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Cambridge Union debate the Parthenon Sculptures

Press coverage of the results of the Cambridge Union debate [1] on the return of the Elgin Marbles.

ABC News (Australia) [2]

Cambridge debates Elgin Marbles
By Europe correspondent Jane Hutcheon
Posted Sun Feb 24, 2008 1:32pm AEDT

Cambridge University has debated the contentious issue of returning the Parthenon Sculptures, otherwise known as the Elgin Marbles, to Greece.

The statues were removed in the early 1800s by Britain’s ambassador to Athens, Lord Elgin.

Until now, Britain has declined to return the relics, despite public opinion supporting the move.

Chairing the debate at Cambridge was the president of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures, David Hill.

He says the Association won the debate 114 to 46.

“Which was a really delightful result, but not altogether that surprising because despite the conservative nature of the university,” he said.

“That sort of outcome’s pretty consistent with all of the evidence of public opinion in Britain about the return of the Parthenon Sculptures.”

The British Museum says keeping the marbles in the UK has afforded them significant protection over the years, but Mr Hill rejects that claim.

“It’s an offensive argument that the British Museum have pushed – that Elgin saved the marbles,” he said.

“It’s utter nonsense. Elgin only took half the collection; the other half remained on the Parthenon. Particularly, the famous west frieze of the Parthenon.

“And if you now compare the condition of the west frieze, which remained in Athens, with the British Museum’s collection that they got from Elgin, the material in Greece is in better condition.”

‘Colonial booty’

Mr Hill says the issue of repatriating the marbles affects relations between the UK and Greece.

“The Greeks are very fractious people,” he said.

“[But] they all agree on this; that the marbles should go back. But at the same time, they have a traditional friendship with Britain and they don’t want to prejudice that friendship.”

He says Australia can understand how the Greeks feel.

“It’s interesting that the level of awareness about the Parthenon Sculptures is probably higher in Australia than any other country in the world except Britain and Greece,” he said.

“The British keeping hold of their colonial booty really offends the Australian sense of fairness.”

Mr Hill says Australia has led the way in campaigning for the return of national artefacts. He says he thinks the British Museum will only return the marbles when the British Government tells the Museum to send them back.

“Something similar has happened involving Australia,” he said.

“Eight years ago, [former Australian prime minister] John Howard and [former British prime minister] Tony Blair issued a statement about the desirability of the British Museum’s returning sacred Aboriginal human remains.

“Now the British Museum was totally opposed to that, but because of the public commitment of the British Government, after several years of bureaucratic process, in 2006 the British Museum returned the first of the human remains to Tasmania.”