Quote of the Day

For us, even a gram from the Parthenon equals thousands of years of world history.

Giorgos Voulgarakis, Former Hellenic Republic Minister of Culture

The reunification of the Elgin Marbles & other disputed artefacts

The Parthenon Sculptures (also called Parthenon Marbles or Elgin Marbles) are split between several museums. Despite numerous similar cases of contested ownership of cultural property, few loan or return requests are successful. Elginism aims to raise awareness by publicising the issue & cataloguing news on it, as well as working in conjunction with various campaigns including Marbles Reunited, & the IARPS.
To track the latest news updates, you can also follow Elginism on Twitter or Facebook.

March 27, 2015

UK government rejects Parthenon Marbles UNESCO mediation

Posted at 10:56 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

In September 2013, after long deliberation, the Greek Government made the decision to invite the Britain (via UNESCO) into mediation to resolve the Parthenon Sculptures issue.

Since then, the issue of the Parthenon Marbles has risen far higher up the agenda, publicised first by George Clooney, and then the presence of his wife Amal, as a member of a team of lawyers invited to Athens to advise on potential legal action.

Most recently, the British Museum themselves pushed the case of the Marbles back into the limelight with an (arguably) ill received decision to secretly loan one of the sculptures to the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg.

All this time, despite the issue of the Parthenon Marbles making international news headlines on numerous occasions, no response to the request was forthcoming from the British Government or the British Museum, other than the fact that they were considering it and would respond in due course.

During this period, ICOMOS passed a resolution in support of the mediation request, letters were written to the Prime Minister and questions were asked in Parliament. Earlier this month, Andrew George MP tabled an Early Day motion intended to draw attention to this inaction.

Suddenly today, the British Museum published responses on their website from themselves and the British Government, that were sent to UNESCO to be forwarded on to the Greek Government.

As one might have predicted, the response was negative.

Now, maybe it just took seventeen months of careful thinking to arrive at the decision that they did not want to enter into mediation, but alarm bells are ringing regarding the timing of this. Following the 2010 General Election in the UK, the decision was made that from then on, Parliament would operate on five year fixed terms – so for the first time ever, the date of the next election was known well in advance.

Although Parliament is to be dissolved on 30th March 2015 prior to the election, it was prorogued on 26th March. What this means is that at prorogation, all parliamentary business ends, although that Parliament would still exist until dissolution.

It seems an unlikely coincidence that the date of 26th March is exactly the same one given on the top of the two letters of response to the mediation request. To me, this looks like the person who fires of an email that they know will be contentious, just before leaving the office for a two week holiday. They leave it until he last minute, hoping that someone else will deal with the fallout, or that it will be forgotten by their return.

In my day job as an architect, I have on occasion come across similar behaviour, in the context of planning application rejections. The objections were filed at the latest possible point in the process, where the other party had no time to respond, meaning that the whole process would be for an entire month until the next committee meeting. The end result of this process though, was that it was discovered that the objecting party was not being entirely honest – their awkwardly obstructive tactics merely drew attention to this fact, and in the end, it transpired that the validity of their objections was entirely cast into doubt by far greater transgressions on their own part.

I can not help noting a parallel between these two situations. If the British Government / British Museum felt that they were sitting entirely comfortable and had a strong case, why would they not respond on a timescale where the other party could reply at leisure if they so desired within the current session of Parliament? There has been more than enough time in which to do so, and the timing of this announcement merely highlights the level of awkward obstructiveness that is faced when anyone tried to actually engage the British Government or the British Museum in discussions on the issue.

I have previously highlighted the carrot and stick approach to cultural property negotiations. Like many, I was never convinced UNESCO mediation would work, as there was nothing to compel the British Museum to enter into the process. They feel that they are sitting comfortably, so why should they voluntarily enter into a procedure, the outcome of which might be that they end up significantly less comfortable? If a potential threat of legal action was also on the horizon though, then the mediation might have been perceived very differently. Suddenly, mediation would become a distinctly palatable alternative to a costly and high profile lawsuit, which could sully the name of the institution and drag on for years.

As yet, no official proposals have been made for litigation, although we know that it has been considered. Who knows whether if and when it does take place, mediation will still be available as an option. If the mediation offer is withdrawn, the British Museum / British Government might well regret not taking the offer when it was available.

