Quote of the Day

Once the museum is completed, Greece will have a very strong argument for the return of the Parthenon sculptures.

Kostas Karamanlis, Hellenic Republic Prime Minister

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.

May 4, 2015

The Parthenon Marbles & the 2015 General Election

Posted at 11:28 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, New Acropolis Museum, Similar cases

Introduction

For a long time, like many others who have followed the case closely, I have had a general understanding of which parties supported return of the Parthenon Marbles and which did not. However, with the upcoming General Election in May, I thought it would be interesting to see if the figures actually backed this up.

To the best of my knowledge, none of the parties in the UK currently have an official policy on it, although past statements actions have given a relatively good idea of where the main parties stand on the issue. As followers of British politics will know though, this election, more than any in recent years is as much about the rise of other smaller parties as it is about the main parties. Predictions are that the share of votes cast for smaller parties will far exceed what has been achieved at any previous elections.

In 2010, I took a look at the policies of the main parties and based this on historic information. As a result of this, I know that we had people in the government who strongly believed in the return of the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece, but they were unable to express these views, as they believed that there were more major issues that needed to be tackled with their coalition partners, before time was invested in things such as this.

Methodology

This time round, I have looked at the information on support from various parties using two entirely different methods.

The first analysis is based on the incumbent MPs and their previous expressions of support. The majority of these come from Early Day Motions, although there are additional instances where people have been added to the list (either for or against) based on public statements, replies to letters or direct conversations.

The second analysis is entirely new and is based on a survey of candidates on Twitter. I started this exercise following the dissolution of Parliament at the end of March 2015. I targeted a wide range of Prospective Parliamentary Candidates, some of whom had been MPs in the previous parliament and many others who had not. This helps us to better gauge levels of support not just from those who have been elected in the past, but also from those who have yet to be elected.

Because people were asked a question on twitter, it meant that the replies could be more nuanced than a simple yes or no. This made it harder to categorise the results, but led to some additional categories and could form the basis for development of new campaign strategies in the future.

Anyone who looks in detail at either of these methods will see that they both have their flaws. However, if we bear in mind these issues, there are some interesting things that can be learned from the data, some of which backed up my expectations, while others were unanticipated.

Survey 1: Indications of the opinion of MPs in the previous parliament

Limitations

  1. Nearly all the data here is collated from responses to Early Day Motions. Prior to the 2010 election, my data covered more MPs, but so many stood down at that election, that there have not been enough significant events since then to gauge support from new MPs so clearly.
  2. The results skew towards those who sign EDMs. MPs that are in the Government (e.g. ministers, junior ministers etc.) tend not to sign EDMs. There are others out there too, who never sign EDMs on principle – often because they believe them to be a waste of time, which does not achieve anything directly. While this may be true up to a point, there is no denying, that they allow other MPs to gauge levels of support for a cause, which may then be utilised in other ways. And MP may know of a few other strong supporters of a cause, but often EDMs add to their list others who they barely know, or who they had never considered as being potential enthusiasts in the same issue.
  3. Results can be skewed for smaller parties. With a larger (hypothetical) party, 20 supporters out of 100 MPs can give a clearish indication of 20% support within the party. With a party of 1 or 2 members though, it is easy for them to come out as being 100% in support, whereas the reality is that the sample size is smaller & therefore the results potentially less accurate.

The dataset

The data is based on the 649 MPs (the speaker is not counted) at the end of the previous parliament. This is to say – the 21 by-elections during the last five years have been factored into the results. Data has been collected both during the previous parliament and in the case of those who were MPs prior to that, from EDMs dating back as far as 1991. In total, the results of 24 pro-restitution and 3 anti-restitution EDMs have been taken into account.

249 MPs were new to Parliament in the 2010 election (an unusually high number, in part due to many retirements) or have joined through by-elections since then. As only two EDMs have referred to the Parthenon Marbles since 2010, results skew in favour of those MPs who have been in parliament for longer.

Results

Of the parties with more than ten MPs, the highest level of support is from the Lib Dems, at 46%. Labour is next at 23%. Finally, there are the Conservatives with 2%.

Of the smaller parties (where results may hold less accuracy), the SNP has support at 33%, with 2 out of 6 MPs. The SDLP both show 60% support with 2 out of 3 MPs. Plaid Cymru has 100% support with 3 MPs Respect show support of 100%, but only has a single MP.

There have also been some anti-restitution EDMs tabled – generally in direct response to the pro-restitution EDMs that the above results are based on. Of these, the only signatories are from the Conservatives, with 20 MPs indicating that 7% of their MPs have specifically stated that they are against reunification of the sculptures.

As these results do not go against what my more recent survey showed, I will deal with the conclusions of both sets of results together.

Survey 2 – Twitter survey of PPCs

Limitations

As mentioned before, there are a number of potential flaws to this study.

