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Greece responds angrily to Russian Parthenon sculpture loan

Unsurprisingly, the Greek government is not too impressed with the way that the British Museum recently loaned one of the Parthenon Sculptures [1] to the Hermitage in St Petersburg. Various past Greek approaches for loans [2] & to discuss the issue have been snubbed, yet it appears that the British Museum is perfectly happy to lend the sculptures to other institutions.

Visitors look at a sculpture from the Parthenon marbles at the Hermitage in St Petersburg, Russia [3]

Visitors look at a sculpture from the Parthenon marbles at the Hermitage in St Petersburg, Russia

Guardian [4]

Parthenon marbles: Greece furious over British loan to Russia
Greek prime minister says loan of statue from pillaged frieze puts end to British Museum argument that disputed antiquities are immovable
Helena Smith in Athens
Friday 5 December 2014 15.38 GMT

Greece has reacted with outrage to the British Museum’s surprise move to loan one of the disputed Parthenon marbles to Russia.

Within hours of learning of the unexpected decision to send the monumental statue of the river god Ilissos to the State Hermitage museum in St Petersburg, the Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaris, hit back.

“[It] provokes the Greek people,” he said on Friday, insisting that the loan effectively ended the British Museum’s argument that the Greek antiquities were immovable.

“The last British dogma about immovability has ceased to exist … the Parthenon and its sculptures were the object of pillage. We Greeks are identified with our history and culture which cannot be torn apart, loaned and ceded.”

News of the move elicited shock and fury with Greek officials, and activists abroad, describing the gesture, variously, as sly, arrogant, provocative and rude. Campaigners suggested it would give added impetus to Athens to pursue the legal route in its quest to reclaim the Golden Age treasures from London.

Samaras’ conservative-dominated coalition is currently seeking advice from the human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, and two of Britain’s leading experts in cultural restitution, Geoffrey Robertson and Norman Palmer, in the fight to repatriate antiquities seen as the high point of classical art.

“[The loan is] appalling, no one had any idea whatsoever,” said Elena Korka, a senior culture ministry policymaker involved in restitution efforts since 1986. “For so many years they have argued that the sculptures could not be moved. At the end of the day this will turn against them,” she told the Guardian.

Veiled in secrecy until its announcement late on Thursday, the unprecedented step saw the collection being broken up for the first time since the British Museum took possession of the 5th century BC masterpieces in 1816. Roughly half of the 160-metre-long frieze has been in London since Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, oversaw its removal from the Parthenon as the British ambassador to the Ottoman empire more than 200 years ago.

Neil MacGregor, the British Museum’s director, said the loan would reinforce the argument that the museum was a universal institution with global outreach.

The headless river god, among the most recognisable of the classical carvings, is due to be unveiled at the Hermitage on Friday in celebration of its 250th anniversary.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday morning, MacGregor said he hoped the Greek government would be delighted that the sculpture would now be on display to a new audience.

“I hope that they will be very pleased that a huge new public can engage with the great achievements of ancient Greece. People who will never be able to come to Athens or London will now, here in Russia, understand something of those great achievements in Greek civilization.”

But Greek officials said if they were to be delighted it would be “for other reasons”.

With a purpose-built museum constructed at the foot of the Acropolis to exhibit the sculptures, the move not only boosted the argument that the marbles should be “reunited” for ethical, aesthetic and scholarly reasons, but provided the first glimmer of hope that, one day, they would return to the place where they were created.

“It’s a change of attitude,” Korka said. “Now that they have taken this decision, they can pack up the rest and bring them here where the climate suits them and where they belong. And when the [two-month] exhibition at the Hermitage is over they can bring the Ilissos over too.”

She rejected the British Museum’s claim that Greece had consistently refused to enter into talks over loaning the antiquities to Athens. “We have never said ‘never’ to anything. We have said, so many times, we are open to mediation and that means we are open to loans as well.”

Macgregor repeated the museum’s claim on Friday, saying: “The Greek government has always refused to borrow, to date, but the trustees’ position is very clear that they will consider any request from anyone who is prepared to return the object.”

Discussions with the Hermitage are believed to have begun in October before the deal was sealed two weeks ago.

Campaigners for the return of the marbles to Athens said the loan was all the more inflammatory for its timing. In July 2013, Greece called on Unesco, the United Nations’ cultural organisation, to intervene, urging David Cameron’s government to participate in mediation in an attempt to settle the long-dispute. London has yet to respond.

“It is not just rude, provocative and arrogant, it is a highly offensive thing to do when Britain has completely ignored a Greek request to mediate this issue through Unesco,” said David Hill, the Australian president of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures. “For the best part of 18 months Unesco has been waiting for a reply,” he told the Guardian from Sydney. “The only thing this will do is aggravate the situation. It’s extremely inflammatory.”

Independent [5]

Elgin Marbles: Fury in Greece as statue is loaned to Russian museum
Greece’s Prime Minister called the move a “provocation” to his country’s people.
Nick Clark
Friday 05 December 2014

Athens reacted furiously after it was revealed that the British Museum had loaned one of the Elgin Marbles to Russia.

Greece’s Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, called the move a “provocation” to his country’s people.

The long-running diplomatic row over the UK’s ownership of the ancient Greek antiquities was reignited by the loan – the first time one of the sculptures has been sent abroad since Lord Elgin brought them to London from the Parthenon more than 200 years ago.

