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Secret Talks Held Over Return of Parthenon Sculptures Report Says

Parthenon Marbles British Museum of London
Secret Talks Between British Museum and Greek PM Over Return of Parthenon Sculptures. (The Duveen Gallery, which houses the Parthenon Sculptures). Credit: Solipsist / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-2.0

Private talks have taken place concerning the return of the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece according to the Greek newspaper Ta Nea. The report stated that the chairman of the British Museum, George Osborne, has discussed the status of the sculptures with the Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

The Parthenon Sculptures, also known as the Elgin Marbles, have been at the heart of a dispute between Greece and the United Kingdom since the historically significant artifacts were taken from the Acropolis in Athens in the early 19th century.

The Parthenon ("Elgin") Marbles displayed in the British Museum, London.
The Parthenon (“Elgin”) Marbles displayed in the British Museum, London. Credit: Txllxt TxllxT via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Secret talks?

The newspaper reported that the British Museum has no immediate plans to dismantle its collection of the Parthenon Marbles following confidential discussions between the Greek prime minister and the chairman of the British Museum.

Talks between Mitsotakis and Osborne have quietly been place since November 2021, the newspaper reports. An in-person meeting between the two reportedly took place last week. Mitsotakis was in the UK for engagements with the British royal family and to promote Greek business interests.

On November 28th, Mitstoakis commented that there was a sense of “progress” and “momentum” regarding efforts to repatriate the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece.

Neither party has confirmed nor denied that talks are ongoing. However, an anonymous source told the Greek newspaper that “an agreement is 90 percent complete, but a critical 10 percent remains unresolved.”

A British Museum spokesperson has said that the institution is willing to “talk to anyone, including the Greek government.” The museum said that it would consider a “partnership.”

The Fagan fragment of the Parthenon Marbles
The Fagan fragment of the Parthenon Marbles Credit: Public Domain

Pressure to return the Parthenon Sculptures

Successive Greek governments have sought a deal for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece for decades.

Earlier this year, when Liz Truss became the UK’s new prime minister, Greek authorities were hoping that she would consider returning the historical monuments. The former prime minister promptly dashed these hopes, however.

Now, campaigners are hopeful that the new British prime minister, Rishi Sunak, will take a different view. Ben Bradshaw, a former UK Secretary of Culture, publicly supported a campaign for repatriation, last month.

Other prominent voices have also urged the British Museum to reach a deal with Greek authorities. British author and actor Stephen Fry said, “It’s about time we move on from two centuries of bitter but sterile legal wrangling. It’s time we put our energies to an exchange.”

This summer, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, also commented on the issue. “I want them to stay in our city, but why can’t we share them?” he said, “I’d really encourage the British Museum, the British government and the government of Greece and the relevant appropriate place—the museum in Athens—to talk about how we can make progress on this issue.”

So far, the British Museum has indicated that they would consider loaning the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece. However, a deal remains elusive.

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