January 20, 2004

Greece wants Elgin Marbles returned in time for Olympics

Posted at 1:58 pm in Elgin Marbles, Marbles Reunited

Greece wants the Parthenon Sculptures returned to Athens in time for the Olympics later this year. They are stepping up their campaigning to try & make sure that this happens.

ABC News (Australia)

Greece wants Elgin Marbles returned in time for Olympics
The World Today – Tuesday, 20 January , 2004 12:54:00
Reporter: Fran Kelly

PETER CAVE: Greece appears to have won over the British public in its latest bid to have the Elgin marbles returned in time for the Olympics this year, to Athens.

Polling shows three out of four Britons believe that the priceless Greek antiquities ripped from the Parthenon by a former British Ambassador to Constantinople at the start of the 19th century should be returned to Greece.

In London and our Correspondent Fran Kelly went along for the latest instalment the centuries old battle.

FRAN KELLY: Imagine if someone from another country took off with half the Opera House and refused to give it back, leaving us with just half an icon. It’s a ridiculous proposition, yet that’s exactly what’s happened to Greece and the Elgin marbles, according to those now lobbying again for the return of the treasures to Athens.

ROBIN COOK: The Parthenon marbles belong on the Parthenon. That’s where they stood for 2,000 years and that’s what they were carved for.

FRAN KELLY: Former British Foreign Minister Robin Cook has joined the latest campaign for the return of the 19 marble statues and panels of the ancient frieze, removed from the Acropolis by Lord Elgin in 1801.

He has little patience for the argument of the British Museum and its supporters that the marbles, after almost 200 years in Britain, are now a crucial part of the story of civilisation and European enlightenment that the British Museum exists to tell.

ROBIN COOK: They tell a narrative, they tell a story of that processions and of those religious ceremonies and you can’t appreciate them as a whole when half of them are in London and half of them are in Athens.

FRAN KELLY: Do you have any sympathy at all for the British Museum that says the Elgin marbles tell a narrative within the British Museum as well and the story it’s telling about cultural development and Enlightenment?

ROBIN COOK: If you go and look at the exhibition at the British Museum you will find notices on the wall saying the other half of this panel is in Athens. Well, to me rather than looking at notices that say the other half is in Athens, it seems to me to make much more sense to unite the panel so that they can be seen as a whole.

FRAN KELLY: But the British Museum says that’s too simplistic. Museum director Neil McGregor points out the Parthenon has been irretrievably damaged over the years and only 50 per cent of the original sculptures have survived – half of those are in the British Museum, and with the Museum welcoming more than five million visitors a year, he argues it’s the best possible place for the sculptures to be seen.

But the movement for the return of the Elgin marbles is a global one and Australian David Hill, former Managing Director of the ABC, is now a prime mover in that world wide push.

DAVID HILL: These are unarguably probably the most important ancient art works surviving in the world and I think it’s an issue that the whole world has an interest in.

FRAN KELLY: What’s behind Britain’s reluctance to hand these relics back? Is it some kind of throw back or hark back to them not wanting to move on from the time when they were a great colonial power, not wanting to relinquish that status?

DAVID HILL: There is a widespread view, particularly among Australians, that having forced in the decolonisation process to give back the land, Britain has now got to give back some of the booty.

We’ve had a breakthrough though, in recent times that will enable the return of Australian Aboriginal remains, but having dealt with the bones we still have to deal with the stones.

FRAN KELLY: Desperate to get the marbles back in time for the Olympics, the Greek government proposed a compromise. It would give in for the battle for ownership if the British Museum would agree to relocate the marbles to the new Acropolis Museum being built in the shadow of the Parthenon on permanent loan. So far, there’s been no agreement.

But although there is no hope now of the marbles making it home in time for the Olympics, they could still play a part in the Olympics story. With the issue of ownership out of the way and the debate now a hearts and minds one, as Britain launches its campaign for the 2012 Olympics, an offer to reunite the Elgin marbles might just win it a few votes.

Frank Kelly, London.

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