Quote of the Day

The problem is not legal, It’s ethical and cultural.

Professor Demetrios Pandermalis, Chair of OANMA

April 2, 2014

Unfortunately, the previous post on UNESCO mediation was not accurate

Posted at 12:01 am in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

As many may have spotted, yesterday was April 1st. As a result of this, some of the items I posted, may not have been entirely accurate.

Much as I (and many others) want the British Government & British Museum to enter into the UNESCO mediation process, thus far, there has been nothing except silence from them.

I should also note that Pillory Dour & Henna Biltong are entirely fictional characters, and that any resemblance of them to people working for the British Government & British Museum is entirely coincidental.

So, to make the previous post become reality, more needs to be done to encourage the Government to accept the mediation request. At the moment, they are ignoring it, because they feel comfortable taking this course of action. So, write to your MP, raise awareness, publish stories publicising the lack of response, so that eventually they might feel more inclined to take action.

April 1, 2014

How can Western Museum (re-)present their colonial past

Posted at 12:54 pm in Similar cases

Many of the European countries have had long & complex colonial pasts. Within their history, there are no doubt many episodes that people today wish could be forgotten. Within the museums of the West, there is also the fact to consider that many of the artefacts in their collections are there as a result of colonisation. During the end of the era of colonialism, there was a physical colonisation, where most countries withdrew their presence within former colonies & gradually granted them independence. There has never been the same impetus however behind a cultural decolonisation – handing back of the cultural artefacts that were acquired in circumstances of dubious legality.

Is the time right now for a re-think of this? To re-assemble our museums as spaces that tell a story fit for the 21st century, giving us a fuller awareness of how the artefacts came to be assembled there & who else claims ownership on them?

The sculpture of the ‘leopard man’ at the Museum of Central Africa

The sculpture of the ‘leopard man’ at the Museum of Central Africa

From:
Irish Times

The plunder years: culture and the colony
Suzanne Lynch
Last Updated: Monday, March 24, 2014, 16:59

Last month, George Clooney was drawn into a cultural debate that has long been a sensitive issue for Britain. Asked during a press conference in London’s National Gallery if the Elgin Marbles should continue to be housed in the British Museum or in Athens, the actor said the sculptures should be returned to the Parthenon from where they were taken by Lord Elgin in the 19th century.

Clooney was in town to promote The Monuments Men , a film that explores the ethical questions around cultural ownership as it tells the story of soldiers tasked with retrieving stolen art from Nazi Germany during the second World War.
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British Government agrees to UNESCO mediation for Parthenon Marbles

Posted at 12:01 am in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Last year, the Greek government made the announcement that they had approached UNESCO, about inviting the UK to enter into mediation over the issue of the Parthenon Sculptures. The Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Country of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation sets out a series of rules, that such mediation should follow, although the case of the Marbles would be the first time it had actually been implemented.

Many naysayers suggested that despite this new initiative by Greece, the British Government & British Museum would not consider entering into such a procedure, as there was nothing in the rules to compel them to do so and no time limit for them to reply to the request.

There was also the issue, that in all previous requests, the British Government pointed out that such requests were a matter to be dealt with by the trustees of the British Museum, whilst the trustees would point out that they would not be legally allowed to de-accession the sculptures, under the terms of the British Museum Act 1963.

Now, in what many involved with the case have suggested is an unexpected move, the British Government have responded to Greece’s minister of culture, indicating that they are happy to enter into mediation immediately. Under the UNESCO rules, the mandated timescale for the process to be completed in is one year, meaning that the issue of the Marbles could be resolved by 1st April next year, if not before.

The issues of the Marbles being a matter for the British Museum to determine were also noted by the government in their initial response, where they explained that whilst this has been the case in the past, it is really more of a political shorthand for noting that they are uninterested in resolving the issue, noting that as the museum is largely funded by the government, they do in fact have the ability to exert a large level of control over it & would do their utmost to ensure that the Museum was fully represented during the negotiations and to enforce whatever actions were agreed to at the end of the process.

