The UK dashed hopes for a return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece on Wednesday after Michelle Donelan, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said that the sculptures “belong here in the UK” and should not be returned to Greece.
Reports have suggested the museum’s chairman, George Osborne, is close to agreeing on a deal with Greece. Donelan told BBC Radio 4’s The Media Show that permanently returning them was “not his intention.”
In a wide-ranging interview, she said sending the sculptures to Greece would “open a can of worms” and be a “dangerous road to go down.”
The Parthenon Marbles “belong to the UK”
It would “open the gateway to the question of the entire contents of our museums,” she said.
She added she’d had “several conversations” with Osborne. “I think his view on this has been misinterpreted and certainly portrayed wrongly,” she said.
“He’s not about to send them back, basically,” she said. “That’s not his intention. He has no desire to do that. There’s also been this concept of a 100-year loan mooted as well, which is certainly not what he’s planning either.”
“He would agree with me that we shouldn’t be sending them back,” she maintained, “and actually they do belong here in the UK, where we’ve cared for them for a great deal of time, where we’ve allowed access to them.”
Greece remains hopeful of a deal
At the same, Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis remained hopeful for a deal with the UK on the return of the sculptures but conceded that this would not happen imminently.
In a meeting with President Katerina Sakellaropoulou at the Presidential Mansion on Wednesday, Mitsotakis said his conservative government has been making a “systematic and silent effort” to reunite the 2,500-year-old monument with its sculptural decoration.
“Should the people renew their trust in the government, I believe we will be able to achieve this goal, with respect to the obvious ‘red lines’ drawn by all [Greek] governments,” he said.
The “red lines” he was referring to include the acknowledgment by the British Museum that the Parthenon Marbles belong to Greece.
On Monday, Greece repeated its demand that Britain permanently return the Parthenon Marbles that have been in British possession for two centuries, adding that negotiations about their fate were “not easy.”
“The objective is their definitive return,” government spokesman Yiannis Oikonomou said in a news briefing.
Greece “does not recognize the British Museum’s possession and of course ownership of the sculptures,” he said. “It has always been Greece’s position.”