All this highlights that importance of the Greek Government keeping up the pressure on Britain. The first serious attempt at negotiation may not have worked, but it should be followed up with alternative options, making sure that the UK realises that attempting to ignore the situation will not make it go away. The issue of the Marbles is one that needs to be resolved, and mealy mouthed talk of Universal Museums and denial of the existence of past loan requests is not the way to achieve this.

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

From:
British Museum

Alfredo Pérez de Armiñán
Assistant Director-General for Culture
United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation
1 Rue Miollis
75732 Paris Cedex 15
France

26 March 2015

The Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum: UNESCO mediation proposal

I write on behalf of the Trustees of the British Museum, who at their meeting of 19th March 2015 considered the request put forward by the Greek Government that they should enter into a process of mediation, facilitated by UNESCO, on the subject of the Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum. After full and careful consideration, we have decided respectfully to decline this request. We believe that the more constructive way forward, on which we have already embarked, is to collaborate directly with other museums and cultural institutions, not just in Greece but across the world.

The British Museum admires and supports the work of UNESCO, fully acknowledging the importance of its unique ability, as an intergovernmental agency, to address the serious issue of the threats to, and the destruction of, cultural heritage around the world. The Museum has a long history of collaboration with UNESCO, notably in Iraq in 2003-5, and is currently engaged with UNESCO in formulating responses to the crisis in Syria, including the illicit trafficking of antiquities. The Museum would wish always to align itself with UNESCO’s purposes in the preservation and safeguarding of the world’s endangered cultural heritage. However, the surviving Parthenon Sculptures, carefully preserved in a number of European museums, clearly do not fall into this category.

The British Museum, as you know, is not a government body, and the collections do not belong to the British Government. The Trustees of the British Museum hold them not only for the British people, but for the benefit of the world public, present and future. The Trustees have a legal and moral responsibility to preserve and maintain all the collections in their care, to treat them as inalienable and to make them accessible to world audiences.

In pursuit of this aim, the Trustees would want to develop existing good relations with colleagues and institutions in Greece, and to explore collaborative ventures, not on a government-to-government basis but directly between institutions. This is why we believe that UNESCO involvement is not the best way forward. Museums holding Greek works, whether in Greece, the UK or elsewhere in the world, are naturally united in a shared endeavour to show the importance of the legacy of ancient Greece. The British Museum is committed to playing its full part in sharing the value of that legacy for all humanity.

The potential of this approach can be seen in the British Museum’s current special exhibition Defining Beauty, the Body in Ancient Greek Art, which opened to the public today. Here some of the Parthenon Sculptures are displayed with other works that similarly show the intense humanism of ancient Greek civilisation, including masterpieces generously lent by museums around the world. Nowhere else in the world is it now, or has it ever been, possible to see these objects together. The aesthetic impact is considerable, and the intellectual content compelling. This seems to us to point the way forward, as an example of the great public benefit that arises from museums internationally using and sharing their collections in this way.

In this same spirit, the Trustees recently lent one of the Parthenon Sculptures to the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, and were pleased to learn that in only six weeks some 140,000 Russian visitors had the chance to see it there. This was a new audience for this extraordinary work of ancient Greek art, most of whom could not have visited either Athens or London. Visitor surveys revealed that the display of the sculpture was received with great interest and warm enthusiasm. After two and a half thousand years, this was Russia’s first glimpse of the splendours of fifth-century Athens that have played such a central part in shaping Russian consciousness and culture.

Such initiatives, arranged directly between the participating institutions, seem to the Trustees a natural way of building from the fact that the surviving Parthenon Sculptures are shared among a number of European collections. This means that the sculptures can already be seen in a different historical context in each museum, and the Trustees believe this to be to the great benefit of world audiences. The sculptures in London are already seen by more than six million visitors each year, free of charge.

