UNESCO recently called for the return of the Parthenon sculptures to Athens from the British Museum, but the appeal has fallen on deaf ears.
By Alexis Georgoulis – (MEP European Left)
The UNESCO Intergovernmental Commission for the Return of Cultural Property to the Countries of Origin (ICPRCP) discussed, among other issues, the demand first made by Melina Mercouri in 1984, when she was the Greek Minister of Culture: she simply asked for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece.
Mercouri’s just and fair demand was largely supported by the international community. Since 1984, UNESCO’s Commission has been consistently adopting recommendations on the subject — but this time it went beyond that.
Following a unanimous vote, an additional — and legally stronger — text, a formal Decision, was finally adopted. Decision 22 COM 17 focuses exclusively on the return of the Parthenon Sculptures, urging the United Kingdom to reconsider its position and to negotiate with Greece, acknowledging that the dispute is intergovernmental, and not a case that concerns the British Museum, as the United Kingdom claims.
Greece’s demand for Parthenon sculptures is legal
The Decision clearly states that Greece’s demand to return the Parthenon Sculptures to their native land is rightful and legal. The added value of this statement is twofold.
Firstly, it functions as added pressure for the United Kingdom to enter into a dialogue with Greece. Secondly, with this statement, UNESCO clearly shows its strong dissatisfaction with the fact that this issue has remained pending for such a very long time.
This new decision derives from the fact that some months ago, the British side lost one of its main arguments for keeping this archeological thesaurus — i.e. the impeccable conservation it enjoyed at the British Museum.
After the water leakage, damaging the Sculptures, the British Museum can no longer pretend that it provides safe conditions in the Duveen Gallery, where they are displayed. Moreover, because of the necessary restoration work, the Parthenon Sculptures are now inaccessible to the public.
On the contrary, the Acropolis Museum, a modern building that has been universally praised internationally, which stages state-of-the-art exhibitions, not only provides the right context, as it stands just under the Acropolis, but also ensures the right conditions (humidity, temperature, light) for the protection of the Sculptures.
Notably, the Acropolis Museum has a specially-designed, stunningly beautiful hall waiting for the arrival of this ancient treasure, where the remaining parts of the frieze and metopes of the Parthenon are exhibited together with replicas of the sculptures, while the glass walls of the building enable eye contact with the actual Temple of the Parthenon atop the Acropolis.
I expect that the recent UNESCO’s Decision will prove to be a turning point for the fate of these pieces of ancient art that Lord Elgin brutally stole from the Parthenon two centuries ago. The Sculptures of Parthenon must return to where they belong!
Alexis Georgoulis, a popular Greek actor turned politician, is at the forefront of efforts as a member of the European Parliament to promote common EU approaches to culture and heritage.