  1. There is an election on – as a result, many PPCs have other things on their mind as well as answering questions on twitter, so well thought out responses would not necessarily be forthcoming. Results may skew towards those who have more time available, which is likely to mean those who are not part of the incumbent government.
  2. Some MPs have a twitter account purely as a PR tool, which in managed for them by their office staff on an occasional basis.
  3. The results as a whole will skew towards those MPs who are on twitter – something that I would imagine ties to a younger demographic, although as more and more expand their online presence, this becomes less of an issue.
  4. Perhaps most importantly, when related to the results of the first survey, my findings from the twitter poll suggest that those who are against the return of the sculptures are less likely to reply than those who are.

The Dataset

I messaged 1174 PPCs who were on Twitter. From this, I received 138 responses – a reply rate of approximately 12%.

351 of those contacted had been MPs during the previous Parliament, (equating to 54% of the 650 constituencies) so there was a good representation amongst those asked of both current MPs and potential new ones (particularly when one bears in mind that 89 from the last Parliament are retiring of have been deselected – bringing the number of incumbents asked to 63% of those who are standing again).

The candidates selected were based on various lists of twitter contact details I came across, so were somewhat random in their nature, involving a selection of all the parties expected to win seats in Mainland UK. None of the Northern Irish Parties were represented by this list.

With the exception of SNP members, all others came from a single list of Twitter handles that I located, so the balance of parties comes from there. It is skewed a bit heavily in favour of Labour, but all parties are represented by enough members to constitute a reasonable sample size.

The question I asked initially in my tweets was:

In run up to election, was wondering what your views are on Parthenon Marbles return? Many voters feel strongly about it

After I had sent out the first 200 or so messages, a number of people queried the use of the term “many people”. I still stand by my use of it – perhaps not as a percentage of those in the UK it is not many, but worldwide, we are talking of numbers in terms of millions.

To avoid getting side-tracked by queries and to tie the question more closely to current events, for the remainder of those questioned, I asked:

In election run up, was wondering what your views are on Parthenon Marbles return? & of UK rejection of UNESCO mediation

It rapidly became clear once I started getting answers that a simple yes or no was not going to cover everything.

Many people added more detail to qualify their answer; I will cover some of the key points from this later.

Quite a few of the answers were not yes or no, or even maybe. I created a separate category for cases where their intent was completely unclear. It also includes those who only reply to queries from those in their constituency.

Others were undecided, so fell into the maybe category.

Finally, a surprising number (enough to create a category of its own) stated that either that they had no answer or did not have the time to consider it, because they did not see the subject as being an issue. No constituents had ever asked about it in their years of campaigning, or they did not have the time to think about it.

The results of this survey are shown below:

Views of PPCs from different parties on whether the Parthenon Marbles should be returned - May 2015

PartyYesNoMaybeUnclearUnimportant
Con18%41%12%18%12%
Green87%0%10%0%3%
Lab65%2%15%9%9%
LD70%13%4%9%4%
PC100%0%0%0%0%
UKIP38%25%13%13%13%
SNP100%0%0%0%0%
Responses broken down as a percentage of those questioned from each party

There was quite a lot of data to digest there, but it can be made simpler if those from the maybe, unclear and unimportant categories are ignored. It seems safe to assume that if it came to a vote, these people would be likely to at the very least follow a 50 / 50 split, or to follow the split of opinions of those in their party who have already made their views known, meaning that the overall trend in the results should still be relatively similar.

As you can see from this table, the results are fairly clear cut. With the exception of the Conservatives, in all other parties the clear majority of respondents support return of the Parthenon Sculptures – in most cases by a massive amount.

UKIP is perhaps the most erratic in their responses, with no definite trend. As with most of the other parties, there is no set party policy on the issue, but in their case, members seem more divided on whether or not they want the sculptures returned.

What is interesting is to interpolate these results to match the actual breakdown of the MPs in parliament. The breakdown of each of the parties questioned is taken as a percentage of their number of seats multiplied by their percentage of yes votes. Other parties not covered by my survey are included as zero support, although we already know from the first part of this study, that Respect (with a single MP) supports the return of the Marbles. The total number of MPs used for calculating the percentages is 650 minus the speaker (who does not vote) and minus the 5 Sinn Féin MPs (who do not take their seats in Parliament) Giving a total of 644 voting MPs. This same methodology (in terms of voting and non-voting members) is used to calculate how many seats are required for a majority in Parliament.

Interpolated outcome for a hypothetical vote in the final session of the previous parliament (2014-2015) based on a Twitter survey of PPCs - May 2015

PartyMPsAs %Yes %Aggregate 
Total62%
Con30347%30%14%
Green10%100%0%
Lab25840%97%39%
LD579%84%7%
PC30%100%0%
SNP61%100%1%
UKIP20%60%0%
Others142%0%0%

Not all parties are included in this survey and it relies on a lot of assumptions, but based on the information available, it still represents a surprising outcome, that even with the Conservatives forming the largest block in Parliament (albeit not an overall majority), 62% would support return of the Marbles. This result is notable, as it indicates that support for the issue amongst members might well be higher than the party leaders acknowledge. Bear in mind though that this result, excludes those who are undecided or gave unclear answers, on the assumption that their decision would either match that of others in their party, or not be enough to alter the overall balance.

