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UNESCO’s Appeal for Return of Parthenon Marbles Falls on Deaf Ears

Parthenon Marbles UNESCO
The recent decision by UNESCO on the Parthenon Marbles was rejected by the British Museum. Credit: Public Domain

The recent decision by UNESCO which opens the door for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece was dismissed by the British Museum earlier in the week.

The UN’s cultural arm requested Great Britain and the British Museum to reassess their position on repatriating the 2,500-year-old statues back to their country of origin.

It had issued a statement at a recent ICPRCP meeting outlining its position that the dispute indeed constitutes an “intergovernmental issue” and not, as both the government and museum claim, an institutional one that can be sorted out “independently of the government and free from political interference,” according to UK officials.

Greece has said that this was a momentous decision by UNESCO. Culture Minister Lina Mendoni stated “Together with the recommendation that was issued – referring to the poor conditions of exposure that the sculptures are kept in at the British Museum – Greece also achieved a decision from the Intergovernmental Committee that pertains specifically to the return of the Parthenon sculptures.”

Her remarks come one day after the 22nd session of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property (ICPRCP) came to a conclusion in Paris.

Mendoni noted at the time that “The committee urgently calls on the United Kingdom to review is position and enter into a discussion with Greece, recognizing that the issue is of an intergovernmental nature – in contrast to claims from the British side that it is a matter for the British Museum – and mainly that Greece has a valid and legal claim to demand the return of the sculptures to their place of birth.”

British Museum rejects UNESCO decision on Parthenon Marbles

However, the British Museum issued a statement rejecting any such talk, repeating for the umpteenth time that the Parthenon Marbles are a vital element of its interconnected world collection and part of the shared heritage.

“The Museum is a unique resource for the world: the breadth and depth of its collection allow a global public to examine cultural identities and explore the complex network of interconnected human cultures,” a press statement from the 262-year-old institution read.

“The Trustees lend extensively all over the world and over 3.5 million objects from the collection are available to study online. The Parthenon sculptures are a vital element in this interconnected world collection. They’re a part of the world’s shared heritage and transcend political boundaries.”

Greece’s ongoing campaign to return the Parthenon Marbles to their rightful home atop the Acropolis takes place in recent times as museums around the world are attempting to “de-colonialize” their collections, reassessing whether or not the priceless antiquities that come from other nations should be displayed in faraway institutions.

Additionally, reports of water leakage in the windowless room in which the Marbles are displayed has posed another problem, although the British Museum insists that the issue has been ameliorated.

The looting of the Parthenon marbles was committed by Thomas Bruce, the Seventh Earl of Elgin and a Scottish nobleman, who served as Great Britain’s ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1801-1805.

Over the decades, there have been countless petitions by citizens, politicians, and celebrities from around the world to return the marble sculptures to their rightful home, atop the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

Related: The History of the Parthenon Marbles

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