Views on the historic distribution of the surviving Parthenon Sculptures naturally differ, though there is unanimous recognition that the original totality of the sculptural decoration cannot now be reassembled as so much has been lost, and that the surviving sculptures can never again take their place on the building. The scholars of the British Museum and of other institutions that hold Parthenon Sculptures enjoy excellent collaborative relationships with Greek museums and universities, in Athens and elsewhere. These have included collaboration on research projects, publications and exhibitions. The British Museum has routinely lent to Greece, and indeed British Museum objects are currently on loan to the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens. This demonstrates the warm relationships of mutual trust and respect that have been built up between scholars in Athens and London. The Acropolis Museum and the British Museum are both centres for Parthenon studies, and curators and colleagues from each institution have together discussed their common efforts to seek new audiences and to find new ways of interpretation.

As Trustees we attach great importance to these joint ventures, and believe that both the study of the Parthenon Sculptures and their display to the widest possible audiences illuminates not only the Classical Greek achievement but also its impact on the world. In conclusion, therefore, we would invite our colleagues in Greek museums to continue to work with us and to explore new ways of enabling the whole world to see, study and enjoy the sculptures of the Parthenon.

We are sending this letter both in English and in Greek, and are copying it to the Ministers for Culture and Europe, who are replying separately to Mr Bandarin’s letter of 9 August 2013.

Sir Richard Lambert
Chairman of the British Museum Board of Trustees

From:
British Government

26 March 2015
Alfredo Pérez de Armiñán
Assistant Director-General for Culture
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
1 Rue Miollis
75732 Paris Cedex 15
France
Dear Mr
Pérez de Armiñán,

PARTHENON SCULPTURES IN THE BRITISH MUSEUM

We are writing in response to the letter of 9 August 2013 from your predecessor, Francesco Bandarin, to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Minister for Equalities, the Foreign Secretary and the Director of the British Museum.

We would first like to express how much we value the role that UNESCO plays in helping to safeguard cultural heritage and in providing a forum for the resolution of international disputes through the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation (ICPRCP). The issue of the Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum has been the subject of much discussion over the years both within the Committee and elsewhere, and while the UK is not formally a member of the Committee, officials from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the British Museum have regularly attended and sought to assist the Committee in its work.

Mr Bandarin asked us to consider a request put forward by the Greek Government to agree to a process of mediation, facilitated by UNESCO, with a view to transferring the Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum to Greece. At the Nineteenth Session of the ICPRCP in October 2014, the UK acknowledged that UNESCO stands ready to facilitate mediation discussions and the ICPRCP adopted a recommendation that invites the parties to consider making use of the mediation process as proposed by Greece.

While we remain keen to cooperate with UNESCO in its work, the fact remains that the Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum were legally acquired by Lord Elgin under the laws pertaining at the time and the Trustees of the British Museum have had clear legal title to the sculptures since 1816. Neither the British Government nor the British Museum are aware of any new arguments to the contrary since 1985, when a formal Greek request for the return of the sculptures was turned down by the British Government. We have seen nothing to suggest that Greece’s purpose in seeking mediation on this issue is anything other than to achieve the permanent transfer of the Parthenon sculptures now in the British Museum to Greece and on terms that would deny the British Museum’s right of ownership, either in law or as a practical reality. Given our equally clear position, this leads us to conclude that mediation would not carry this debate substantially forward.

In addition to the matter of clear legal title, a further relevant factor is that the Trustees of the British Museum are prevented by law from de-accessioning objects in the Museum’s collections unless they are duplicates or unfit for retention. Successive governments have indicated their support for this important legal principle, which is in common with the legal obligations of all the UK’s major public museums and protects the integrity of the British Museum’s collections.

We acknowledge that the Greek Government has aspirations relating to the transfer of the sculptures to Greece and all of us who have had the opportunity to visit the Acropolis Museum greatly admire it. The Acropolis Museum has allowed a greater proportion of the rich collection of sculptures from the Acropolis in Athens to be exhibited than ever before, and has provided a fitting home for many of the Parthenon sculptures that have been removed from the temple in recent years.

Given the global nature of the collection held by the British Museum, the many millions of visitors who visit each year have the opportunity to understand the significance of the Parthenon sculptures in the context of world history and they can do so free of charge. While we understand the strength of contrary opinion, we think that this is something of incalculable international benefit.

In that spirit, the British Museum has a long history of friendly collaboration with colleagues in the Greek Archaeological Service and has contributed to discussions around the restoration of the Acropolis monuments. It has also worked on a project to scan elements of the surviving Parthenon sculptures in both Athens and London. The UK Government is keen that the process of mutual, bilateral cooperation that exists between the UK and Greece on cultural matters should continue to develop.