Additional comments received

Various twitter responses included more detail in addition to the yes / no answer, and from this a number of themes emerged.

From those in support of the return of the Marbles:

  • A solution mediated by a third party (e.g. UNESCO) would be the most sensible way of overseeing a fair outcome.
  • While Parliament can take a view on the Parthenon Marbles, it is important that they also respect the independence of the British Museum.
  • The Loan to the Hermitage in St Petersburg of one of the Parthenon Sculptures weakened the British Museum’s position, both because a loan was made of one of the sculptures and because of the fact that the loan was made to a country with which Britain is not on good terms with at present.
  • That the basis for a return agreement could be the previous offers made by Greece (when Venizelos was Culture Minister) for some form of reciprocal loan of new artefacts to display in place of the Marbles.
  • The importance of context was seen – that the Marbles were intended to be displayed in a certain place and under Greek light – something that can never be replicated in London.
  • That the New Acropolis Museum strengthens Greece’s argument.
  • That the UK could keep copies of the sculptures if the originals were returned.
  • PC PPCs raised the issue of the Mold Cape as one that they see as having parallels to the Marbles, but is relevant to them.
  • That the Marbles are a part of world heritage and as a result are best located in the country where they were created.
  • That they had concerns over whether other artefacts would have to be handed back too if the Marbles returned.

Out of those that opposed the return of the sculptures, arguments raised justifying retention included:

  • The fact that the Marbles were legitimately purchased by Lord Elgin.
  • That Greece has greater problems to deal with at present.
  • That they are “happy with them where they are at the moment”.
  • That if Elgin had not taken them then they would have been destroyed.
  • That Greece would just sell them if they were returned.
  • That they are safer in the British Museum.

This analysis is not the place to try and refute these assertions, but many of these statements are factually incorrect and other articles on this website have already explained this in more detail.

Others suggest that some MPs do not really see the return of the Marbles as an issue.

Finally, I was surprised to hear from some that despite the recent loan to Russia, the presence of Amal Clooney in Athens and previous comments by both George Clooney and Stephen Fry, some said that they had never heard of the case.

Conclusions

At the level of which parties support or are against the return of the Marbles, both surveys present broadly similar results. Although the level of support indicated varies (in part due to the very different methods used in each survey), the indication is that there is support from all the major parties, with the exception of the Conservatives and possibly UKIP.

Because of the nature of both surveys, it is hard to translate the survey results to an exact level of support, although my attempts show that it may well be high enough that a majority in Parliament would be in favour of their return if an un-whipped vote was taken. Factors to consider are whether those who do not reply / do not respond to EDMs do so because they are against the issue, or because they do not have the time, or any one of many other possible reasons.

One thing that surprised me was the numbers that did not see is as an issue of importance. I put this largely down to a lack of understanding of how the other side might feel – while it is easy to be in Britain and happy with the current situation, or uncaring about it, it is harder to take this point of view if you consider how those on the other side of the argument (in this case, the citizens of Greece) feel about the situation. While we might have concerns here about the transport system or the NHS, return of the Marbles is something that relatively easily rights a historical wrong, and at the same time would show that Britain had moved on from an imperialistic viewpoint and increase our standing internationally.

The issue of understanding the other side of the argument is perhaps what produces the high level of support from Plaid Cymru and SNP PPCs. There are various relevant intra-national cases that affect both these areas, the most notable being the Mold Cape and the Lewis Chessmen, which allow them to far more easily understand how another country in a similar situation might feel than for many British MPs who are more comfortable with the status quo.

While there were some inaccuracies in the understanding of the situation by those who supported return, it was clear from the responses that the amount of misinformation within the retentionist camp is far higher. This highlights that education is key to resolving the issue – many are against restitution in large part only because their understanding of the situation is built on factual inaccuracies. No inaccuracy in the media should go unchallenged, but at the same time spurious arguments that might weaken the reunification cause should be dropped.

In a separate message endorsing the cause that I received from a former Tory councillor, I queried that his opinion was at odds with the majority in his party who I spoke to and whether there was a reason for this. He suggested that a major reason was that many people did not know the history of the case well enough.

So, to sum up, anything other than a Conservative Majority on May 7th 2015 will increase the chances for the return of the Marbles. Once the election is over, I will re-visit this Analysis, both in terms of how the breakdown of parties has changed, and in terms of how many of those questioned have become MPs both within the new Parliament and within the Government.

