Greek Culture Minister applauds Australian initiatives for the Parthenon Sculptures

Culture Minister Mendoni in Sydney April 2022

Dr Lina Mendoni, the Minister of Culture and Sport of the Hellenic Republic, has landed in Australia.

The Minister, who is in Australia to open the exhibition “Open Horizons: Ancient Greek Journeys and Connections” in Melbourne on 28 April 2022, is scheduled to meet with leading members of the Greek communities in both cities as well as visit leading academic and cultural institutions and meet with Australian Government representatives.

On her first full day in Sydney, Dr Mendoni met with David Hill and other members of the Australian Parthenon Association (formerly known as Australians for the Return of the Parthenon Sculptures), together with her advisors and the Greek Consul-General of Sydney, Christos Karras, in a lengthy and productive meeting in Sydney to discuss a number of issues, most notably the campaign for the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures currently held in the British Museum.

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(L-R: Peter Morton, Prof, Nicholas Doumanis, Vassilis Xiros, Anna Panagiotarea, David Hill, Stergitsa Zamagias-Hill, Dr Lina Mendoni, Christos Karras, Ruby Archis, George Vardas)

Dr Mendoni first met David Hill more than 20 years ago when she was the Secretary General of the Ministry of Culture and they have maintained a good friendship and mutual respect since then. Hill has over the last decade managed an intensive archaeological survey of the ancient city of Troezen in the Peloponnese and was recently honoured with a Doctorate of Letters by the University of Sydney for his outstanding contribution to the arts.

He has been the chair of the Australian Parthenon Committee since 2002 and served as the inaugural chair of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures (IARPS) from 2005 to 2016.

The Greek Culture Minister explained that the Greek Government was heartened by the decision in September 2021 of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation (ICPRCP) which essentially reproached the British Government over the continuing obfuscation by the UK and its failure properly to engage with its Greek counterparts over the vexed issue of the sculptures, despite the fact that it has been on UNESCO’s agenda since 1984.

It will be recalled that the ICPRCP’s determination acknowledged the legitimate and rightful demands of Greece and recognised that the case has an intergovernmental character and accordingly the obligation to return the Parthenon Sculptures lies squarely on the UK Government.  The UNESCO Committee called on the UK to reconsider its stand and proceed to a bona fide dialogue with Greece on the matter.

Dr Mendoni confirmed that the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has a vested interest in the issue, as evidenced by his meeting in late 2021 with UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and in his subsequent statements reaffirming Greece’s unwavering commitment to reunification.

The next session of the Intergovernmental Government Committee is in Paris on 18-20 May 2022 at which the UK side may attempt to push back against the 2021 determination although history is no longer on its side, especially since there is a growing sentiment in favour of restitution of looted cultural artefacts that are the keys to a country’s history.

The return earlier this year of the Fagan fragment taken from the Parthenon more than 200 years ago and displayed in Palermo, Sicily was telling. The Minister confirmed that the return of the Palermo fragment is not a long-term loan but in fact an enlightened arrangement negotiated with the Sicilian authorities (and reinforced by Italian legislative imprimatur) for the deposit of the fragment in the Acropolis Museum in perpetuity, a harbinger of future ongoing cultural cooperation between the two countries.

The Greek State’s gaze will inevitably turn to other sculptural pieces from the Parthenon dispersed in several museums throughout Europe, including the Louvre in Paris, the Vatican, Vienna and Copenhagen, in order to reunite these broken fragments in their proper context in the Acropolis Museum within view of the Parthenon in Athens. The return of the Palermo fragment is very significant and Greece will be keen to take advantage of the cultural goodwill that it has engendered.

Dr Mendoni noted that there will be an important conference of IARPS later this year in Athens, at which representatives from the various national committees will meet to discuss the campaign and formulate strategies in cooperation with the Culture Ministry. 

The Minister was especially appreciative of the efforts and contribution of the Australian Parthenon Committee under the stewardship of David Hill, and warmly thanked Hill for his passionate embrace and leadership in the international campaign for the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures. In turn Minister Mendoni was assured that the Australian committee will not be sidelined in its ongoing efforts and concerted lobbying in support of this noble cause. 

Dr Mendoni also reaffirmed that all diplomatic, legal and other options available to Greece will continue to be pursued, as and when appropriate, to restore the integrity of the Parthenon monument.

The Greek Culture Minister confirmed that she will be meeting with her Australian counterpart, Paul Fletcher, The Federal Minister for the Arts, to discuss bilateral cultural and diplomatic issues and with an eye to the upcoming UNESCO meeting in Paris.  Previous Australian governments have assisted with the repatriation of indigenous cultural artefacts and human remains from the United Kingdom removed during colonial times, as well as the return from the National Gallery of Australia of looted Indian cultural artefacts. It is hoped that the Australian Government will support in every possible way Greece’s determined campaign for the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures.

During the meeting, discussion turned to other cultural matters including the maintenance of important archaeological sites throughout Greece as well as the Culture Ministry’s plans to sustain and promote Greece’s rich archaeological legacy, as with the recent opening of the spectacular Archaeological Museum in Chania, Crete.

Following the meeting with the Australian committee, Dr Mendoni and her entourage attended the Greek Orthodox Church of Panagia Myrtidiotissa, Agia Elesa and the Resurrection of Christ in Kogarah to celebrate the resurrection in the presence of His Eminence Archbishop Makarios of Australia. Dr Mendoni addressed the assembled congregation and congratulated the Greeks of the Australian diaspora for their passionate embrace of Hellenism and their Greek Orthodox faith and at the same time made a heartfelt plea for everyone to pray for Ukraine as its people continue to suffer from the ravages of war and barbaric aggression by Russia.

Dr Mendoni's visit to Australia at this time also pays homage to the enduring spirit of the ANZACs who so valiantly fought with their Greek brothers in Greece and Crete during the Second World War.

May this rich tradition of Hellenism down under continue to grow and prosper.

George Vardas

Co-Vice President, Australian Parthenon Association