Setting aside the differences relating to the Parthenon sculptures, we believe that there is scope for further co-operation and collaboratio n between the British Museum and the Acropolis Museum in the years ahead, and we hope that this path can be pursued.

We are copying this letter to Sir Richard Lambert, Chairman of the Trustees of the British Museum, who is replying separately to Mr Bandarin’s letter.

ED VAIZEY MP
Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy

RT HON DAVID LIDINGTON MP
Minister for Europe

Early day motion 852 UNESCO mediation and the Marbles

Posted at 9:38 pm in Elgin Marbles

As mentioned in an Earlier post, Andrew George MP has tabled an Early Day motion regarding the continued prevarication by Britain over UNESCO mediation over the Parthenon Marbles.

While not in any way an instrument of enforcement, Early Day Motions can be a handy way of identifying other like minded supporters of an issue within Parliament, as well as a reminder to others that the issue is still very much something that people feel strongly about.

Andrew George MP, Chair of the Marbles Reunited campaign

Andrew George MP, Chair of the Marbles Reunited campaign

From:
UK Parliament

Early day motion 852
Mediation with UNESCO for the repatriation of the Parthenon Sculptures

Session: 2014-15
Date tabled: 09.03.2015
Primary sponsor: George, Andrew
Sponsors:
Sanders, Adrian
Lefroy, Jeremy
Corbyn, Jeremy
Williams, Hywel
Glindon, Mary

That this House is aware that half of the Parthenon sculptures, controversially removed from Athens by Lord Elgin 210 years ago using a flimsy legal justification during the Ottoman occupation of Greece, remain on display in the British Museum; notes that, when presented with the facts, the British public favours the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles in Athens; further notes an opinion poll conducted by YouGov in October 2014 which shows only 23 per cent of the British public think they should stay in Britain; is further aware that the British Museum has abandoned most of its conventional arguments and now advances the novel concept of a universal museum; regrets the Government’s apparent decision to reject the offer from UNESCO to mediate with the Greek government; and calls on the Government to reverse this decision and to demonstrate that Britain is prepared to express its standing in the world by engaging in a gracious act to reunite these British-held Parthenon sculptures with those now displayed in the purpose-built Acropolis Museum in the shadow of the monument to which they belong, the Parthenon in Athens.

The following MPs have signed this motion so far:

  1. Abbott, Diane
  2. Campbell, Ronnie
  3. Clark, Katy
  4. Corbyn, Jeremy
  5. Flynn, Paul
  6. Galloway, George
  7. George, Andrew
  8. Glindon, Mary
  9. Godsiff, Roger
  10. Hancock, Mike
  11. Hopkins, Kelvin
  12. Leech, John
  13. Lefroy, Jeremy
  14. McDonnell, John
  15. Meale, Alan
  16. Sanders, Adrian
  17. Sharma, Virendra
  18. Ward, David
  19. Williams, Hywel
  20. Williams, Mark

March 23, 2015

The man who returned the Bird of Prophecy to Nigeria

Posted at 1:58 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

Mark Walker inherited a bronze sculpture from Nigeria that had been taken from the country by his Grandfather during the Benin Punitive Expedition.

After coming into possession of one of the Benin Bronzes, he had to think what to do with it next. He thought ahead to what would happen to them when he died. His children did not want them, and he did not want them to be sold at auction. Instead, he got in touch with the Richard Lander Society, who facilitated the return for the sculptures to the descendants of the rulers of Benin.

It seems that in more and more stories, while individuals feel a need to do the right thing, by righting historic wrongs, museums and other institutions seem far less compelled to do so. This is despite the fact that as places of education, one would expect that they would be the ones to be taking a moral lead in such situations rather than dragging their heels.

Eight hundred items from the Benin Punitive Expedition are still held in the British Museum in London. Other institutions around the world house many more. In all cases, Nigeria also claims rightful ownership.

