November 9, 2013

Could UNESCO mediation be a game changer for Greece’s Elgin Marbles issue

Posted at 2:42 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

A few weeks ago, it was publicly announced in Greece, that they would be taking the route of mediation under the UNESCO rules, to resolve the Parthenon Marbles issue.

This move should be supported by all in favour of the return of the Marbles, as it is a step forward from the long period of relatively unclear policy on how to tackle the issue at an international level. It is still unclear what the British Museum / British Government’s decision will be on entering into the process – but if they do not do so, it makes it much clear that they are the uncooperative one out of the two parties, and the one who doesn’t wish to resolve the issue.

British Museum

British Museum

Sydney Morning Herald

Rule changes could end Britain’s game of playing with marbles
November 8, 2013
David Hill

After many years, the dispute between Greece and Britain over the possession of the ancient Parthenon sculptures may be moving towards resolution as a result of a recent change to UNESCO’s rules dealing with stolen cultural property.

A little over 200 years ago Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to Constantinople, stripped about 100 of the beautiful ancient sculptures and fragments from the famous temple on the Athenian Acropolis.

Elgin had originally wanted the statues to adorn his estate in Scotland. Some years later, short of money, he sold the collection to the British government, which gave them to the British Museum, where they have been ever since.

The Parthenon sculptures are arguably the world’s most significant surviving ancient artworks. Created in the 5th century BC, they are the best surviving representations of the high point of human achievement of classical Athens.

They include the statues ”in the round” that sat in the triangular pediments at either end of the Parthenon and the sculptured square ”metopes” from above the temple’s architrave. The largest part of the collection is from the 160 metre marble frieze that depicts a procession along the sides of the temple which culminates before the 12 Olympian gods. It is the only known depiction of all 12 Olympians together on a Greek temple.

In 2009, the Greeks opened the magnificent new Acropolis Museum, which has been designed to reunite the sculptures in the British Museum with those that never left Athens. Some of the pieces in the British Museum are part of the same statues that are held in the Acropolis Museum, including a huge statue of Poseidon, where the upper part is in London and the lower part in Athens.

The British have refused to listen to the Greek claims for the return of the collection for decades. It is now more than 30 years since actress Melina Mercouri captured the world’s attention by going to London to demand the return of the sacred stones. In all that time Britain has avoided any serious discussion or negotiation with Greece on the matter. Hopes were raised with the election of the Labour government in the 1990s, but Tony Blair and then Gordon Brown reversed Labour’s long-standing policy of supporting the sculptures’ return.

The new opportunity to resolve the issue comes with a change to rules agreed by UNESCO in September 2010. Under the new rules, any UNESCO member can apply to it to mediate in a dispute where it claims cultural property has been ”illicitly appropriated”.

Last July, Greece became the first UNESCO member to test the new rules when Culture Minister Panos Panagiotopoulos went to Paris and asked UNESCO to intercede. Following the meeting, UNESCO’s secretary-general, Irina Bokova, wrote to the British government asking it to agree to mediation.

Under the new procedure, it is still open to Britain to reject the request because the mediation can take place only by ”mutual consent”.

However, Britain is a member of UNESCO, and was party to signing the new mediation process. To knock back the UNESCO invitation would cast Britain in a pretty poor light and make it look far from reasonable.

Australia is one of the 16 countries where volunteer committees have been formed to support Greece.

If the matter does go to mediation, Britain can expect little support from the other UNESCO members or the international community, including Australia.

David Hill is chairman of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures.

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  1. Jim Mellas said,

    11.09.13 at 2:59 pm

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  2. Lazaros Filippidis said,

    11.09.13 at 2:59 pm

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  4. antinoo2 said,

    11.09.13 at 3:16 pm

    @elginism The sad part is USA has suspended UNESCO funding . Bloody disgraceful. Shame on us.

  5. albertis_window said,

    11.09.13 at 3:37 pm

    RT @elginism: Blog post: Could UNESCO mediation be a game changer for Greece’s Elgin Marbles issue

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    11.09.13 at 4:26 pm

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    11.09.13 at 4:30 pm

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    11.09.13 at 8:05 pm

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    11.10.13 at 2:14 pm

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