Greece will insist on the return of the Parthenon Marbles, Mendoni says

British Museum should return the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece, says Sir Antony Gormley

Culture and Sports Minister Lina Mendoni said in an interview with SKAI radio on Friday that "Greece will continue to demand the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Athens and their reunification with the Parthenon. At all levels, both on the level of public opinion but also via the processes of UNESCO."

According to Mendoni, the statement made by her British counterpart "does not end any discussion on the issue, since, essentially, the Prime Minister had in his briefing to the President of the Republic put the issue in its absolutely correct dimensions."

"There is communication. There are contacts, as I wrote recently. A negotiation is very difficult, but it is not impossible," she continued.

"The British Culture Minister is currently conveying her country's fixed position but the Greek side will continue to apply pressure without moving from its own red lines, from its own fixed position," she added.

Meanwhile, the Parthenon Sculptures "belong here in the UK" and should not be returned to Greece, the culture secretary has insisted.

The ancient artworks, better known in the UK as the Elgin Marbles, are currently in the British Museum.

Reports have suggested the museum's chairman, George Osborne, is close to agreeing a deal with Greece.

Michelle Donelan told BBC Radio 4's The Media Show that permanently returning them was "not his intention".

In a wide-ranging interview, she said sending the sculptures to Greece would "open a can of worms" and be a "dangerous road to go down".

It would "open the gateway to the question of the entire contents of our museums", she said.

The classical marble sculptures are part of a frieze that decorated the Parthenon temple in Athens. They were removed in the 19th Century by British diplomat and soldier Lord Elgin. The British government bought them in 1816 and placed them in the British Museum.

Last month, Greek newspaper Ta Nea reported that talks between Mr Osborne and the Greek government were at "an advanced stage".

The British Museum is prevented by law from permanently returning the artworks to Greece. But there was speculation that a deal could involve the sculptures heading to Athens on loan in rotation, in return for classical objects that have never been seen outside Greece before.

Greece has been pushing for years to get the artworks back.

Ms Donelan's assertion that she will not change the law, which is "in the right place", will be met with anger in Athens and beyond.

She said she'd had "several conversations" with Mr Osborne, the former chancellor. "I think his view on this has been misinterpreted and certainly portrayed wrongly," she said.

"He's not about to send them back, basically. That's not his intention. He has no desire to do that. There's also been this concept of a 100-year loan mooted as well, which is certainly not what he's planning either.

"He would agree with me that we shouldn't be sending them back, and actually they do belong here in the UK, where we've cared for them for a great deal of time, where we've allowed access to them."

Separately on Wednesday, the Greek prime minister said a deal to get the sculptures back was not imminent.

But Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who is hoping to win a second term in office in July, said: "If the Greek people trust us again, I believe we could achieve this target after the elections."

The Greek culture ministry has previously said the country's "firm position" is that "it does not recognise the British Museum's jurisdiction, possession and ownership of the sculptures".

A spokesperson for the museum said it would not "dismantle" its collection, but that it was "looking at long-term partnerships, which would enable some of our greatest objects to be shared with audiences around the world".

They added: "Discussions with Greece about a Parthenon Partnership are on-going and constructive."

The Parthenon Project, which has been campaigning in the UK for a "win-win" solution to reunite the objects, said there was public support for a deal and that "we need to remain open minded about the kind of solution George Osborne is putting forward".

A spokesperson said: "The government has always made clear that this is a matter for the British Museum but now that constructive talks between the British Museum and Greece have been confirmed, they seem to be changing their mind."

Lord Vaizey, culture minister from 2010-2016, still believes a deal is possible. He chairs the project's advisory body. He told me that Ms Donelan's comments had "left room for George Osborne to continue to negotiate his imaginative proposal for a cultural partnership with Greece".

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