The "Bird of Prophecy" returned to Benin City by Mark Walker

The “Bird of Prophecy” returned to Benin City by Mark Walker

From:
BBC News

26 February 2015 Last updated at 00:09
The man who returned his grandfather’s looted art
By Ellen Otzen BBC World Service

At the end of the 19th Century British troops looted thousands of works of art from the Benin Empire – in modern-day Nigeria – and brought them home. One soldier’s grandson inherited two bronzes but recently returned them to their original home.

“It’s an image that’s deeply ingrained in my memory. The dead body seemed unreal. It’s not a picture you can easily forget,” says Mark Walker.
Read the rest of this entry »

March 22, 2015

Malcolm Fraser 1930-2015 – Former Australian PM & Marbalista

Posted at 11:21 pm in Elgin Marbles

Former Australian Malcolm Fraser died on Friday morning aged 84. He was vociferously outspoken about his support for the return of the Parthenon Marbles for many years. Despite being political adversaries, he shared his support for the reunification of the Marbles with Gough Whitlam – another former Australian PM who died in October of last year.

You can read more about Malcolm Frasers support for philhellenism here and here.

Malcolm Fraser 1930-2015, Former Australian Prime Minister

Malcolm Fraser 1930-2015, Former Australian Prime Minister

From:
Neos Kosmos

Malcolm Fraser remembered
20 Mar 2015
Sotiris Hatzimanolis

Hundreds have come forward to honour former Australian prime minister Malcolm Fraser, who died on Friday morning at the age of 84 years.

Malcolm Fraser served as prime minister of Australia from 1975 to 1983, leading the Liberals, and was among other things, a great humanist and philhellene.
Read the rest of this entry »

March 15, 2015

Geneva Summer Schools – International Cultural Heritage Law

Posted at 9:33 pm in Events, Similar cases

The Université de Genève is organising a summer school on International Cultural Heritage Law, from June 22nd – July 3rd.

Check the Geneva Summer Schools website for full details of the course programme.

From:
Geneva Summer Schools

International Cultural Heritage Law

June 22 – July 3, 2015

COURSE DESCRIPTION

The summer school aims to develop the students’ awareness and general understanding of the main substantive themes of international cultural heritage law, namely:

  • the trade in cultural objects;
  • the restitution of stolen or looted artworks;
  • the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict;
  • the protection of the built heritage from natural and human-induced disasters;
  • the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage and of the diversity of cultural expressions;
  • the relationship between cultural heritage law and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO);
  • the settlement of cultural heritage disputes.

Read the rest of this entry »

James Cuno, ISIS and cultural heritage preservation

Posted at 9:11 pm in Similar cases

James Cuno has in the past regularly staked his claim as one of the most hardline retentionists in the US museums world.

In his latest missive to the New York Times letters page, he tries to argue that many of the current problems with looting are actually the fault of UNESCO conventions on cultural property. His line of reasoning is that cultural property laws keep the artefacts in their country of origin – thereby making it easier for other factions within the country to seize / destroy them. There are too many flaws to this argument for me to list. Fortunately Kwame Opoku has taken the time to write a far more comprehensive dis-assembly of Cuno’s arguments than I would have managed.

Isis militants attack ancient artifacts with sledgehammers in the Ninevah Museum in Mosul, Iraq.

Isis militants attack ancient artifacts with sledgehammers in the Ninevah Museum in Mosul, Iraq.

From:
Kwame Opoku (by email)

Does Dr Cuno really believe what he writes?

After my last article, I swore not to comment anymore on Dr.Cuno’s statements in order to avoid any impression that I was unduly concentrating on the opinions of one scholar. (1) However, it seems the U.S. American scholar is never tired of presenting views that most critics would consider patently wrong. Could we just keep quiet when a most influential scholar expresses an opinion that is obviously wrong? In his latest letter to the editor of the New York Times, 11 March,2015,James Cuno, President and Chief Executive of the J. Paul Getty trust, Los Angeles declares

”The recent attacks on the ancient cities of Nimrud and Hatra in Iraq underscore a tragic reality. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization encourages — and provides an institutional instrument for — the retention of antiquities within the borders of the modern state that claims them. That state, very sadly, also has the authority to sell them on the illegal market, damage them or destroy them.
Read the rest of this entry »

March 13, 2015

Culture & Crisis one day conference at V&A

Posted at 2:06 pm in Events, Similar cases

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London is organising a one day conference on the effects of the recent destruction and loss of cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq.