Parthenon Marbles in British Museum

Parthenon Marbles in British Museum

From:
Department for Culture, Media & Sport

Notice of intention to enter into mediation with an aim to swiftly resolve the Parthenon Marbles issue
April 01, 2014

The British Government would like to notify Greece that we have accepted their invitation to enter into mediation via UNESCO, over the issue of the Parthenon Marbles.

Previously issues have been raised over whether we had jurisdiction over the British Museum, and there are still many question marks over this. However, in the interests of progressing the resolution of this long standing embarrassment to the British people, we are jointly going to co-operate with the trustees.

We acknowledge that the issue of the Parthenon Sculptures are a unique case, and, as such we are happy to do whatever it might take to resolve the issue.

Further updates will be posted on our website in due course.

Pillory Dour
On behalf of the International Cultural Property Unit, Department of Culture, Media & Sport

From:
British Museum

British Museum agrees to Greek Mediation proposal
April 01, 2014

Following a request from the Department of Culture Media & Sport, the British Museum has agreed to work in partnership with the government to satisfy Greece’s requests for mediation over the Parthenon Marbles issue.

This is not a decision that we were able to take lightly, but we realise it was a move that we had to make. We have gradually come to understand that issues such as this are not going to go away, and accept that we need to make more effort to try & resolve them, in the interests of maintaining the current levels of co-operation with countries such as Greece.

Various surveys have shown that our continuing retention of the sculptures is out of sync with public opinion. For a long time, the trustees hoped that this was a one off blip in the statistics, but we are now resigned to the fact that our continued retention of the sculptures is hurting our public image as world class museum.

We with Greece the best of luck with the mediation, and over the next year, will be able to tell you more, as the process unfolds.

Henna Biltong
Head of Press, British Museum

March 31, 2014

Half of looted Sevso Silver returns to Hungary

Posted at 5:50 pm in Similar cases

It appears that China isn’t the only country that has decided that buying disputed artefacts back is sometimes the simplest way to re-acquire them following looting.

In this instance, it is the Sevso Silver, fourteen items which Hungary claims were looted, but were sold to private buyers during the 1980s. The treasure constitutes fourteen items in total. This purchase re-acquires seven of them for €15 million, from undisclosed sellers.

My earlier reservations still stand, as do those presented previously by Kwame Opoku.

Sevso treasure in 1990

Sevso treasure in 1990

From:
Guardian

Sevso treasure items repatriated by Hungarian government after UK sale
The Roman silver, discovered in Hungary in the 1970s, was bought from an ‘unidentified London seller’ for €15m
Dalya Alberge
Thursday 27 March 2014 17.51 GMT

The Hungarian government has repatriated seven of the 14 pieces from the Sevso treasure, a spectacular hoard of 4th-century Roman silver whose ownership had long been contested by several countries.

The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, announced this week that the pieces have been repatriated to Budapest in return for €15m, reportedly paid to unidentified sellers in London. The pieces include the so-called “Hunting Plate” and the “Dionysiac Ewer”.
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Earth hour at the Acropolis

Posted at 1:03 pm in Acropolis

As in other years, the Acropolis in Athens has been a part of the worldwide Earth Hour, dimming its lights on the evening of 29th March.

The Acropolis, before & during Earth Hour

The Acropolis, before & during Earth Hour

From:
Inquirer

Lights out for iconic landmarks on Earth Hour
Agence France-Presse
10:36 am | Sunday, March 30th, 2014

NEW YORK – Iconic landmarks around the world were plunged into darkness Saturday as lights went out in thousands of places as part of a global fundraising drive for local environmental projects.

New York’s Empire State Building, the ancient Acropolis in Athens, Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue and Sydney’s Opera House were among those blacked out for 60 minutes at 8:30 pm local time for the annual Earth Hour.
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March 27, 2014

Talk in Zurich on the Parthenon Marbles

Posted at 1:45 pm in Elgin Marbles, Events

Professor Dusan Sidjanski of the Swiss Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures is giving a talk to the Association of Greek Academics in Switzerland. The talk is titled “Europe & the Marbles – a common cause”.