As a closing comment, one of the PC PPCs who I spoke to noted that: “Finders keepers should be remain a playground chant & not form part of government policy.”

Perhaps this is the simplest summary of the reasons for return of the sculptures.

Key to abbreviations used

Party names

APNI – Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
Con – Conservative
DUP – Democratic Unionist Party
Lab – Labour
LD – Liberal Democrat
PC – Plaid Cymru
SDLP – Social Democratic and Labour Party
SNP – Scottish National Party
UKIP – UK Independence Party

Other

PPC – Prospective Parliamentary Candidate
EDM – Early Day Motion

May 1, 2015

E-Ticketing on the Acropolis from June

Posted at 12:58 pm in Acropolis

Soon, you will be able to purchase e-tickets to access the Acropolis in Athens.

A good way to beat the queues, although they were never such a problem as in cities like Rome.

Entrance path to the Acropolis

Entrance path to the Acropolis

From:
Greek Reporter

E-Ticket to Acropolis Archaeolgical Site from June
A. Makris
Apr 30, 2015

The electronic ticket will be applied from June starting from the archaeological site of the Acropolis with aim to be applied to all Greek archaeological sites by the end of the year, Greek Alternate Culture Minister Nikos Xydakis stated on Thursday.

Moreover, he clarified that the funding of Amphipolis excavation continues but not only for the excavation itself but for other important works of maintenance and restoration of the finds and the monument as well as for anthropological analysis of the materials.

Xydakis answered to questions raised by SYRIZA deputy Maria Kanellopoulou and New Democracy (ND) deputy Fotini Arabatzi.

April 20, 2015

Aboriginal protests over plundered artefacts in British Museum

Posted at 9:41 pm in British Museum, Events

As anticipated previously, the Dja Dja Wurrung tribe in Australia is protesting about the display of various Aboriginal artefacts in the British Museum. These protests are likely to increase later in the year, when the artefacts return to Australia ass a temporary loan.

Aboriginal bark painting of a barramundi dating from 1861

Aboriginal bark painting of a barramundi dating from 1861

From:
Guardian

Preservation or plunder? The battle over the British Museum’s Indigenous Australian show
Paul Daley
Thursday 9 April 2015 08.00 BST

It’s been less than a century since the world’s leading collectors began acknowledging Indigenous Australian art as more than mere ethnographic artefact. Since then, the most enlightened, from Hong Kong to London, New York to Paris, have understood that when you purchase a piece of Indigenous art you become its custodian – not its owner. That image depicting a moment on one of the myriad songlines that have criss-crossed the continent during 60,000 years of Indigenous civilisation can adorn your wall. But you will never have copyright. Sometimes, not even the creator owns the painterly iconography and motif attached to particular stories that are family, clan or tribe – but not individual – possessions.

Such understanding is now implicit in the compact between collectors and creators, as remote Indigenous Australian arts centres match a rapacious international market with the rights of some of the world’s most accomplished, and impoverished, modern artists to support themselves and their families. But for museums, especially those of the great empires, ownership of Indigenous cultural property remains an existential bedrock. Which brings me to the British Museum and its forthcoming exhibition, Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation. To call this exhibition – and a related one, Encounters, planned for Canberra’s National Museum of Australia – controversial dramatically understates the bitter politics, anger and behind-the-scenes enmity provoked by the British Museum’s continued ownership of some 6,000 Indigenous Australian items variously acquired after British contact, invasion and occupation of the continent beginning in 1770.
Read the rest of this entry »

April 14, 2015

Liam Neeson calls for return of Parthenon Marbles to Greece

Posted at 1:01 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Liam Neeson joins a plethora of other well known actors & celebrites, in calling for the Parthenon Sculptures to be returned to Greece.

The comments were made during an interview about his new movie “Run All Night”.

Liam Neeson says that the Parthenon Marbles should be returned to Greece

Liam Neeson says that the Parthenon Marbles should be returned to Greece

From:
Greek Reporter

Liam Neeson: Give Stolen Parthenon Marbles Back to Greece
Joanna Kalafatis
Apr 13, 2015

Irish actor and action star Liam Neeson called on the UK to give the stolen Parthenon marbles back to Greece.

He joins legions of fellow actors and celebrities, such as George Clooney, Bill Murray and Steven Fry, who support the return of the Parthenon marbles back to their homeland.
Read the rest of this entry »

April 13, 2015

The nature of the rejection of UNESCO mediation for Marbles

Posted at 1:01 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Kwame Opoku gives his analysis on the British Museum and British Government’s rejection of mediation through UNESCO to resolve the Parthenon Marbles dispute.

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

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

From:
Kwame Opoku (by email)

BRITISH GOVERNMENT AND BRITISH MUSEUM REJECT GREEK REQUEST FOR UNESCO MEDIATION ON THE PARTHENON MARBLES.

Very few readers will be surprised by the negative response of the British Museum and the British Government to the Greek request for UNESCO mediation over the Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum.(1) The real surprise is that it took such  a long time, from 9 August 2913 to 26 March 2015 to send the British response. We used to think that a prompt reply or a response within a reasonable period was the hallmark of politeness.

The negative response consists of two separate letters to UNESCO, one from the British Government and the other from the British Museum. Though both letters conveyed a negative reply, it appears better, for clarity to discuss them separately. We will also see clearly the division of labour between the two British institutions that are united in the final objective but adopt different paths and style.

BRITISH MUSEUM ANSWER

The response of the British Museum bears all the hallmarks we have come to associate with this institution in the matter of the Parthenon Marbles: arrogance, defiance and provocation.

In a letter dated 26 March to the UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the British Museum states in the opening paragraph:

“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 request of Greece for mediation on the Parthenon Marbles in London is drowned in the area of collaboration with “other museums and cultural institutions, not just in Greece but across the world”. The specific question of the Greek sculptures, their ownership and location is not the object of attention and concentration.

The letter expresses admiration for the work of UNESCO in the area of “preservation and safeguarding the world’s endangered cultural heritage.”

The Chairman of the Board of Trustees immediately points out that the Parthenon Sculptures do not fall within this category. The method used here is fairly simple. You narrow the competence of UNESCO to the preservation and safeguarding the world’s endangered cultural heritage and declare UNESCO’s involvement in other areas as undesirable:

“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”

The Board of Trustees of the British Museum seem to have forgotten that UNESCO has a broad mandate that covers most areas of culture as well as disputes relating to cultural artefacts. Indeed the Organization has specifically, through its Intergovernmental Committee, (Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation) the duty to assist States in settling disputes such as those relating to the Parthenon Sculptures. This dispute has been before UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for a long time. The mediation procedure is one of several procedures available for dispute settlement. (2)

As we are now used to,, the British Museum’s letter contains the usual claim that the museum is there for the whole world and works on behalf of audiences from the whole world, forgetting that the majority of the world would have no visa to London and would also not be able to afford the costs involved in a visit to London.

The museum’s letter, as we could expect, is full of references to the alleged international role of the museum for the benefit of humanity:

“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”

“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.”

Most readers would be used to this standard propaganda of the British Museum in its role as self-appointed saviour of humanity’s cultural heritage. But what would come to many as a surprise is that the venerable museum advances its own wrong-doing as a demonstration of its commitment to humanity’s culture’

The letter of the museum refers to the notorious and controversial loan of Ilissos to Russia as an example of sharing the legacy of ancient Greece;

“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.”

The loan of one of the contested Parthenon Marbles to Russia was condemned by many as wrong and was described by Peter Aspden, Financial Times critic  as “ill-conceived trip to Russia”(3)

It requires a great amount of arrogance, self-confidence and provocation to advance an action condemned by most people as evidence of international co-operation. (4)

The British Museum also refers to what it calls ”the historic distribution of the surviving Parthenon Sculptures:”

“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 use of the word “distribution” is in many ways misleading. It creates the impression that there had been a conscious and deliberate decision to divide the Parthenon Sculptures among the nations that hold them at present. This, as we all know, was never the case but it helps to divert attention from asking how the sculptures came to London. The statement that the sculptures cannot be all replaced in the ancient Acropolis is undoubtedly aimed, at the arguments for reunification of the sculptures in Athens. As far as I am aware, no one has ever suggested the Parthenon Sculptures could be put back at their old location. What has been suggested is that they should be reunited in the new Acropolis Museum where there is enough place for them.

LETTER FROM BRITISH GOVERNMENT

The British Minister of State for Culture and Digital Economy sent a letter dated 26 March 2015 to the UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture in response to the UNESCO letter of 9 August 2013.

The Minister’s letter acknowledges the important role of UNESCO in the settlement of international disputes through the Intergovernmental Committee. The letter adds that officials of Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the British Museum have attended regularly meetings of the Committee even though Britain is not a member of the Committee.

Contrary to the British Museum letter which seems to be contesting the competence of UNESCO to be involved in such disputes, the Minister’s letter acknowledges UNESCO role in such disputes:

“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”.

Are these differences of approach accidental? We can be sure that officials of both the Government and the British Museum worked together on both letters and that if there are any differences of approach or nuances, these are not accidental but intentional. You say nice things about them and we tell them where to get off.

The letter from Government declares that the sculptures in the British Museum were acquired legally by Lord Elgin under the laws then prevailing. The request for mediation was to seek the transfer of the sculptures to Athens and deny the British Museum’s right of ownership. The positions of the British and the Greeks are clear and mediation would not carry the debate forward:

“Given our equally clear position, this leads us to conclude that mediation would not carry this debate substantially forward.”

The global nature of the collections in the British Museum as well as legal restrictions on de-accession are thrown in for good measure.

Readers will no doubt have noticed the not so subtle attempts to relegate the dispute on the Parthenon Marbles to a dispute between museums and not States. As dispute between States, the British Government is under pressure from other States in the United Nations and UNESCO to settle the matter. As dispute between institutions there will be less pressure and the Greek museum will not be able to exert much pressure on the British Museum In their letters of rejection, the British Museum tells UNESCO to stay away from this dispute and concern itself with preservation and destruction of culture and not with the Parthenon Marbles that are very well kept. The British Government also agrees that the matter should be left to the museums that have excellent relations

The British Museum continues in its attempt to take hold of the narrative of Greek culture and history, presenting itself as major player in the dissemination of Greek culture by bringing the Greek legacy to Russia and elsewhere. The current exhibition, Defining Beauty, the Body in Ancient Greek Art is given as an example of the museum’s approach. Is it by sheer coincidence that the exhibition opens on the same date as the rejection of the Greek proposal was sent?

It is remarkable that the British Museum and the British Government continue to advance the museum’s propaganda that it holds the Parthenon Marbles on behalf of humanity. Does this humanity include the British people who have in countless opinion polls overwhelmingly and consistently decided that the Parthenon Marbles be returned to Greece. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, the majority of States through their representatives in the United Nations and UNESCO have in countless resolutions decided that the sculptures should be returned to Athens. So for which humanity is the British Museum working?

The British Government and the British Museum appear never to have seriously considered the possibility of resolving the Parthenon dispute. One can understand that when a party has no real chance of winning a fair game that it is not interested in entering the game. But is this attitude to be expected from States that are often telling others to follow the law and emphasize the need for democracy? Can there be democracy without a willingness to submit disputes with other States to the rule of Law and other peaceful methods of dispute settlement?

The double refusal by the British Government and the British Museum is surely not the last word on the question of the Parthenon Marbles which they both admit are Greek. Praising the grandeur and the legacy of Greek civilization but at the same time refusing to let the Greeks have their cultural artefacts so that they could also celebrate that legacy can surely not be right.

Kwame Opoku, 30 March 2015

 

NOTES

1. Elginism, http://www.elginism.com/elgin-marbles/uk-government-rejects-parthenon-marbles-unesco-mediation/20150327/7859/

www.newsingreece.com/…/british-museum-rejects-request-for-unesco-m

www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03…/greece…british…mediation…/6356390

2. UNESCO Mediation and conciliation www.unesco.org/new/en/culture/themes/…/mediation-and-conciliation

3. Financial Times 28/29 March 2015, p.16.

4. Kwame Opoku, Arrogance, Duplicity and Defiance with no End: British Museum Loans Parthenon Marble to Russia£.

http://www.museum-security.org/2014/12/arrogance-duplicity-and-defiance-with-no-end-british-museum-loans-parthenon-marble-to-russia/

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April 10, 2015

UNESCO mediation rejection – what next

Posted at 1:01 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Following the rejection of mediation through UNESCO for the Parthenon Marbles issue, the question is, what happens next.

At present, Greece is awaiting the report produced by a team of lawyers who visited Athens last year, and it is unknown how much weight they will be giving to the advice that it gives.

For some, UNESCO mediation was seen as a final step – the last possible diplomatic effort to secure the return of the sculptures. There are still glimmers of hope though. Neil MacGregor has now announced he is leaving the British Museum, and there is also a British General Election coming up (I will write more on this in another post), so by the end of this year, the British side of the negotiating team may be very different to the one that we have now.

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

From:
Ethnos

NICK XYDAKIS FOR THE SCULPTURES:
The negativism is striking …
30 March 2015

Irina Bokova was to have arranged for mediation between Greece and Great Britain for the Parthenon sculptures, but the British Museum did not inform her directly, but through the Deputy Director of UNESCO.

Greece had addressed the Director General personally, seeking her active participation, prior to placing the issue of mediation before the international organisation, which she accepted. But it seems that the British Museum did not … agree.
Read the rest of this entry »

April 9, 2015

Neil MacGregor to stand down as Director of British Museum

Posted at 10:41 pm in British Museum

Neil MacGregor has announced that he is going to stand down as the Director of the British Museum at the end of 2015. During his tenure at the museum, he has definitely raised the profile of the institution, along with his own public standing. He has done a lot of good in broadening the reach of the British Museum, through such things as the History of the World in 100 objects radio series and book.

During his time there, there have been many epic exhibitions, such as the Terracotta Army, although I am sure that while he played a key part, he was far from the only one involved in getting such endeavours off the ground.

However, whatever praise MacGregor might receive should be accompanied by some major caveats.

He is lauded as presiding over a period in which the Museum has risen in popularity, and whilst this is true, it is partly a result of things outside of his control. The Great Court at the Museum is now the iconic space that people remember the building for, but work on it was started well before his arrival and it finally opened a year before he took on the role of director. The previous director presided over a museum that was a building site, with awkward circulation though side corridors, yet the bright spacious museum of the new millennium was not MacGregor’s doing.

In some newspapers, it appears that MacGregor can do no wrong. Even former critics now unquestioningly praise his every move as the work of a genius. I have no idea of the actual arrangements that have been made, but to an outsider it has certain parallels to the embedded reporters accompanying military divisions – you can get the inside stories before anyone else, but only as long as you don’t publish anything negative.

While MacGregor has presented a far more educated approach to the running of the museum than many of his predecessors, with a more rounded global outreach programme, under his control, the museum has always been quick to apply spin to its own actions. Shortly after he took charge of the institution, a highly publicised document appeared – the Declaration of the Importance of the Universal Museum. Many major institutions were present on this list, although the British Museum was notable by is absence. It was clear to many that they were involved in this document, and as it turned out, the declaration fell flat & disappeared from public discourse fairly rapidly.

While the Declaration of the Importance of the Universal Museum might have faded from memory, its legacy is still very much with us. James Cuno continually tries to revive the discredited Universal Museum concept under the alias of the Encyclopaedic Museum. Yet, the whole idea of the Universality of institutions such ass the British Museum is something of a fiction concocted by MacGregor. Prior to MacGregor taking up a post at the British Museum, there are no news stories that mentioned the term Universal Museum, yet it is pushed on us as though it is something that has always existed. It may or may not be a coincidence that its inception followed soon after construction work on the New Acropolis Museum started, removing one of the British Museums previous arguments for retention of the Parthenon Sculptures.

Neil MacGregor receives praise for loaning the Cyrus Cylinder to Iran, yet people are quick to forget that for years leading up to this, it was a source of immense tension. The British Museum had earlier made an agreement to loan the artefact, in reciprocation for earlier loans made by Iran, yet when the time came, they did everything in their power to delay this process and avoid following through with the agreement.

While MacGregor talks a lot about cultural diplomacy and working with other institutions, during his 13 years at the museum, he has not moved even a millimetre closer to resolving the long standing dispute over the Parthenon Marbles. Despite Greece building a state of the Art new museum to house them, MacGregor and his representatives try to claim that such endeavours merely strengthen the case for keeping half of the surviving Marbles in Britain. While other museums (particularly in the USA) have gradually seen that old disputes need to be resolved, the British Museum has continued to respond by burying its head in the sand and pretending that the issue will go away.

The Museums recent actions, of lending one of the Parthenon Sculptures to the Hermitage in St Petersburg received much acclaim in the press, but in reality won little support from others in the museum world. Having previously denied denying a loan of the sculptures to Greece, a loan was made in secret to Russia. Once the loan as publicly announced with a multi-page feature in a national newspaper, the British Museum had the audacity to suggest that Greek complaints were ungracious. While once the British Museum claimed that the sculptures were too fragile to move, they are now talking about lending them to institutions around the world – pimping them to everyone except for their rightful owners. Finally, it became clear to many that the museum did not understand the sculptures as a part of a greater whole, something that was designed to be seen together.

Most recently, the British Museum has turned down a request made by Greece for mediation through UNESCO to resolve the Parthenon Marbles dispute. Surely if they were serious about trying to resolve disputes and their position was as strong as they claim it is, they would jumped at the chance to move things forward?

For many who campaign for the return of disputed artefacts, MacGregor’s tenure at the British Museum will be remembered as one of missed opportunities. Of being too blinkered to see the potential advantages of reunifying items with their rightful owners. A rejection of the potential win-win scenario of reciprocal loans of new and unseen works. Of missing out on an increased standing of the institution internationally as old differences were resolved. A failure in cultural decolonisation.

There was (and still is) the potential to reinvent the British Museum as an institution that can provide a moral lead, a new style of museum for the 21st Century, one that can revisit its past in order to create a new, better future. The opportunity has always been there, but MacGregor has never been willing to take it, instead leaving US institutions to take some of the first tentative steps along this path, creating places that exemplify contemporary values rather than the dodgy dealing of times past.

One hopes that perhaps MacGregor’s successor will be able to think different.

British Museum Director Neil MacGregor

British Museum Director Neil MacGregor

From:
Independent

Neil MacGregor announces departure from British Museum
Nick Clark
Wednesday 08 April 2015

Neil MacGregor, who has transformed the fortunes of the British Museum during his 13 year reign, is to leave the UK’s most popular visitor attraction at the end of the year.

The 69-year-old Scot told his colleagues of his decision to step down in December at a meeting. The director received prolonged applause from the staff, according to one onlooker, who said the announcement was “emotional for everybody”.
Read the rest of this entry »

April 7, 2015

Greece responds to UNESCO marbles mediation rejection

Posted at 10:27 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Greek culture minister Nikos Xydakis has responded to the news that his country’s request for mediation over the Parthenon Marbles issue has been rejected by both the British Government and the British Museum.

