Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has called for talks with the UK with the aim of achieving the return of the Parthenon sculptures to their rightful place in Athens.
“This year marks the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the Struggle for Independence of Greece,” said Mitsotakis in an address at an event held in Paris to mark the 75th anniversary of the United Nations cultural and scientific agency UNESCO.
“There could not have been a better time for the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures and the return of the missing parts to the place where they were born, Greece.”
Φέτος συμπληρώνονται 200 χρόνια από την έναρξη του Αγώνα για την Ανεξαρτησία της Ελλάδας. Δεν θα μπορούσε να υπάρξει καλύτερη στιγμή για την επανένωση των Γλυπτών του Παρθενώνα και την επιστροφή του τμήματος που λείπει, στον τόπο που γεννήθηκαν, την Ελλάδα. pic.twitter.com/5u96J6NJ0K
— Prime Minister GR (@PrimeministerGR) November 12, 2021
“The UK should move to a bona fide dialogue with Greece, and I urge them to do so,” said Mitsotakis.
Mitsotakis said that UNESCO had taken a pivotal step in September, when it recognised that the ongoing debate about the Parthenon sculptures had an “intergovernmental character”.
“Therefore the obligation to return the Parthenon sculptures lies squarely with the UK government,” he said.
Greece has repeatedly called for the return of the 2,500 year old Parthenon sculptures, which were removed from the Parthenon temple in Athens in the early 19th century, since Independence in 1832.
However, the British Museum has ignored the pleas, refusing to return the sculptures and saying that they “are part of everyone’s shared heritage” and had been legitimately acquired by Elgin under a legal contract with the Ottoman Empire that ruled Greece at the time.
“There can’t be dialogue between nations without dialogue amongst cultures, something with presupposed respect for the history, heritage and identity of each nation,” said Mitsotakis.
“To my mind, that means that emblematic monuments that inherently connect to the very identity of a nation should be a matter of that nation.
“The Parthenon sculptures take up a hugely significant piece of the world’s cultural heritage and are perhaps the most important symbolic link between modern Greeks and their ancestors.
“It is essential that the Parthenon marbles in London should be reunited with the majority of the Parthenon sculptures in Athens,” Mitsotakis concluded.
In the lead up to his address in Paris, Mitsotakis also made Greece’s position very clear in an interview with the UK’s Daily Telegraph.
“Our position is very clear,” he said. “The marbles were stolen in the 19th century, they belong in the Acropolis Museum and we need to discuss this issue in earnest.”
In the interview, Mitsotakis went on to propose a novel solution to the age-old deadlock between the nations, offering to loan treasures to the British Museum in exchange for the stolen Parthenon sculptures.
“I am sure that if there was a willingness on the part of the Government to move, we could find an arrangement with the British Museum in terms of us sending abroad cultural treasures on loan which have never left the country,” he said.
When asked whether a permanent loan arrangement would be acceptable to Greece, Mitsotakis answered: “I wouldn’t like to go into the details of an arrangement because these discussions are delicate, but I would like to say on record that I intend to raise the issue with Boris and that I think the British Government has a role to play.
“You have to be able to appreciate the beauty of the monument in its entirety,” Mr Mitsotakis said.
“We are not just talking about any artefact. We are talking about an artefact that essentially was broken into two. Half of it is in Athens and half of it is in the British Museum, so we’re talking about restoring the unity of the monument.”