For more details, see the flyer below.

Flyer for the talk

Flyer for the talk

March 24, 2014

Is buying back disputed artefacts really a solution?

Posted at 6:31 pm in Similar cases

Prompted by the recent articles on China’s attempts to buy back disputed treasures, Kwame Opoku looks at whether or not this approach could ever work for other countries, and the various issues that it raises.

Bronzes looted from the Summer Palace during the Opium Wars

Bronzes looted from the Summer Palace during the Opium Wars

From:
Eurasia Review

China’s Purchase Of Chinese Looted Artifacts: An Example For Other States? – OpEd
March 24, 2014
By Kwame Opoku

‘One day two bandits entered the Summer Palace. One plundered, the other burned. Victory can be a thieving woman, or so it seems. The devastation of the Summer Palace was accomplished by the two victors acting jointly. Mixed up in all this is the name of Elgin, which inevitably calls to mind the Parthenon. What was done to the Parthenon was done to the Summer Palace, more thoroughly and better, so that nothing of it should be left. All the treasures of all our cathedrals put together could not equal this formidable and splendid museum of the Orient. It contained not only masterpieces of art, but masses of jewellery. What a great exploit, what a windfall! One of the two victors filled his pockets; when the other saw this he filled his coffers. And back they came to Europe, arm in arm, laughing away. Such is the story of the two bandits. Before history, one of the two bandits will be called France; the other will be called England’. — Victor Hugo. (1)

These sculptures of a rat head and a rabbit head were among the objects looted in 1860 when French and British soldiers under the command of Lord Elgin sacked the imperial palace in Beijing. The eighth Lord Elgin was the son of the seventh Lord Elgin, who removed the Parthenon Marbles from Athens. These two sculptures have now been returned to China. (2)
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Human chain around the Parthenon

Posted at 6:23 pm in Acropolis

More coverage of the human chain around the Parthenon for Anti-Racism day.

As I mentioned before, it would be great if something like this could happen on a regular basis to help draw attention to the issue of the Parthenon Marbles.

Children form human chain around the Parthenon

Children form human chain around the Parthenon

From:
Greek Reporter

2,500 Kids Form Human Chain Around Parthenon
Ioanna Zikakou – Mar 21, 2014

Today, 2,500 children gathered at the Acropolis, forming a human chain around the Parthenon upon the initiative of the General Secretariat of Transparency and Human Rights to mark the occasion of International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Under the banner “We embrace the Acropolis, embrace democracy, embrace humanity”, children of many nationalities as well as some with disabilities sang about the meaning of the day and released 2000 colored balloons into the Attica sky, sending the message of peaceful and creative coexistence without discrimination amongst people.
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UK urged to sign UNESCO treaty on underwater heritage

Posted at 2:01 pm in Similar cases

Often we can learn far more from underwater heritage than from excavations on land, because many items can be better preserved by the immersion in water. On the other hand though, their location away from public view means that they are ideal targets for looters & organised excavations by commercial interests (I’m looking at you Odyssey Marine). Particularly for ship wrecks in international waters, the laws are less clear cut, over who owns the treasure discovered on board them.

I’m particularly interested in this subject, because there are at least two shipwrecks off Greece, the Mentor & the Cambria, that play a part n the story of the Parthenon Marbles.

Now, archaeologists are urging the UK to ratify the 2001 Unesco convention on the protection of the underwater cultural heritage. I think that this is a great aim, although seeing Britains failure so far to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, I’m not holding my breath.

The wreck of the SS Gairsoppa off Galway

The wreck of the SS Gairsoppa off Galway

From:
Guardian

Britain urged to sign up to shipwreck treaty to protect underwater heritage
Dalya Alberge
The Observer, Sunday 23 March 2014

Britain’s rich maritime legacy is under threat from commercial treasure hunters who are accused by experts of plundering and destroying the nation’s underwater heritage.