Mr Samaras, whose government refuses to recognise the British Museum’s rights to the artworks and who has long called for them to be returned to their place of origin, said: “The Parthenon and its marbles have been looted. The sculptures are priceless.

“We Greeks are one with our history and civilisation, which cannot be broken up, loaned out, or conceded.”

Frustrated that one of the sculptures should appear in St Petersburg, he said the move was “an affront to the Greek people”. The Parthenon and its marbles have been looted. The sculptures are priceless.”

The British Museum said the State Hermitage Museum had contacted them over the possible loan of one of the marbles in September last year.

It was the first time anyone had asked, a spokeswoman for the British Museum said, adding: “The trustees have always made it clear they are willing to lend.” She also revealed that the museum was in discussions with other institutions over potential further loans.

The statue – depicting the river god Ilissos – will be on display in the Hermitage from today until 18 January.

It was quietly removed from public view in November, with a note saying it was being made ready for display. It left the museum’s premises on Monday and secretly arrived in Russia the following day, with news finally breaking yesterday morning. It has been lent to help celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Hermitage. Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum who was in St Petersburg yesterday, said: “It is a very big moment.”

The British Museum houses about 30 per cent of the original Parthenon sculptures, which are 2,500 years old. The Louvre in Paris and the Vatican also have fragments.

The museum has always maintained that the objects – removed during the Ottoman occupation of Greece – were purchased legally and that the museum is the best place to display them. “The purpose of the British Museum is to present the world to the world,” it claims.

But Mr Samaras said yesterday: “The existence of the new Acropolis museum [has] invalidated the other British argument that there was no appropriate space for exhibiting the sculptures.”

Some also questioned the arrangement of a loan to a Russian institution given the diplomatic tensions between London and Moscow.

But Mr MacGregor said: “It’s precisely because relations between the countries are difficult that this kind of loan is important and so does the Hermitage.” Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he added: “Both institutions believe it is precisely at moments like this that the museums have to keep speaking.”

As things stands, the marbles are unlikely to end up in Greece on even a temporary basis. The Greek government has ruled out asking for a loan, but should that policy be reversed the British Museum says it would need assurances the marbles would be returned.

The Hollywood actor George Clooney waded into the row earlier this year when he called for them to be returned to Greece. His wife, the British lawyer Amal Clooney, is part of the legal team advising the Greek government on a potential challenge to force the return of the marbles.

Scotsman [6]

Greek ire over Elgin Marbles loan to Russia
Published 05/12/2014 13:37
by David Hughes

THE GREEK PRIME minister has hit out at the British Museum’s loan of one of the Elgin Marbles to Russia, calling it an “affront” to the Greek people.

Antonis Samaras said the sculptures had been “looted” from the Parthenon, as he expressed outrage at the decision to loan one of the ancient pieces to the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

The statue of the river god Ilissos has been lent to the renowned Russian museum for an exhibition until mid-January.

It is the first time one of the 2,500-year-old Marbles has been removed from the British Museum – except in wartime – since they were presented to the London institution almost 200 years ago, after being removed from the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis by Lord Elgin.

Greece maintains they were taken illegally during the Turkish occupation and should be returned for display in Athens, which the British Museum and the UK government reject. British Museum director Neil ­MacGregor indicated that he would be willing to consider a similar loan of a statue to Greece – but only if the authorities there promised to ­return it to London.

Mr MacGregor said he hoped the Greeks would be “delighted” that the sculpture would be on display to a new audience.

But Mr Samaras said: “The decision by the British Museum to give out on loan one of the Parthenon sculptures is an affront to the Greek people.

“The British argument held until recently, that the Parthenon Marbles cannot be moved, is no longer valid.

“The Parthenon and its marbles have been looted. The sculptures are priceless. We Greeks are one with our history and civilisation, which cannot be broken up, loaned out, or conceded.”

Asked if the sculpture could be loaned to a Greek museum, Mr MacGregor said: “The trustees have always been perfectly clear they are willing to lend anything in the collection, provided it’s fit to travel and there’s a serious ­reason, to a place where it could be safe and where it would be returned.

“The Greek government has always refused to borrow, to date, but the trustees’ position is very clear that they will consider any request from anyone who is prepared to return the object.”

Explaining the loan to the Hermitage at a time of tension between the West and Russian president Vladimir Putin, Mr MacGregor said in a blog: “The trustees have always believed such loans must continue between museums in spite of political disagreements between governments.”

He said the sculpture was a “stone ambassador of the Greek golden age and European ideals” and added: “It is a message ­Russia and the whole world need to hear.”

In October, a team of London lawyers, including Amal Clooney, wife of film star George, were involved in talks with Athens about a potential legal bid for the works.

Hollywood actor Clooney said it was “probably a good idea” for the Elgin Marbles to be returned to Greece.

Greek Reporter [7]

Greek PM, Strong Reaction Over British Museum’s Lending of Parthenon Marbles
by A. Makris – Dec 5, 2014

The decision of the British Museum to “lend” a sculpture of the Parthenon Marbles to an exhibition held in St. Petersburg is a challenge for Greeks, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said on Friday in a statement.

The last British doctrine of “non-movable’ sculptures of the Parthenon is no longer valid. As their previous argument for the lack of appropriate space…collapsed with the opening of the Acropolis Museum,” Samaras noted.

“The Parthenon and its sculptures have been looted. The value of the sculptures is priceless,” the prime minister said adding that Greeks are identified with their history and civilization, which cannot be fragmented, lent or conceded.
(source: ana-mpa)