November 18, 2004

Former Australian PM calls for return of Elgin Marbles

Posted at 2:00 pm in Elgin Marbles

Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Frazer, has been speaking in New Zealand about why he feels the Elgin Marbles should be returned.

The New Zealand Herald

Fraser says to return Elgin marbles

Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser yesterday sought the support of New Zealand parliamentarians in urging the British Government to return the Parthenon marbles to Greece.

Know as the Elgin Marbles, half of the figures of the Parthenon have been in Britain since they were sawn off the ancient monument in 1801 by the seventh Earl of Elgin, Bruce Thomas.

The Parthenon marbles are one of the biggest collections of ancient art, consisting of more than 200 pieces. The other half remains in Athens’ Acropolis Museum.

Mr Fraser, Australia’s second-longest serving Prime Minister, was invited by New Zealand for the Return of the Parthenon Marbles to visit Wellington and talk with political leaders.

“It’s not just a matter for the British Government and Greece,” Mr Fraser said.

“We all owe a great deal to ancient Greece as part of our democratic heritage going back not hundreds of years, but two or three thousand years,” he told reporters.

“Their contribution to civilisation has been enormous and that in a sense creates a wider obligation.”

The Elgin Marbles are housed in the British Museum after being bought by the British Government in 1816.

“Whatever way you look at it, the marbles were taken by the Elgin family improperly, wrongly, illegally, whatever words you want to use. Those events set them apart from most cultural matters.”

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said it was a matter for the British Museum, not a matter for the Government, Mr Fraser said.

“It’s not a matter for the British Museum, it’s a matter for the British Government.”

The return of the Parthenon marbles was a one-off situation because they were so culturally and symbolically important. “I’m confident it will take place because it is intrinsically right. But I cannot tell you it will happen in my lifetime.”

Mr Fraser, along with fellow former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, is a patron of the Australian arm of the International Organising Committee which has branches in 14 countries.

The New Zealand organisation wants Parliament to pass a motion recommending the British Government return the artefacts to Greece.

“I very much hope the New Zealand committee will gather strength and support.” The motion would have moral force, he said.

The Canadian parliament passed a similar resolution last year.

In Australia, 44 of 148 signed a petition which was presented to Prime Minister John Howard, who then raised the matter with Mr Blair.

New Zealand for the Return of the Parthenon Marbles spokesman and former Labour MP Gerald O’Brien said Health Minister Annette King would put a motion to the House when enough support had been gathered.

A symbolic petition containing 1070 signatures was yesterday presented to Speaker of the House Jonathan Hunt.

All but two political parties had offered to support the motion, Mr O’Brien said.


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