The issue of the return of the Parthenon Sculptures has acquired a special dynamic in recent months, as the density of articles in the UK media reaches fever pitch. For the first time in the history of Greece’s campaign for the return of the Marbles to Greece, UNESCO’s proposal for direct bilateral talks between the British and Greek Ministries of Culture has been accepted by the UK Government.
“After Melina Mercouri’s global campaign in the 1980s for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures, the campaign continues today by the Greek Prime Minister.” This was highlighted, among other aspects of the campaign, in an extensive report by the UK’s ITV television network, which discussed the efforts of the Greek government for the reunification of the Marbles. “Kyriakos Mitsotakis has raised the issue not only in his recent visit to London, but also in his speech to US Congress, thus increasing the pressure on Britain,” the ITV program reported. At the same time, this report noted the growing support of among the British public and prominent figures in the art world.
Following the Greek Prime Minister’s visit to London last November, where he raised the issue with his British counterpart, Boris Johnson, the Greek position appears to be constantly gaining new and influential supporters. The most compelling of all is the about-face by the Times of London, which is now in favor of the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece. The British newspaper changed its line “after 50 years,” as it pointed out in a feature article on January 11.
“Artists and politicians have been arguing for many years that these works of art should be returned to Greece. The Museum and the British government, with the support of the Times, resisted the pressure. But times and conditions are changing. The sculptures belong to Athens. Now they have to return,” the British newspaper stressed.
The strong momentum that has developed in favor of the Greek position is also reflected in the polls. In the last one conducted by the London-based opinion polling firm YouGov, 59% of UK citizens answered that they believe the Marbles “belong to Greece.” Only 18% said the opposite, while 22% of respondents said they had no opinion.
Furthermore, leading figures in the United Kingdom are now publicly expressing their view in favor of the reunification of the Sculptures in Athens.
Among them is one of the most famous British directors, Ken Loach, who recently made it clear, once again, that in his view the Marbles were stolen [by Lord Elgin] and must be returned to Greece immediately. “One detail that shows the thief’s arrogance is that at the British Museum, they are called the ‘Elgin Marbles.’ The idea that we (not us, but those in power) are so unconscious of their crime that they call their quarry after the man stole them, says it all about the arrogance of the imperialists. The Parthenon Sculptures should of course be returned immediately. Everyone with a sane mind understands this,” said the award-winning director.
Stephen Fry, the distinguished British actor and writer who, for many years, has been in favor of the return of the Marbles to Greece, a few days ago repeated in an interview that the British Museum no longer has any substantial argument. “Imagine the Americans ‘buying’ the Eiffel Tower from the Germans in 1941 and, after the liberation of France in 1945, claiming that because we bought them from the Nazis, it is now ours. It would be outrageous,” Fry told ITV. He went on to clarify that “the Parthenon is far more important for Athens than the Eiffel tower is for the Parisians.”
At the same time, Edith Hall, a professor of classical studies and ancient history at Durham University, said: “Most people around the world simply do not understand the British Museum’s arguments. They sound outdated, as if they belong to the 19th and not to the 21st century.”
As a British journalist who has been dealing with the issue for years made clear to the ANA-MPA, “if the pressure of the current Greek government continues methodically and persistently, then it is certain that at some point the Sculptures will return to Greece.”
This article was previously published in Greek at kathimerini.gr.