The ruins of Apamea in Syria in 2004, before the current conflict

The ruins of Apamea in Syria in 2004, before the current conflict

From:
V&A

Culture in Crisis

What: Conferences & Symposia
When: Tue 14 April 2015 10:00 – 17:30
Where: The Lydia & Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre

CONFERENCE: The recent destruction and loss of cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq is a cause for world-wide concern and condemnation. But what is the role of museums? Can we support people from these countries, whilst ensuring our own protection?
Read the rest of this entry »

March 12, 2015

Ilissos returns to British Museum, but not to Duveen Gallery

Posted at 9:40 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

The statue of Ilissos was sent to the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg last December, heralded with much fanfare from the British Museum and some news sources.

It has now returned to the British Museum, but will not be occupying its usual position in the Duveen Gallery just yet.

Instead, it is gong to be appearing in a new exhibition – Defining Beauty: The Body In Ancient Greek Art which starts on 26th March. Curator Ian Jenkins says that visitors will get “a different story” by seeing one sculpture away from the rest of them. This seems to be once again missing the point that the sculptures are part of a greater whole. Then again, the British Museum would want to see things in this way, as their intention is to erode the argument that they are part of a set as far as possible, in an effort to weaken Greece’s claim.

Stating that separating them tells a different story makes no sense as a justification. The fact that they can tell a different story is definitely the case, but I struggle to see that the different story has any real relevance or could possibly be seen as an improvement. To follow this argument to a ridiculous extreme, one could say that the Taliban blowing up the Bamiyan Buddhas allows them to tell a different story. Would anyone other than the Taliban argue that this “different story” had much merit to it? Probably not.

Part of the Parthenon Marbles, the river god Ilissos in the Duveen Gallery

Part of the Parthenon Marbles, the river god Ilissos in the Duveen Gallery

From:
Belfast Telegraph

Marbles back at British Museum
27 February 2015

A section of the Elgin Marbles loaned to Russia last year has returned to the British Museum to take centre stage in a new exhibition.

The sculpture of the river god, Ilissos, will go on show away from the other marbles.
Read the rest of this entry »

March 9, 2015

The Parthenon Marbles, a film by Nafsika Guerry-Karamaounas

Posted at 10:06 pm in Elgin Marbles

Film director Nafsika Guerry-Karamaounas is making a film about the Parthenon Sculptures, with the assistance of the Swiss Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles.

The film is a short documentary, which aims to increase awareness of the issue and to persuade political decision makers of the importance that the sculptures are returned.

At present, the film is in the funding phase, and collecting donations. You are encouraged to visit the we make it site, to help support the project.

From:
wemakeit

The Parthenon Marbles

Our aim
Our main objective is the reunification of a mutiliated, unique work of art, the major symbol of Europe’s common cultural heritage. To this end, our Swiss Committee for the Return of the Parthenon Marbles was founded in 2008. We are an active member of the IARPS (International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures).

Our Project
Our flagship project is a short documentary film to widely influence public opinion and persuade political decision-makers of the necessity of the reunification of the Marbles in the Acropolis Museum in Athens. Many people are either misinformed or undecided on the subject of the Marbles. Our film, directed by the young and talented Nafsika Guerry-Karamaounas who made her mark at Cannes and with James Cameron, will allow you to have an informed opinion.

Why should the British Museum return the marbles to Athens?
Now that Greece with the help of Europe has built one of the most beautiful museums in the world at the foot of the Acropolis, the moment has come to return the Marbles to Athens.
Read the rest of this entry »

Andrew George MP to table Parthenon Marbles EDM

Posted at 1:57 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Marbles Reunited

As outlined in yesterday’s post, Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George is due to table an Early Day Motion later today, urging the government to return the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece. Andrew George is also the chair of the Marbles Reunited campaign, based in the UK.

I’m disappointed to see that the BBC has chosen to unquestioningly print the assertions of the British Museum, that Elgin rescued the sculptures so that the world could enjoy them. All evidence available in the form of letters from Elgin to his wife & others, indicated that he wanted them to adorn his new house which was being built at Broomhall. It was only much later on, when bankrupt & trying to justify his ownership of them to the government, that he came up with the notion that he had been acting first and foremost as a preservationist.

