Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Friday that the United Kingdom needs to begin serious talks with Greece to return the Parthenon Marbles home.
The Greek PM was speaking at the 75th anniversary dinner for The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO.)
UNESCO has recently recognized the need for countries to engage with each other over the rightful ownership of cultural artifacts. Mitsotakis urged the UK to have an open and non-contentious discussion with Greece about the return of the Parthenon Marbles, which are also known as “the Elgin Marbles” for their theft from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin:
“This year marks the bicentennial of the start of Greece’s War of Independence. No time could be better for the return of the section that is missing and the reuniting of the Parthenon Marbles in Greece, their country of origin.”
The PM said that the sculptures are “emblematic monuments, inextricably linked with the identity of a nation” adding that “the Parthenon Marbles in London must be reunited with the greater part of the Parthenon Marbles, in Athens.”
UK leaders have previously rejected the idea of returning the Parthenon Marbles
Mitsotakis’s statements and UNESCO’s new position on cultural objects might force UK officials to reconsider their positions on the Parthenon Marbles. UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden had previously rejected the chance of the UK returning the contentious Parthenon Marbles earlier this year, 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.
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.