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Marbles Reunited campaign will not alter government position

The British Government has stated that their stance on the issue of the Elgin Marbles will not be altered by the launch today of the Marbles Reunited [1] campaign in London.

The Scotsman [2]

Wed 14 Jan 2004
3:56pm (UK)
Elgin Marbles: UK Unmoved by Latest Appeal
By Anita Singh and Jamie Lyons, PA News

A new campaign to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece was launched today but was met with indifference by the British Government.

Organisers of the Marbles Reunited campaign want to see the 2,500-year-old treasures returned in time for this year’s Olympic Games in Athens.

But the British Museum, home to the disputed marbles for the past 200 years, said it has no intention of handing them over.

And the Government said it did not support the latest attempt to have them returned.

“Government policy remains the same as it has for decades – the marbles are currently housed in an environment that provides perfect conditions and are seen free of charge by more people than are likely to see them in Greece. We certainly will not be putting any pressure on the British Museum to hand over the marbles,” said a spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

Lord Elgin, British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire between 1803 and 1812, took the marbles from the Parthenon and started a row which has rumbled on ever since.

The British Government has repeatedly resisted Greek requests to return them.

Marbles Reunited, an umbrella organisation which includes British and Greek campaigners, has put together a set of proposals which it hopes will provide a breakthrough.

It wants the British Museum to hand over the marbles “on loan” in time for the Olympics in August.

An ambitious new museum is under construction at the foot of the Acropolis to house the treasures.

Under the plans, the British Museum will retain ownership of the marbles.

It will also be responsible for their conservation – the Greeks have been accused of failing to protect their half of the stones from the ravages of pollution.

In return, the Greek Government has promised that other significant treasures will be brought over to Britain for an exhibition which will visit London and regional museums.

Marbles Reunited claims the British public is behind its campaign.

In a commissioned poll, 73% of people said the marbles should be returned to Greece, while 81% supported the new proposals.

But the British Museum remained unmoved and unconvinced by the Greek Government’s claim that it would take the marbles on loan and not dispute their ownership.

“The Greek Government is not asking for a loan in the ordinary sense, far less for a loan for the Olympic period,” a spokeswoman said.

“Indeed, no loan request at all has been made. Their aim has always been the perpetual removal of all the fragments now in London.”

And Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, insisted: “The British Museum is the best possible place for the sculptures from the Parthenon in its collections to be on display.

“The British Museum is a truly universal museum of humanity, accessible to five million visitors around the world every year entirely free of entry charge. Only here can the worldwide significance of the Parthenon sculptures be fully grasped.”

Former foreign secretary Robin Cook is Marbles Reunited’s most prominent supporter.

He compared Lord Elgin’s removal of the marbles to a foreigner taking part of Nelson’s Column.

“It’s as if someone had hacked off Nelson’s head and taken it abroad, and we were left with the stomach and the legs,” he said.

“Does anyone imagine we would rest in these circumstances until the statue was restored?”

He added: “The results of the poll do not surprise me at all because the British public have a generous spirit and decent instincts. They have a sense of what is fitting and they understand that the marbles belong at the Parthenon. That’s what they were designed for and that’s where they stood for 2,000 years.”

A gesture of goodwill by the British government over the marbles would also help our bid to host the 2012 Olympics, he said.

“This is a ’win-win’ situation. The marbles restored to the Parthenon, in return Britain will have a rotating exhibition of some of the finest antiquities and sculptures of the Greek heritage, never before seen outside Greece.

“It would also prove an excellent launchpad for our bid for the Olympic games.

“I believe returning the marbles in this Olympic year would be good for Greece, good for Britain and excellent for our Olympic bid.”

The current Lord Elgin waded into the dispute and claimed Greece cannot be trusted to look after the marbles.

The Greeks had failed to protect the famous artefacts from pollution and should not be given the rest back, he said.

The 42 pieces his ancestor left in Athens – because they were in superb condition – have now rotted away, he added.

“Unfortunately, even today the amount of desecration that goes on from atmospheric pollution is like a war zone,” Lord Elgin told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Asked if Greece would be able to look after the marbles properly, he replied: “Frankly, they haven’t.”

The campaign to return the marbles has won the support of public figures including Dame Judi Dench, Vanessa Redgrave, former Olympic athlete Tessa Sanderson and Fifteen To One host William G Stewart.

Stewart appears in a promotional video for Marbles Reunited and said: “These sculptures belong to the world. It’s time they were reunited and seen in their original home.”