MacGregor says that these items should be shared with as many people as possible, but as has been said many times before, if this is the case, then surely Beijing would be a better location for the sculptures than London?

A metope from the Parthenon Sculptures, currently in the British Museum

A metope from the Parthenon Sculptures, currently in the British Museum

From:
BBC News

9 March 2015 Last updated at 08:06
Elgin Marbles: Commons motion urges return to Greece

A parliamentary move to expedite the return of the Elgin Marbles from the UK to Greece will be made later.

In an early day motion, Lib Dem MP Andrew George will urge the government to make moves towards “reuniting” them with those in the Acropolis Museum.
Read the rest of this entry »

March 8, 2015

The Cyrus Cylinder, the FCO, human rights and irony

Posted at 11:49 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

The Cyrus Cylinder is often proclaimed by many as the world’s first charter of human rights. Various false translations circulate online, adding further credibility to these assertions. Even Neil MacGregor, the British Museum’s Director described it as “The cylinder, often referred to as the first bill of human rights”. According to the British Museum’s own website, The reality is that although it does describe some human rights, it is not unique, but it in fact reflects a long tradition in Mesopotamia where, from as early as the third millennium BC, kings began their reigns with declarations of reforms. The fact that this might be the first such declaration that survives does not make it the first declaration.

Whether or not it is a declaration of human rights could be a never-ending debate, but the fact is that many perceive it as such and as a result, ascribe all sorts of proclamations to it that are not present in any of the official translations. It should be noted that this is by no means unique to the Cyrus Cylinder – the Magna Carta has long suffered a similar fate. These documents may or may not be the foundations of later declarations, but some of what they are claimed to contain is patently untrue.

Notwithstanding the above, the area of Human Rights is an ever shifting canvas. To my mind, one important right should be that of a people to have access to their own cultural heritage. It is afterall what gives them and their nation its identity, as well as being something that they can be proud of. It could be seen as a the provenance of a culture.

The Cyrus Cylinder, though acquired legitimately, was like the Parthenon Marbles, taken with authorisation from the Ottoman Empire, from a location within Modern Iraq, but has a clear association with Cyrus The Great, a ruler associated with The area known today as Iran. Currently it is housed in the British Museum, but Iran has at various times disputed its ownership, although when it has been loaned to them, no attempts have ever been made to break the terms of the loan agreement. Many, particularly within Iran, would continue to argue that it is a part of their heritage and such they have a right of easier access to this key element of their past.

To me, all the above makes the following statement on the Foreign and Commonwealth’s office particularly muddled.

Essentially, they are using the Cyrus Cylinder (under its premise as an early declaration of human rights), as an introduction to criticising the current human rights record of a variety of countries. We are annoyed that these countries do not play by our rules, but at the same time, we are happy to wrong many of them, by continuing to ignore the disputes surrounding our own possession of their cultural property. Various countries on their list (of concerns about human rights violations) are also on the list of original owners of disputed artefacts. Just at a quick glance, Egypt continues to request the return of the Rosetta Stone, Nigeria the Benin Bronzes and Ethiopia the Magdala Treasure.

I am not saying that the human rights records of any of these countries is remotely acceptable, or criticising the FCO’s methodology in compiling their list. Surely though, using an item of disputed cultural property to introduce this is not the best way to do it? while we are pointing fingers, we must not forget that our credibility is being judged by these same nations on other issues, issues that remain very real and important to them as part of their quest to maintain their own cultural identity.

The Cyrus Cylinder, currently housed in the British Museum

The Cyrus Cylinder, currently housed in the British Museum

From:
Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Human Rights and the Cyrus Cylinder
March 3, 2015

Next week the Foreign Office will release its annual report on Human Rights and Democracy. It will showcase some of the work the UK has been doing to promote human rights around the world over the course of our current parliament (ie. the last five years), paying special attention to the value we place on civil society. It will also look in detail at 27 “countries of concern”, in which we consider there to be the most serious violations and abuses of human rights, and 10 “case study countries”, where the focus is on one particular ‘theme’.

