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The Secret Meetings on the Parthenon Marbles Exposed by the FT

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

The Financial Times (FT) reported on Friday the secret meetings on the Parthenon Marbles between Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis and George Osborne, chair of the British Museum.

In an extensive report, the British paper says that the two meetings between the two men were held at a Knightsbridge hotel in London in 2021 and 2022.

“It’s my passion,” Mitsotakis told the Financial Times, as he reflected on that first meeting with Osborne at the hotel in November 2021.

“I wanted it very much from the first time I saw the Frieze when I was about 18 years old and visited the British Museum. What shocked and infuriated me was that the monument was broken. It’s like you’ve taken the Mona Lisa and cut it in half.”

Osborne listened intently as Mitsotakis set out his case, the paper says. He saw a chance to show he is running an enlightened institution ready to engage in the debate about the repatriation of artifacts. He also saw a man across the table with whom he could do business.

“Essentially, you had two rational people in a room without any of the baggage or history,” one British Museum insider told the FT. “You should be able to come up with an arrangement where some of the marbles at any one time are in London and some of them are in Athens.”

Plan on Parthenon Marbles rejected by Mitsotakis

The newspaper says the plan put together by Osborne, would see a series of loan deals involving the marbles, which would gradually build up trust. Greece would not renounce its claim but the British Museum would agree to ship to Athens potentially one-third or more of the marbles for a set time period, such as 10 years.

One obvious problem is whether the Greeks would return them at the end of the loan period.

The FT says that part of Osborne’s answer is that in exchange for some of the Parthenon Sculptures, Athens would loan Greek treasures to London as “collateral”. The spectacular frescoes of Santorini, dating back to 1700 BCE, have been mentioned in Athens as among potential candidates for such a swap.

The second element of the Osborne plan would be that, when the loan expired, the marbles would be returned to London, but a bigger portion would be simultaneously sent to Athens as an incentive, making Greece a permanent home for the sculptures at any given time.

Mitsotakis said “No”, according to the paper. In a second meeting at the hotel in late 2022, he told Osborne that he wants the Parthenon Frieze back permanently, not on loan and not handed over in portions.

The FT claims that both men still believe a deal is possible. Mitsotakis said in January he hoped to repatriate the marbles soon: “If the Greek people trust us again, I believe we could achieve this target after the elections.”

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