Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis raised the issue of the return of the Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum in today’s highly-anticipated meeting with his UK counterpart, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in London.
Government sources noted that the Greek PM reiterated to Mr Johnson the constant appeals by Greece for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures, emphasizing that now is the time to satisfy the just Greek request and the restoration of the monument in its entirety at the Acropolis Museum in Athens.
In a discussion with Greek journalists after the meeting, Mitsotakis underlined: “Our request is not a flare. We will methodically insist on building the necessary foundations and impress upon British public opinion on the need to reunite with the Sculptures of the Acropolis Museum. It is an important issue that concerns our bilateral relations.”
“It is not only a legal issue, but primarily a value and political issue,” he added, assuring that “we will use all means to achieve our goal.”
In his first visit to Downing Street, the two leaders also discussed deeper Greek-UK economic and trade ties and increased investments, as well as tourism, relations with Turkey and the Cyprus issue.
“Fair request, the time has come”
In an interview last week with the Daily Telegraph, Mitsotakis made it clear that the 2,500 year-old sculptures had been “stolen” from Athens “and we need to discuss the issue in earnest.”
“I am sure that if there is 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 told the newspaper.
“It would be a fantastic statement by what Prime Minister Johnson calls Global Britain if they were to move on this and look at it through a completely different lens,” he added, describing unwillingness to discuss the issue as “anachronistic.”
The UK Government’s position, thus far, has been that the Parthenon Marbles were legally acquired in the early 19th century by Lord Elgin from the Ottoman empire, which ruled Greece at the time.
Earlier this year, Mr Johnson ruled out returning the marbles to Greece.
He told Greek newspaper Ta Nea: “I understand the strong feelings of the Greek people, and indeed Prime Minister Mitsotakis, on the issue. But the UK Government has a firm longstanding 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.”
In today’s meeting, Mr Johnson, as expected from the Greek side, reportedly reiterated the firm British position that the issue of the Sculptures concerns the Trustees of the British Museum and not the UK Government.
“The possession of the marbles is a matter purely for the museum,” Johnson spokesman Max Blain said. “It is not one for the UK government.”
Before his meeting with Johnson, Mitsotakis spoke of very strong, historical relations between Greece and Britain.
Mitsotakis characterized Johnson as “a true philhellene,” and Johnson thanked him for his leading stance at the COP26 climate change conference.
With information from AP-Kathimerini