Human Rights are sometimes portrayed as a “Western” concept or invention (usually most vociferously by those committing the most serious violations). This is, in fact, a misreading of centuries of history which led up to the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Way back in 539 B.C., the armies of Cyrus the Great, the first king of ancient Persia (modern day Iran), conquered the city of Babylon. In doing so, and as he prepared to govern his new territory, he declared that slaves would be free, people had the right to choose their own religion, and that different races living in the city would be treated equally. He recorded all of this on a baked-clay cylinder (known today as the Cyrus Cylinder and resident in the British Museum) – an ancient record that has been recognised by many as the world’s first charter of human rights. It is translated into all six official languages of the United Nations and its provisions mirror the first four Articles of the Universal Declaration.
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UK reluctant to enter Parthenon Marbles mediation process

Posted at 12:08 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Marbles Reunited

In September 2013, a request was made by Greece to Britain, to enter a mediation process to resolve the Parthenon Sculptures reunification issue. The process would take place via the snappily named Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation, a sub-committee of UNESCO.

The request for mediation marked a new step for Greece, and a clear realisation that small scale informal negotiations to resolve the issue were making little progress.

Since the request was issued, any appeals for updates have indicated that the British Government is still considering their response.

Last year, it was requested that a response would be made by 31st March 2015. However, government sources say that they are unable to make any significant announcement this side of the May election. We must bear in mind at this stage, that all current predictions are that there will be no clear majority in the May 2015 general election, so if not a change of government, at the very minimum, we can expect a significant restructuring of the coalition.

The British Government is clean to prevaricate over what is likely (according to all past policy indications) to be a negative response, but the reality is that any negative response might well be met by a stronger riposte from Greece.

For a number of years now, talks have taken place in secret in Greece regarding the possibility of some form of legal action over the Parthenon Marbles. These talks became more public when it became known that Amal Clooney was involved. As a side note, she was in fact involved all along – I have had sight of confidential papers that her name is ascribed to, from early 2011. Previously though, the lawyers were able to operate beneath the radar though, whereas Amal’s new found fame means that this is no longer such a simple proposition.

The likelihood of litigation is increased by the recent news that even if there Greek Government does not have the money to invest in this sort of venture, there are others who are happy to do so on their behalf.

What this leads on to, is that it is clear that Greece is considering other options. If their mediation request is rebuffed, they are not going to just drop the issue, but have fall back options, that could be a lot less palatable than mediation.

It is unclear, whether after an initial rejection of the mediation request, the offer to enter into the process would still be open to Britain.

Meanwhile, the British Museum, while unwilling to invest efforts in actual negotiations seems to have been taking measures to try & prop up their own back story behind why retention of the sculptures is a good idea. The first step was the rather controversial and secretive loan of one of the sculptures to the Hermitage in St Petersburg, which was announced to much fanfare in The Times. The second step is the commissioning of a rather narrowly focussed poll, aimed at giving the impression that those in the industry were entirely favourable of return (well they would say that wouldn’t they).

These moves are indicative that the British Museum is no longer sitting quite as comfortably as it once was. It is trying to make its position more secure, yet the loan to the Hermitage seems to have done exactly the opposite, with many former retentionists being strongly critical of the Museum’s actions.

It is clear that we are entering a new chapter in Greece’s quest for the return of the sculptures – one that has move on from informal applications to something much more structured. The stakes may be higher for both sides, but the aggressive responses from the British Museum indicate that the Greek approach seems to be having some sort of success. My hope is that the new SYRIZA led coalition is willing to keep up the pressure, rather than making a complete change of policy.

Parthenon Marbles in British Museum

Parthenon Marbles in British Museum

From:
Independent

Elgin Marbles row: Greece tells British Government to stop stonewalling on return of Parthenon sculptures
Ian Johnston
Saturday 07 March 2015

The Government is refusing to negotiate with Greece about the return of the so-called Elgin Marbles despite a request to do so from the United Nations, a decision that could prompt Athens to begin legal action for the first time.

British campaigners likened the UK’s stance to “clinging on to stolen booty for dear life” and contrasted it with the “generous act” of returning the sculptures to help a friendly country on the brink of economic collapse. Youth unemployment has hit 50 per cent and suicide rates have soared amid a crisis so severe the Financial Times has warned Greece could turn into a “quasi slave economy”.
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