Just days after the British Museum confirmed talks with Greece over the Parthenon Marbles’ return to Athens, the Greek Ministry of Culture released a statement renouncing the possibility of any agreement that affirms United Kingdom’s claim to ownership of the contested antiquities.
“We repeat, once again, our country’s firm position that it does not recognize the British Museum’s jurisdiction, possession and ownership of the Sculptures, as they are the product of theft,” the Greek Ministry of Culture said, Kathimerini, Greece’s newspaper of record, reported Thursday.
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The culture ministry’s statement appeared to be in direct response to reports in Bloomberg and the Telegraph earlier this week that British Museum chairman George Osborne and the Acropolis Museum in Athens were in “advanced talks” on a loan agreement that could entail a “proportion of the marbles sent to Athens on rotation over several years.”
Greek sources told the Telegraph that an exchange of antiquities, with items from National Archaeological Museum in Athens heading to the U.K., could begin “sooner rather than later.”
The statement from the Greek Ministry of Culture in Kathimerini, however, appeared to quash the possibility of any agreement structured as a loan. It said that Greece’s official position — that the Parthenon Marbles unequivocally belong to Greece — had remained unchanged.
Here is the full announcement (as published by Kathimerini and translated roughly by Google Translate):
“The government, since the beginning of its term, has been acting with seriousness, responsibility, sensitivity and efficiency, in order to realize the national goal of returning the Parthenon Sculptures to Athens and reuniting them in the Acropolis Museum.
This is undoubtedly assumed by a series of events of the last two years: From UNESCO’s decision, in September 2021, and the definitive (sine die) reunification of the Fagan fragment, to the conversion and support of the Greek request by international public opinion.
We repeat, once again, our country’s firm position that it does not recognize the British Museum’s jurisdiction, possession and ownership of the Sculptures, as they are the product of theft.
Therefore, let the official opposition stop blabbing. We would expect in this national effort that small-party calculations would be left aside and that there would be an enlistment of all. Unfortunately we don’t see it. For some, the first goal is to wear down the government, even with lies, regardless of whether they harm the country. Pity.”
Last month, Greek newspaper Ta Nea reported that Greece and the British Museum had been secretly meeting for months about the marbles, which have been on view in the British Museum since 1832, after they were stripped from the Acropolis in Athens by the Scottish nobleman Lord Elgin.
Pressure on the British Museum has grown in recent years for the museum to acknowledge Greece’s claim to the marbles, as the debate around the ownership of artworks looted during periods of colonization has shifted worldwide.
Throughout the controversy, the U.K. government has maintained that the decision rests with the British Museum, which has maintained that the sculptures were obtained legally by Elgin, who was granted permission for the operation by the Ottoman powers occupying Greece in the 19th century.
Fragments of the original Parthenon frieze are scattered in museums across Europe but have been slowly making their way back to Greece.
In May, Italy announced that a fragment belonging to the Parthenon’s eastern frieze on loan from a Sicilian museum would remain in Athens. The artifact, depicting the foot of the goddess Artemis peeking out from a tunic, was returned as part of a four-year loan agreement between Greece and the Antonio Salinas Archaeological Museum in Palermo.
More recently, the Vatican promised to relinquish three fragments of the Parthenon Marbles housed in the Vatican Museums. In the announcement, the Vatican described the move as a “donation” from the Pope to the Greek Orthodox Church, and said it was “a concrete sign of his sincere desire to follow in the ecumenical path of truth.”