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Venizelos offers Britain other loans in return for Marbles

Reading some of this article feels a bit like history repeating itself. Back in late 2002, when Evangelos Venizelos was Culture Minister, he presented the UK [1] with a summary of the limitations of Greece’s demands for the Marbles, along with what they might expect to receive in return. In effect, what he came up with was a win-win situation, although the British Museum refused to recognise it as such.

Many changes of government later, after being finance minister during possibly the toughest of times during the unravelling of the Greek debt crisis, Venizelos is now Deputy Prime Minister in the current coalition government. He has take the opportunity of announcing loans of artefacts to an exhibition in Canada, as an opportunity to re-iterate these demands. This is great news, as for many years, there was no clear offer on the table & there was much speculation in the absence of a new offer, as to whether the old one was still valid. What Venizelos describes here sounds remarkable similar – if anything more flexible (perpetual loan, rather than a series of separate short term loans).

As a separate point, in the past, I have highlighted that Greece has never really withdrawn cooperation from Britain to put pressure on them in the way that other countries (notably Iran) have tried to, to secure artefact returns. From what Venizelos describes though, it seems that the deal with Canada could be the evidence of a similar sort of strategy. Greece will not stop cooperating with Britain – but it will offer greater levels of cooperation to other countries wanting to organise temporary exhibitions etc.

PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos [2]

PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos

Ottawa Citizen [3]

Greece hopes exhibit at Museum of History will help free Elgin Marbles from Britain
Don Butler
Published on: November 3, 2014Last Updated: November 3, 2014 1:30 PM EST

ATHENS • Greece hopes a blockbuster exhibit coming to the Canadian Museum of History next year will boost its argument for repatriating the Elgin Marbles from the British Museum, foreign minister Evangelos Venizelos said Monday.

In an act the Greeks have long characterized as looting, British diplomat Lord Elgin removed about half of the surviving classical Greek sculptures from the Parthenon in Athens between 1801 and 1812 and shipped them to Britain.

The British government purchased the artifacts in 1816 and passed them to the British Museum in London, where they remain on display to this day.

In a meeting with Canadian journalists and officials from the Canadian Museum of History, Venizelos was asked if Greece’s willingness to allow more than 500 rare artifacts to travel to Canada and the United States was partly a tactic to ramp up pressure on the British to return the long-sought sculptures.

“I’m ready to agree with you,” Venizelos replied, adding that the exhibit “may be a good way to solve the historical and moral problem” created by the removal of the marbles.

The exhibition, entitled The Greeks – Agamemnon to Alexander the Great, was organized by the Canadian Museum of History and the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sport.

It is touted as the most comprehensive exhibition about Ancient Greece to tour North America in a generation and includes many artifacts that have never before left Greece.

It opens Dec. 5 at Montreal’s Pointe-a-Calliere museum and will appear at the Museum of History in Gatineau from June 5 to Oct. 12, 2015. It will later move to the Field Museum in Chicago and the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C.

Greece has been seeking the return of the Elgin Marbles for decades. It even built the lavish new Acropolis Museum, which opened in 2009, to address criticisms that it had no suitable place to house them.

The remaining marble statues have now been removed from the Parthenon and are on display in the Acropolis Museum. In place of the missing statues, the museum displays rough plaster copies.

Venizelos told the Canadian delegation – in Greece on a government-financed press tour of sites and artifacts represented in the Agamemnon to Alexander the Great exhibition – that Greece is prepared to offer the British Museum a “perpetual loan” of other ancient artifacts in exchange for the missing marbles.

“This is a win-win,” he said. “We have a chance to organize, in the new Acropolis Museum, a complete exhibit of the marbles and organize a new chain of exhibits for everyone.”

The Agamemnon to Alexander the Great exhibit is “an example” of what Greece would be willing to do if the marbles are returned, Venizelos said.

Last month, the Greek government asked UNESCO to mediate the dispute, but has not yet received a formal response from Britain. Britain is legally obliged to respect the mediation process, Venizelos said.

Greece also hopes the new exhibition will help reset the image of Greece abroad, tarnished by the country’s near-collapse following the 2008 global financial crisis.

Allowing the ancient artifacts to travel to Canada and the United States, Venizelos said, was a “good opportunity to present not only the face of our past but also the face of modern Greece.”

Greek archeologists have many reservations about allowing the artifacts to leave the country, the minister admitted, adding: “This is a type of archeological patriotism about protection.”

The exhibition provides an opportunity to overcome these “hesitations and reservations and become more flexible and practical,” he said.

Venizelos said he was satisfied that Canadian institutions have the infrastructure to properly protect the often-fragile artifacts, some of which date back more than 7,000 years.

That prompted Terry Clark, the exhibition’s curator at the museum of history, to assure that the museum will use the best technology to protect the precious objects. “They’ll be watched day and night,” he promised.