Greek MEP Alexis Georgoulis has launched a campaign for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Athens through the Culture Committee of the European Parliament.
The popular Greek actor turned politician is at the forefront of efforts in the Parliament to promote common EU approaches to culture and heritage.
Georgoulis, elected to the European Parliament in 2019, told Greek Reporter that Greece should not view the dispute with the UK as a bilateral issue. Instead, he stresses that the Parthenon and the Acropolis are World Heritage sites and that fact should be central in Athens’s efforts for the reunification of all artifacts stolen or removed from the Holy Rock.
“We should adopt a more holistic approach, highlighting the fact that Acropolis is a world heritage site and a symbol of democracy and make the world understand that this is not a bilateral issue.
“The Acropolis is not just Greece’s cultural heritage. It’s the heritage of Europe and the Western world.”
He said that Greece should appeal to the international community and demand that the ancient monument be reunited with all its original antiquities. “Acropolis’s antiquities should return to the place where they were first made.”
The UK could be more easily persuaded to make the start by handing back the Parthenon Marbles kept at the British Museum if presented with a “world heritage argument.” Others could follow, Georgoulis said.
Georgoulis: Ownership of Parthenon Marbles “counterproductive”
The Greek MEP is critical of the legal argument used by Greece and the UK over the ownership of the antiquities. “At this stage, the conflict with the UK over the legality of the acquisition of the Marbles by Lord Elgin is not a priority. Greece should focus on what it wants now.
“I am not saying that the Marbles have not been stolen, but if Greece continues to argue that point, the other side ‘shuts its ears’.”
At this point, negotiation should not focus anymore on blaming but more on reconciling, he says. No matter how the British side acquired the sculptures, the discussion should focus on where the sculptures should be and where the rest of the world can have a better experience and understanding of them, he added.
Georgoulis has been instrumental in “internationalizing” the dispute over the Parthenon Marbles by several initiatives he took in the European Parliament.
Due partly to his efforts, a resolution was adopted recently by the European Parliament which, for the first time, called on the EU to actively support member-states in the negotiating processes about reparations of their cultural and historical heritage.
“This is the first time that parliament demands the presence of the EU in the negotiations between Greece and the UK,” Georgoulis said.
He recalled that the response by the European Commission has been dismissive since it believes that these matters are bilateral disputes, but as he points out “the ball got rolling.”
Article 74 of the Resolution of the European Parliament
“…Recalls how archaeological and cultural heritage constitutes an integral part of the identity of a people; condemns, therefore, the unlawful removal of, and trafficking in, cultural objects; welcomes the efforts undertaken by certain Member States to return cultural works and artifacts to their places of origin as part of their external policy strategy and in order to foster mutual understanding of one another’s cultural heritage, as well as to support the development of autonomous cultural policies in third countries; calls on the Commission and the EEAS to actively support those Member States in their negotiating processes with third countries in a holistic approach and to actively support the efforts of all Member States with regard to the protection and reparations of their cultural and historical heritage, in line with the MONDIACULT 2022 declaration;”.
Georgoulis also pointed out that the MONDIACULT 2022 declaration as agreed by UNESCO calls “for an open and inclusive international dialogue for the return and restitution of cultural property, including illegally exported property, to countries of origin.”
The Greek MEP said that the demand for the return of the Parthenon Marbles was initially made in 1884, but the official request was made by the then-Greek Culture Minister Melina Mercouri in July 1982.
Since then has been little progress, despite recent reports that Greece and the UK may be coming closer to some arrangement.