding position on this issue that has not changed – the Parthenon Sculptures were acquired legally in accordance with the law at the time. The British Museum operates independently of the government and free from political interference. All decisions relating to collections are taken by the Museum’s trustees.”
UNESCO has repeatedly called on the UK to “reconsider its stance and proceed to a bona fide dialogue with Greece”, recognizing the historical, cultural, legal and ethical dimensions of the issue.
On its part, Downing Street last November said the decision to return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece was up to the British Museum and not the government. The statement was made prior to a London visit by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis who said it was “a fair request” during his meeting with UK PM Boris Johnson.
It should be reminded that Greece’s repeated appeals for the repatriation of the 2,500-year-old marble sculptures that once adorned the Parthenon facade on the Acropolis is based on the fact that the artefacts, which are integral parts of the Parthenon, an UNESCO World Heritage site, were illegally removed by Lord Elgin in the 1800s and sold to the museum falling under international rulings for the return of cultural property to countries of origin or restitution in case of illicit appropriation.
In April, Mendoni met with the national committees dedicated to the return of the Parthenon Marbles during her visit to Australia.
Last year, the British Museum, which had claimed in the past that Greece had no place to host, preserve, care and exhibit the Greek art works “safely”, was slammed for the terrible conditions of its “Greek” galleries with media publishing photos depicting a leaking roof and water seeping into seven galleries featuring items including the Parthenon Sculptures.
It should be reminded that the United Nations General Assembly with the support of 74 countries has endorsed Greece’s request, accepting its proposal for the return of cultural property unlawfully removed as part of ongoing efforts to protect the world’s cultural heritage. US congress has also called for the return of the Parthenon Marbles.
In September, Athens will be hosting a meeting of national committees from around the world which are lobbying for the return of the Marbles. She said the event in Athens aims to coordinate and boost joint efforts for the repatriation of the Marbles.