UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden rejected the chance of the UK returning the contentious Parthenon Marbles to Greece, calling the idea “impossible.”
During an interview with the Times, Dowden claimed that returning the precious sculptures to Greece would be like “pulling on a thread” that could lead to the return of hundreds of other artifacts in museums in the UK and around the world.
The Parthenon Marbles were taken from Athens by British nobleman Lord Elgin after he claimed to have made a deal with the Ottoman ruler of the country in the 19th century.
Many historians have since found evidence that the deal made by Lord Elgin to take the marble sculptures to England had no legal standing and is therefore void.
Despite this evidence, the British Museum has consistently refused to return the priceless marbles, despite pleas and protests by not only Greeks, but also by many others, who view Athens as the marbles’ rightful home.
UK Culture Secretary: Parthenon Marbles wouldn’t have survived Nazi Occupation of Greece
Dowden stressed that many museums around the world are filled with precious artifacts from other countries, and argued that returning the Parthenon Marbles to Greece could throw museums into a crisis:
“There is an exceptionally high bar for this because I just don’t see where it ends..You go down a rabbit hole and tie up our institutions…Would we insist on having the Bayeux Tapestry back?”
The UK Culture Secretary even suggested that if the British had not taken the sculptures, they would have been destroyed during the brutal Nazi Occupation of Greece during the Second World War.
“Would they have survived the Nazis rampaging through Athens during World War II… It is a slightly trite argument but there is a truth,” Dowden asserted.
UK PM Boris Johnson has ruled out return of the Marbles
In his interview, Dowden echoes similar sentiments made by UK PM Boris Johnson, who remained firm that the ancient Greek sculptures do not belong to Greece during a statement to a Greek newspaper in early March.
Speaking to Ta Nea, he said: “The British government has a firm and long-standing position on the sculptures: they were legally acquired by Lord Elgin, in accordance with the laws in force at the time.”
He added that he understands the strong feelings of the Greek people on this issue.
However, he opines that “The rightful owners are the commissioners of the British Museum since they came into their possession.”
Greece responded to Johnson’s assertion that the Marbles were rightfully British, pointing to new historical evidence that Elgin had stolen the ancient masterpieces and therefore, they belong in Greece.
Greece responds with historical evidence regarding possession of the sculptures
In a statement, Greece’s Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni said that historical evidence “shows that there has was never a legitimate acquisition of the Parthenon Sculptures by Lord Elgin and, therefore, neither has the British Museum ever acquired the Sculptures in a legitimate manner.”
“The Ministry of Culture and Sports can provide the necessary documentary evidence that can inform the British people that the British Museum possesses the Sculptures illegally,” Mendoni said in her statement.
The British Parliament, even back in 1816, wanted to be sure that Lord Elgin had authority to remove the Parthenon Marbles, and insisted on the production of a document to prove it.
One third of them had very serious reservations about the legality — or morality — of the taking of the marbles out of Greece, and they insisted on such proof.
And an apparently official Ottoman document called a firman was indeed produced — in Italian.
According to many experts, the document the British Museum refers to as a firman is not an actual firman at all.
Professor Dr. Zeynep Aygen, the author of the book “International Heritage and Historic Building Conservation: Saving the World’s Past,” has stated that “the letter in the Italian language is not a firman at all; there is no way that it can be accepted as a firman.”
She explained to Greek Reporter that “the Ottoman Court would not give a letter written in the Italian language… we do not know where the original of the letter is.”
Dr. Aygen maintains that “a firman is a royal document with a number of special signs. Therefore it is clear that the letter in the Italian language is not a firman approved by the Sultan and not a “buyruldu” by the Grand Vizier.
“In both cases the necessary format is missing from the aforementioned letter.”