The Greek prime minister will make the Parthenon marbles the key issue in upcoming talks with Boris Johnson in London, arguing that the reunification of the “stolen” sculptures is an intergovernmental matter beyond the purview of the British Museum.
Determined to raise the issue on his first visit to Downing Street, Kyriakos Mitsotakis is also expected to emphasize the leaky ceiling in the London museum’s Duveen Gallery, where antiquities from the 5th century BC are on display, The Guardian has learned.
“It is of great importance to him,” said a well-placed source, who declined to be extracted on whether the treasures, also known as the Elgin Marbles, will be the first or last item on Tuesday’s agenda. “Our arguments are very strong. The time has come for a dialogue in good faith ”.
Ongoing maintenance work at the British Museum, with the coronavirus outbreak, has prevented the pieces from being seen publicly for nearly a year.
The Acropolis Museum, which was specially built to house the classical carvings at the foot of the monument, reopened in May.
Removed from the Parthenon in 1802 by order of Lord Elgin, then Great Britain’s ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, about 80 meters of the monumental frieze is on display in London; 50 meters in Athens. Other parts of the 115-block artwork are found in museums across Europe.
Few Greek leaders have made repatriation of the sculptures as high a priority as Mitsotakis, who has described the UK’s refusal to engage in talks as a “losing battle.”
Within weeks of his center-right government winning office, the politician told the Observer that he was prepared to exchange priceless artifacts that had never left Greece before in exchange for the marbles being returned in time for the bicentennial celebrations of the independence of the nation this year. Addressing Unesco late on Friday, he said there was “no better time than now” to return antiquities, long regarded as the most symbolically significant link between modern Greeks and their ancestors.
“The UK should move towards a good faith dialogue with Greece. And I urge you to do so. After all, this year marks the 200th.anniversary of the war of independence of Greece. There could be no better time than now to gather the missing section of the Parthenon sculptures, at its birthplace in Greece. “
The UN agency announced in September that the nation’s decades-long demand for the return of the marbles was “intergovernmental in nature” and not, as successive British governments have claimed, a matter for the British Museum to decide.
Activists have long complained that London moved the goalposts and hid behind museum trustees. Tuesday’s talks are the first official face-to-face meeting between the two leaders and the first since Britain’s exit from the EU.
Mitsotakis, a Harvard-trained banker whose experience is as privileged as Johnson’s, has already indicated that he will invoke “what Boris calls global Britain” when raising the issue of marbles. Polls have repeatedly shown that the vast majority of Britons back the return of the sculptures.
Athens has been emboldened by the change in attitude towards the return of cultural property. In 2019, France responded with unexpected enthusiasm to a Greek request for repatriation of part of the Louvre frieze.
But it is very likely that the Greek delegation also appealed to the British prime minister’s sensibilities as a classicist. An admirer of Pericles, Johnson has adorned his office with a bust of the soldier-statesman whose construction program, among other things the construction of the temples on the Acropolis, is most associated with the golden age of Athens.
Earlier this year, the UK prime minister acknowledged the intensity of sentiment on the issue, but said repatriation was not in sight.
Speaking to the Greek daily Ta Nea, he said: “The UK government has a firm and enduring position on the sculptures, which is that they were legally acquired by Lord Elgin under the appropriate laws of the time and have been the legal property of the British. . Trustees of the museum since its acquisition. “
Anglo-Greek relations have been described as excellent, with British diplomats praising a recently signed strategic framework agreement between two countries as one of the first post-Brexit agreements with an EU member state.
But precisely because that’s the case, Greek officials say Mitsotakis is confident that now is the time to roll up his sleeves, put Johnson on the spot and inject new impetus into the oldest cultural dispute in the West.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism