Quote of the Day

A building that is both an enlightening meditation on the Parthenon and a mesmerizing work in its own right. I can’t remember seeing a design that is so eloquent about another work of architecture.

Nicolai Ouroussoff, New York Times newspaper

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.

June 21, 2015

UK to ratify 1954 Hague Convention on Cultural Property

Posted at 9:40 pm in Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

I’m not holding my breath on this one, as it is not the first time that I have heard this, but the UK Minister of Culture John Whittingdale says that the UK will introduce legislation to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.

For many years now, various excuses have been given for not ratifying the treaty, despite pressure from archaeologists, NGOs and many within Parliament.

The current status, although not correctly reported in many news sources, is that the UK signed the convention in 1954, but has yet to ratify it. This groups us with Ireland, Andora and the Phillipines, ass all other countries that signed were also happy to ratify it.

The current impetus to finally ratify this document is no doubt related to the press coverage of the actions of ISIS in Syria and Northen Iraq. One wonders though why the looting following the deposing of Saddam Hussein in the second Gulf War (or many other similar cases prior to that) was not enough to convince the UK of the importance of the document.

It is a step in the right direction, but there are still many more steps that ought to be taken – not least ratifying the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property and the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects

Claims are sometimes thrown about, that the reason for not ratifying was that it would help facilitate the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece, although I have never been entirely certain that this was the case. I am assuming that the government (which is opposed to the return of the Marbles) will have looked into the legalities of this particular aspect in detail already.

UNESCO logo

UNESCO logo

From:
Guardian

Britain signs convention on protecting treasures in war zones
Toby Helm
Sunday 21 June 2015 00.05 BST

It’s come years late, but the culture secretary is to pledge the UK to helping save historic and artistic artefacts under threat in conflict-torn countries

Britain is to end years of indecision by ratifying an international agreement aimed at preventing the loss of cultural and historic artefacts in conflict zones, amid growing outrage at the destruction by Isis militants of ancient sites in Iraq and Syria.
Read the rest of this entry »

June 16, 2015

Temporary exhibition to mark Acropolis Museum 6th anniversary

Posted at 12:53 pm in New Acropolis Museum

The Acropolis Museum will be six years old later this month. To mark the event, there is going to be a temporary exhibition of artefacts from Samothrace.

Acropolis Museum in Athens

Acropolis Museum in Athens

From:
Greek Reporter

Greece’s Acropolis Museum Celebrates Sixth Anniversary with Samothrace Antiquities
by Ioanna Zikakou
Jun 13, 2015

The Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece, will celebrate its sixth anniversary on June 20 with the inauguration of its temporary exhibition “Samothrace. The mysteries of the great gods.”

The exhibition, a cooperation of the Acropolis Museum and the Antiquity Ephorates of the Rodopi and Evros prefectures, as well as Samothrace antiquities expert Dimitris Matsas, will open for the public on June 20 and will run until September 30.

262 artifacts from the Samothrace Archaeological Museum will travel to Athens, some of which will leave the island for the first time.

(Source: ANA-MPA)

June 9, 2015

British Museum’s Abu Dhabi loan plans criticised

Posted at 12:57 pm in British Museum

More coverage of the British Museum’s plans to lend significant numbers of artefacts to the Zayed National Museum in the UAE when it opens.

Artists impression of the Zayed National Museum in Abu Dhabi

Artists impression of the Zayed National Museum in Abu Dhabi

From:
Independent

British Museum criticised for loaning artefacts to Abu Dhabi organisation accused of abusing rights of workers
Chris Green
Tuesday 02 June 2015

The British Museum has come under fire over plans to loan hundreds of culturally significant artefacts, including some of its much-prized “highlights”, to an organisation in Abu Dhabi which has been accused of abusing the rights of workers.

Curators at the museum have drawn up a list of around 500 objects, a selection of which could be loaned to the Zayed National Museum in the United Arab Emirates for up to five years.
Read the rest of this entry »

June 3, 2015

British Museum can make long term loans when it wants to

Posted at 8:48 pm in British Museum

In the past, Greece has on numerous occasions proposed the idea of long term loans as a solution to the dispute over the Parthenon Marbles – allowing the British Museum to neatly side-step any restrictions placed on it by the British Museum Act, as well as setting aside the issue of ownership. The British Museum has always rejected such requests for a wide variety of different reasons – questioning whether a long term loan is even a valid concept (if it is long term, then it is not really a loan) despite partaking in similar agreements elsewhere. The question has been raised over whether Greece would be trusted to return them, as well as putting forward the argument that they are unable to lend the most iconic pieces from their collection, while at the same time denying the existence of any sort of list of items that can never be lent.

The recent loan of one of the Parthenon Sculptures to Russia just highlights how contradictory some of these objections are.

Now, it seems that the British Museum has agreed to an unprecedentedly large loan to the Zayed National Museum in Abu Dhabi. The loan will include many iconic items from the Museum’s collection, including Assyrian reliefs. Some that were purchased with public money through the Art Fund, which aims to make artefacts accessible to the UK public. The loans will last for five years – far longer than the normal duration for inter-museum borrowing.

The Museum will be receiving a substantial fee for the loans.

So – if loans can be long term, if loans can be made of large numbers of items and if loans can be made of iconic artefacts, then why is it not possible for the Parthenon Sculptures to return on the same basis? Clearly, as with corporate funding from BP, money hass a role to play – although I imagine that even if Greece offered financial remuneration, their requests would still be rejected.

Artists impression of the Zayed National Museum in Abu Dhabi

Artists impression of the Zayed National Museum in Abu Dhabi

From:
Art Newspaper

British Museum to send star objects to the Gulf
Assyrian reliefs among the 500 loans earmarked for long stay in Abu Dhabi
by Martin Bailey
2 June 2015

The British Museum’s plan to lend 500 objects to Abu Dhabi for five years has expanded to include highlights of the London institution’s collection—and we can now reveal the list of objects that the museum has earmarked to send.

The loans are to the Zayed National Museum, which is due to open in 2016. The British Museum will get a substantial fee, although it has declined to reveal the amount.
Read the rest of this entry »

May 21, 2015

Greece considers raising archaeological site admission charges

Posted at 9:53 pm in Greece Archaeology

Greek Culture Minister Nikos Xydakis has announced that the country is considering raising the admission fees for Archaeological sites.

In many ways, it is a shame that more of the archaeological sites and museums in Greece aren’t given more autonomy to set their own charges. As far as I am aware, the Acropolis Museum is the only state run institution with any real control over its own budget. As this worked fairly well (the museum has never closed due to strikes), I would have thought that other locations in the country ought to have also transferred to a similar model.

A new ticketing system sounds great (in theory), although Greece has never had the massive waits in queues that every site in Rome seems to. The focus here seems to be more ass using it as an excuse to increase charges than anything else.

Greek culture minister Nikos Xydakis

Greek culture minister Nikos Xydakis

From:
ANSA Med

Greece: Athens mulling hikes to ticket prices at museums
18 May, 16:11

Greece’s Culture Ministry has appointed a team of experts that are amining a change in the price structure of tickets to enter Greek museums and archaeological sites, Culture Minister Nikos Xydakis revealed on Monday as Kathimerini online reports. In a response to a question in Parliament, Xydakis said the panel would be examining schemes implemented in other countries and would not be proposing an across-the-board increase in ticket prices.

Xydakis added that the government will also introduce tickets giving access to multiple sites and museums. He said that a new ticketing system would be introduced at the Acropolis from June and would then be extended to the next 59 most popular sites and museums. The minister also indicated that the ministry would like to make greater commercial use of Greece’s heritage via the Internet, including offering more merchandise

May 20, 2015

Understanding how Greeks feel about the Parthenon Marbles

Posted at 9:41 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Events

Disclaimer – I am not Greek, so everything I am writing below might be a load of rubbish. Similarly, I know that in Britain, there are many enlightened individuals, who understand the issues surrounding the Parthenon Marbles and want to see them returned to Athens.

A few weeks ago, I looked in detail at the varying levels of support for return of the Parthenon Marbles from different political parties in the run up to the UK general election. Now that the election has been and gone, I will soon be re-visiting this article, seeing how its results vary based on the current make up of Parliament.

One thing that I noticed while conducting this survey, much of which was done over Twitter, was that many of those who are against the return of the sculptures did not really understand what the issue meant to the Greeks. Not only were there those who dismissed the issue as unimportant and not worth worrying about, but others who merely responded that they were quite happy with the current situation and saw no need to change it. Still more spoke out against return of the sculptures, but when asked further questions realised that they did not actually know many of the details of the case.

All too often, the British press love to portray restitution requests by Greece as nationalistic tub-thumping – something that amounts to its critics as little more than petulant whining having changed their mind over a past decision. Hopefully those reading this website have a more enlightened view, but it does not take long reading the comments below many press articles, to find this flawed understanding is all too common.

A big part of the problem is that we only see the situation through our own eyes – we feel that as we are happy with it, that anyone who wants to change it is disruptive. We do not even attempt to look at the story through the eyes of a Greek – how they feel every time we think about it. The fact that many see the case as too insignificant to have opinions about compounds the issue – the Parthenon Sculptures really do not mean that much to the average person in Britain, whereas from a Greek perspective, the emotion attached to the case is very different.

George Zacharopoulos is a Greek comedian based in the North East of England. Some of his shows contain a sketch on the Parthenon Marbles – which while good for its amusement value alone, does offer a good way of starting to understand how their story is perceived by many in Greece. Looking at the situation in a different way helps to understand just how galling it feels to Greeks to hear mealy mouthed commentators trying to argue that rather than complaining, Greece should be thanking Britain for looking after the sculptures for them.

His show is next on in London at Top Secret Comedy Club on Drury Lane on July 12th 2015.

In the meantime, you can see a clip off him talking about the Parthenon Marbles here (Start watching 6:20 into the clip). He tells me that he has since further developed that part of the act, so it is longer than what you can see here.

Watch the video, and remember to see him while he’s in London if you are able to.

Parthenon Marbles litigation still under consideration by Greece

Posted at 7:36 am in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Text of the original press statement by Greek Culture Minister Nikos Xydakis, clarifying the earlier comments about potentially taking legal action over the Parthenon Marbles.

As I already said, it is a great shame that more has not been made of this clarification, or that a more detailed statement was not made sooner. Many newspapers in the UK have already been spinning the original story as the campaigning for the Parthenon Marbles being over – that Britain was acknowledging Britain’s legitimate ownership of the sculptures. This was never the case – not in the original statement and definitely not in this one. This is not an issue that will go away, much as certain elements within Britain might wish that to be the case.

I have given the text as an automatically translated version, with the original Greek below.

Greek culture minister Nikos Xydakis

Greek culture minister Nikos Xydakis

From:
Greek Ministry of Culture

05/14/2015
A journalist’s question about the Greek government’s strategy regarding the claim of the Parthenon Marbles, the if. Minister of Culture Mr. Nikos Xydakis made the following statement:

The legal advice is extremely useful and reinforce the arguments of Greece for the return of the Parthenon Marbles, but the Greek government has never stated its commitment in the near future to follow the court proceedings.

The judicial route is one of the many avenues open before us.
Read the rest of this entry »

May 19, 2015

Greece is not ruling out Parthenon Marbles legal action

Posted at 12:48 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Possibly, Greece did not realise how much the world’s press would seize on the relatively brief remarks made by culture Minister Nikos Xydakis regarding plans not to take legal action.

Whilst many newspapers have been busy printing stories some of which are mainly conjecture, based on a few lines from a speech, the Greek government were already backtracking, emphasising that they were not writing off the idea of legal action – but that it was just one of many avenues open to them that they were exploring.

So – we read from this, that Greece is not committed to opening legal proceedings in the immediate future, but the idea is still on the table for potential use at a later point in time.

One must go back though to the original statement a few days before – that Greece must “use it or loose it”. They might not have all the time in the world to wait before taking legal action.

I am disappointed to see that very few news sources outside Greece have chose to cover this retraction of the original story – continuing to go to town on the original news, despite the fact that it is no longer correct.

Greek culture minister Nikos Xydakis

Greek culture minister Nikos Xydakis

From:
Greek Reporter

Greek Culture Ministry: Legal Action is One of Many Options Available for Parthenon Marbles’ Repatriation
A. Makris
May 15, 2015

Seeking legal action is only one of the options available to Greece on the issue of the return of the Parthenon Marbles, Alternate Culture Minister Nikos Xydakis said on Thursday, following his statement on Wednesday that the government will not sue the British Museum on the issue.

Asked about Greece ’s strategy on the issue, the minister said: “Legal opinions are extremely useful and reinforce Greece ’s arguments for the return of the Parthenon Marbles, but the Greek government has never stated it is committed to initiating court proceedings in the near future.”
Read the rest of this entry »

May 18, 2015

The Daily Express and the Parthenon Marbles

Posted at 7:52 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

I get the impression that of all the UK newspapers, the Daily Express is perhaps the one that is most incandescent with rage at the very thought that the Parthenon Marbles might one day return to Greece. Why this should be the case is unclear, because their articles are sometimes relatively factual, despite what the crazed headlines would suggest.

Here, we learn that Amal Clooney has a “lawyer nose” whatever that might be, and that she has been told to “butt out” (presumably in a different press release to the one covered by all the other newspapers, which did not use this language.

Perhaps Mr Desmond is feeling the pressure now that internal divisions within UKIP are jeopardising his latest stab at offering cash to political parties in the hop of getting a peerage. For the man who made his fortune from Asian Babes magazine, it is unclear why he has taken quite such a dislike to Amal.

George Clooney & Amal Alamuddin

George Clooney & Amal Alamuddin

From:
Daily Express

Amal Clooney sent packing after she sticks her lawyer nose into Elgin Marbles row
GEORGE Clooney’s barrister wife Amal has been told to butt out of a legal row between Greece and Britain over ancient Greek marble sculptures.
By Helen Barnett
PUBLISHED: 14:20, Thu, May 14, 2015

The international human rights lawyer had told the Greek government to take Britain to the International Criminal Court to reclaim the Elgin Marbles.

The sculptures date back to the 5th century BC and were acquired by Lord Elgin in Athens in the early 1800s when he was a British ambassador in Ottoman… and never returned.
Read the rest of this entry »

Greek minister argues against Parthenon Marbles legal action

Posted at 7:33 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Further coverage of the statement by Greek Culture Minister Nikos Xydakis not to take legal action over the return of the Parthenon Sculptures at the current time.

As I mentioned in the other batch of articles on the issue, there seems to be little new information in any of these stories over and above what was originally stated. The stories have instead become retellings of the narrative of the acquisition of the Marbles, adjusted according to the newspaper’s own leanings on the issue.

I have now been quoted in at least three of the articles, which is impressive, as I have only spoken to the writer of one of them.

David Hill, Amal Clooney & Geoffrey Robertson in Athens

David Hill, Amal Clooney & Geoffrey Robertson in Athens

From:
Artnet

Greece Says No to Amal Clooney’s Elgin Marbles Advice to Sue British Museum
Amah-Rose Abrams
Thursday, May 14, 2015

Amal Clooney is still working hard to win back the Elgin Marbles from the British Museum and return them to Greece, filing a 150-page document recommending the Greek government takes the British Museum to the International Court.

However, according to the Times, Greece has promptly snubbed Clooney’s efforts and decided not to follow her advice, despite Clooney and her colleague Geoffrey Robertson telling Greece that it was a case of “now or never” in the lengthy battle involving the ancient Greek artworks.
Read the rest of this entry »

Greece drops plans for litigating over Parthenon Marbles

Posted at 1:05 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Further coverage of the announcement by the Greek Ministry of Culture that they are not planning on taking legal action over the return of the Parthenon Marbles.

One thing that strikes me with all this coverage, is that the papers are essentially making full page stories from the short piece in Το Βημα – There is no more detail contained in any other stories other than speculation & interviews with others outside the process, on what their opinions on it are.

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

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

From:
To Bhma

Xydakis: “We will not claim the Parthenon marbles via the courts”
The Alternate Culture Minister explained that politics and diplomacy must be used instead
Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Alternate Minister of Culture Nikos Xydakis announced that the Greek government will not be seeking the return of the Parthenon marbles via the courts, but rather via political and diplomacy.

Mr. Xydakis, who spoke to Mega Channel on Wednesday morning, noted that Amal Clooney, of the Doughty Street Chambers legal firm, will be providing legal advice on the matter.
Read the rest of this entry »

May 16, 2015

Greece drops plans for legal action over Parthenon Marbles

Posted at 9:08 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

I was very surprised to hear this story, particularly with the timing of it coming only a day after much of the content of the press summary of the legal report was published.

My first issue is that the actual report has not yet been delivered to the Greek Government. It was commissioned by the previous ND / PASOK coalition government when Geoffrey Robertson, Norman Palmer and Amal Clooney visited Athens last year. Originally the report was due to be delivered in late April, but for various reasons has been delayed until the end of this month. We know from previous new stories about the way that this exercise has been funded, that the cost of researching and producing this report was not an insignificant amount.

So, apart from the lawyers working on the report, my understanding is that nobody has yet seen the actual final report – not the Greek Government, not the press and definitely not the plethora of armchair legal experts who are commenting on the press reports.

Even once the Greek Government has seen the report, something of this scale and importance would generally require extensive consideration and review, to understand the full impact of what was being proposed, to let the government’s own legal team assess its veracity etc. Once that had happened, further discussion would be required, to allow the government to weigh up the possible options available to them and decide how they wanted to proceed. None of this appears to have happened, and I don’t see how it could have, as nobody has yet seen the report. As such, it is hard to believe that the content of the report is what led to this decision.

The report on the legal options for the Parthenon Marbles, as I mentioned earlier was commissioned by the previous government, and the current government have not to my knowledge actually met with the lawyers who are working on it. Based on this information alone, any rejection seems to be more of a reaction to the fact that they are wanting to do different to those who came before them, rather than any other reason.

The Greek Government says that they want to use politics and diplomacy to resolve the issue. This is not a new approach however – if anything it is reverting to what has been tried in the past, as any consideration of other options by Greece has only happened in the last few years.

The diplomatic approach has been tried since the mid 1980s – and to an outside observer, any success has been very limited. The Parthenon Sculptures still do not appear any closer to returning than they were fifteen years ago. If anything, the British Museum has become more trenchant in their opposition during this time, first by dreaming up new arguments such as that of the Universal Museum and more recently loaning one of the pediment sculptures to Russia, while continuing to snub Greek loan requests.

The most recent initiative by Greece, mediation of the issue via UNESCO, which many had high hopes for, was rejected by both the British Government and the British Museum after an inordinately long period of consideration.

All the above actions took place during a period when the government in the UK (Labour – 1997-2010) although oficially rejecting return, had many members who were enthusiastic supporters of the restitution of the sculptures. During the government of the last five years (Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition – 2010-2015), although the major partner in the coalition was less supportive of the issue, the Liberal Democrat leader who was also Deputy Prime Minister had previously expressed strong support for the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles in Athens.

This has now changed. The new Conservative government that entered won the General Election earlier this month, are entirely unreceptive to any hint of the the sculptures returning. Sure, there are a few enlightened individuals within the party – but they stand out like beacons of hope against the backdrop of so many others who are still in denial that the days of empire are over. Both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Culture have, in the last few years, stated publicly their opposition to returning the sculptures.

One must also bear in mind one of the themes of the precis report presented to the press – the idea that action must be taken now, otherwise the opportunity might evaporate. Its now or never.

All the above points make me feel that any rejection of the report so rapidly suggests that full consideration has not really been given to the issue. As such, I hope that this turns out to be some sort of misunderstanding on the part of the Greek Government and that whatever they decide, they will first think through their options carefully – and review the actions already taken in the campaign since the mid 1980s. I will happily support them in any initiatives that they believe will get the sculptures back to Athens, but a coherent plan is needed. The British Museum’s loan to Russia could well be a sign that they were starting to feel the pressure and wanted to try and assert their own dominant position as clearly as possible – backing off now, just when they were starting to feel uncomfortable will achieve nothing.

Amal Clooney nee Alamudin is shown around the New Acropolis Museum by Professor Pandermalis

Amal Clooney nee Alamudin is shown around the New Acropolis Museum by Professor Pandermalis

From:
Guardian

Greece drops option of legal action in British Museum Parthenon marbles row
Helena Smith in Athens
Wednesday 13 May 2015 17.13 BST

Cultural minister makes revelation despite dossier from human rights lawyers exhorting the Greek government to pursue legal channels immediately

Greece has ruled out taking legal action in its battle to reclaim the Parthenon marbles from Britain. The unexpected move abruptly ends the legal battle in one of the world’s most bitter cultural disputes.
Read the rest of this entry »