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:
ABC News (Australia)

Greece condemns British Museum’s refusal to allow mediation over ancient Parthenon sculptures
Posted 28 Mar 2015, 10:02pm

Greece has condemned the British Museum’s decision to reject a UNESCO offer to help resolve a decades-old dispute over returning ancient Parthenon sculptures to Athens.

The sculptures are part of the collection popularly known as the Elgin Marbles which were acquired by Lord Elgin in the early 1800s when he was ambassador to the Ottoman court.
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April 1, 2015

Leaked Tory manifesto hints at Parthenon Marbles return

Posted at 12:01 am in Elgin Marbles

The British Conservative Party under the leadership of David Cameron have over the last five years been consistent in their trenchant opposition to what they describe as “returnism“.

With the run up to the May general election however, things seem to have taken on a different approach. In leaked draft of the Tory manifesto being circulated on various websites, there is a section entitled repatriation of individuals and items highlights a number of new policies.

It starts making a clear grab for UKIP voters, stating that under a Conservative government, any EU migrants in the country who had claimed unemployment benefit for more than two months would be requested to leave the country. It also outlined other incentives to encourage foreign nationals to leave the country, including lump sum cash payments that can be taken only on the condition that they do not return to the UK for ten years.

The second part of this section however is more intriguing, not least as it completely contradicts many of the actions of the government during the previous five years. Under the subtitle A better reputation abroad for a better Britain at home, the document outlines how in the next term, the government hopes to sell off various state run museums to private operators, making them more efficient financially while at the same time freeing up money for other uses as part of their long term economic plan. It then goes on to explain how this process is currently complicated by the fact that private operators would be wary of purchasing any assets which contained items around which there are ownership disputes, such as the Parthenon Marbles and the Rosetta Stone. It states that a new entity called the British Institutions Non Governmental Organisation (BINGO) would assess the risk level of each item, and then work out a fair market value at which the item could be re-purchased by the nations that originally owned them.

Clearly anticipating the limited financial means of some of the countries from which the artefacts originate, the manifesto goes on to say that the re-purchase of any items of cultural property could be funded by loan agreements organised by the same companies taking over the management of the museums.

Now, while I have many reservations about the whole process and strong doubts about the likelihood of the government managing to implement these proposals fully, it does seem to indicate a clear shift in approach – that despite the recent rejection of UNESCO mediation, they are tacitly admitting that there is a problem which needs to be resolved.

I am strongly against the idea of selling artefacts back to their original owners, but there may always be scope for negotiation of the exact terms once more details of the proposal became available.

Various websites also have quotes from a number of official, responding to the news about these new proposals.

Pillory Sour from the Department of Culture Media and Sport has stated:

Despite my best efforts to convince the government that relinquishing any disputed artefacts from UK collections was a terrible idea, it appears that the one party we thought we could completely trust has decided to put profit ahead of prudence in their approach to the issue).

In a more carefully worded statement, Henna Biltong from the British Museum noted that:

While the British Museum has for many years aimed for a policy of zero leeway to returning artefacts, wee realise that a new look, more efficient institution could deliver profits for shareholders, while at the same time collecting interest from the purchase loans if many of these artefacts were returned. As such, we see it as a win-win scenario for the museum.

The Greek Government has yet to comment on this story.

Update:
As some have already spotted, today is of course April 1st. The Conservative Manifesto has yet to be published, but I doubt it has anything in it about returning cultural property, and hope that it will contain no extreme anti-immigration measures. Neither Pillory Sour or Henna Biltong exist, and any resemblance to real individuals with similar names is entirely coincidental. I am very much hoping that they have no plans to sell off Britain’s national museums to private operators, although nothing would surprise me.

March 31, 2015

Bishop calls on Church of England to support return of Marbles

Posted at 1:08 pm in Elgin Marbles

Prompted by Andrew George MP’s EDM, in a letter to the Church Times, The Rt Revd Dr Robert Innes calls for the Church of England to give their support to the return of the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece. Dr Innes is the Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, a diocese that although nominally based in the British territory of Gibraltar, oversees a (geographically) vast diocese, that covers all of Mainland Europe, plus Morocco, Turkey and the former USSR member states.

It is great so see such publicly expressed support for the restitution of the sculptures and it is hoped that the Church of England as a whole might follow this lead in due course.

The Rt Revd Dr Robert Innes - Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe

The Rt Revd Dr Robert Innes – Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe

From:
Church Times

Letters
It’s time to return the Elgin Marbles

From the Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe

Sir,

Last week, Andrew George led a cross-party group of MPs in support of an Early Day parliamentary motion calling upon the Govern­ment to engage in the “gracious act” of returning the Parthenon sculptures removed from Athens 210 year ago by Lord Elgin.

I believe that members of the Church of England should take a national lead in showing their support for this motion.
Read the rest of this entry »

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