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Parthenon Marbles Could Be Returned to Greece Under ‘Long-Term Loan’ Deal

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

The Greek Culture & Sports Ministry declined to confirm reports that the British Museum and the Acropolis Museum are nearing an agreement on the gradual return of the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece.

Bloomberg and the Daily Telegraph reported on Tuesday that the Parthenon Marbles could soon be returned to Greece under a ‘long-term loan’ agreement. They said that the British Museum and the Acropolis Museum in Athens are closing in on an agreement that would see the Parthenon Marbles returned over time to Greece as part of a cultural exchange.

According to Bloomberg, which stresses that the deal hasn’t been sealed, an agreement would see a proportion of the marbles sent to Athens on rotation over several years.

In exchange, other objects would effectively be loaned to the museum in London, and Britain could also get plaster copies of the originals.

The agreement between Greece and Britain could be similar to the one between Greece and the US that calls for the gradual return to Greece of the private collection of 161 antiquities of the American privateer Leonard Stern, Bloomberg says.

The agreement struck last September between the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sport, the private Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens (MCA), and the Metropolitan Museum of Art means any display of the Stern collection will acknowledge that “the Greek State is the sole owner of the Collection.”

The deal, ratified by the Greek Parliament in September, means that Greece is eventually getting back the Stern collection without a messy fight in court. In November, fifteen ancient Greek artifacts from the Leonard Stern Collection were displayed for the first time in Athens at the Museum of Cycladic Art.

But some Greek lawmakers, and many archaeologists, have argued the government should have pursued a legal effort for the collection’s immediate return. They also expressed concern the agreement with the Met would help conceal the ongoing issue of antiquities with murky origins.

Agreement for the return of the Parthenon Marbles “sooner rather than later”

Sources told the Daily Telegraph that the loan agreement could be solidified “sooner rather than later,” but the prized sculptures would still ultimately remain under the ownership of the British museum. This is something which Greece’s government is likely to fight tooth and nail to change.

According to Greek daily newspaper Ta Nea, the chairman of the British Museum, George Osborne, and Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis met at a five-star hotel in Knightsbridge in West London in early December to discuss the sculptures.

They are also said to have first held “exploratory talks” in November last year at the Greek ambassador’s Mayfair residence.

The British Museum has not denied Osborne held talks with the Greek premier. A spokesperson said, “The British Museum has publicly called for a new Parthenon partnership with Greece and we’ll talk to anyone, including the Greek government, about how to take that forward.

“As the chair of trustees said last month, we operate within the law and we’re not going to dismantle our great collection as it tells a unique story of our common humanity.

“But we are seeking new positive, long-term partnerships with countries and communities around the world, and that of course includes Greece.”

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

UK Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan said in December that returning the Parthenon Marbles to Athens would be a “very dangerous and slippy road,” as it could spark a wave of demands from various countries for the return of other artifacts held in Britain.

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