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The UK Again Rejects the Return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece

Parthenon Marbles UK
The Parthenon Marbles are displayed in the British Museum, London. Credit: Txllxt TxllxT via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

The UK once again signaled its opposition to the return of the Parthenon Marbles in Greece claiming that such a move would spark a wave of demands for the return of other artifacts held in Britain.

Appearing on Wednesday before the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan stated her opposition to their return to Athens.

“Where does that end?,” asked Donelan, as she highlighted how the law currently “does not allow” historical objects to leave the UK apart from in certain circumstances.

It recently emerged that George Osborne, the former chancellor who is now chairman of the British Museum, has been holding talks with Greece’s prime minister over the possible return of the Parthenon Marbles.

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

“I think George Osborne’s position is a little bit different to has been portrayed,” Donelan told MPs.

Giving the Parthenon Marbles to Greece is a “dangerous and slippy road”

“I can completely understand the position that they are taking and I can sympathize with some of the arguments. But I do think that is a very dangerous and slippy road to embark down.”

The Culture Secretary added that Britain had “taken great care” over artifacts held in the country’s museums for decades and had conducted considerable research into historical items.

She told the committee: “Once you start giving one back, where does that end?”

UK’s position on antiquities has not changed

Downing Street this week said there were no plans to amend legislation that prevents objects being removed from the British Museum‘s collection, apart from in certain circumstances.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We have no plans to change the law, which prevents removing objects from the British Museum’s collection, apart from in certain circumstances. Our position on this hasn’t changed. Decisions relating to the care and management of the collections are a matter for the Museum and its trustees.”

Greek newspaper Ta Nea revealed last week that talks between Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Osborne have quietly been taking place since November 2021.

An in-person meeting between the two reportedly took place in late November. 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.

 

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