A group of leading archaeologists and historians warn that unless the government intervenes to protect scores of historically significant wrecks lying beyond the country’s territorial waters, sites including the graves of those lost at sea could be exploited and lost for good.
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March 22, 2014

Lessons learned from Agudas Chasidei Chabad v. Russian Federation, et al.

Posted at 7:10 pm in Similar cases

I have mentioned previously about the dispute between the Chabad Jews & Russia, over the requests for the return of two disputed collections of books & manuscripts.

A few days ago, I came across this interesting review of the current state of the case (which still remains a long way from being resolved. Now, although I don’t believe the courts of the District of Columbia were being particularly sensible in some of their judgements on the case, there are many things that can be learned from it.

In many cases involving cultural property restitution claims, there is a split between those who feel that the case should be settled by diplomatic means, and those who believe it should be settled through legal action. The reality however isn’t so simple. In many cases, the ideal option would be to use informal negotiations to solve the issue, but what happens when this doesn’t work? If the party currently holding the disputed artefacts feels that they are in a comfortable situation & feels their ownership is secure, what reason is there for them to want to enter into some sort of negotiations where the aim of the other party is clearly to take back the artefact. One might suggest, that moral obligations or overwhelming public opinion ought to be enough of a lever, to start negotiations, but the number of well founded restitution cases that continue to be stonewalled by large institutions around the world shows that this is often not the case.

It is clear that sometimes, more is needed, at least as a catalyst to start serious negotiations. Italy was pressing for years for the return of such items as the Euphonios Krater from the Metropolitan Museum, but was only successful once the threat of legal action made the Met enter into serious negotiations. Legal actions is far from the only way of doing this however. Other countries such as Iran and Egypt have experienced success, following threats to withdraw cooperation with the countries or institutions in question.

What all this is leading to, is that whether or not we feel it is the right approach to take, legal action is sometimes going to be taken as a means to resolve restitution cases. Legal action can take many possible forms, and if you got five sets of lawyers in the room, each would have different ideas about how to approach a specific case. What this case goes to show though, is that depending on the circumstances, even if one wins the legal case, the means of enforcing such wins in international disputes are limited. In the case discussed in this article, the Chabad Jews won the case, the court has tried (albeit in a somewhat presumptuous / naive way) to enforce the ruling (and risked creating a major diplomatic incident in the process), but has so far been unsuccessful in progressing things beyond the status quo at the outset of the case. Russia still holds onto the manuscripts & still appears completely dis-inclined to consider returning them.

What is needed in such cases is an international forum of some sort (if it is legal action we are talking about, this would have to be a court, but there are other options). There are already the precedent of international courts, such as the International Criminal Court in the Hague, but the reality is that the handle only very specific cases & cultural property falls far outside their remit.

Within the Europe, there are two additional options (that have as yet been unexplored by Greece), the European Court of Human Rights & the European Court of Justice. Organisations such as UNESCO form another possible entity that could oversee the Adjudication of cultural property claims, and it is through their mandated mediation process that Greece hopes to solve the dispute over the Parthenon Sculptures. The key issue here however is that there is no obligations for countries to enter into the mediation process. At present, to the best of my knowledge, Greece has had no luck in getting Britain to actually enter into the mediation with them.

At least among advocates of the return of the Parthenon Sculptures, legal action continues to be a divisive issue, although I believe that to an extent, this is because people worry about the risks it might also carry & sometimes because they do not fully understand the nature of the tools available to them. Where cases can not be moved forward by diplomatic means though, other options are needed, and this is one of the clearest paths to take in such instances.

One of the manuscripts requested by the Chabad Jews

One of the manuscripts requested by the Chabad Jews

From:
American Society of International Law

Reviewing the Agudas Chasidei Chabad v. Russian Federation, et al. Dispute
March 19, 2014 Volume: 18 Issue: 8

Introduction
Nationalization of looted property continues to trigger international legal disputes. It has been almost nine decades since the Lubavitch Chasidim or Chabad Chasidim (Chabad), a Jewish religious entity, began the quest to reconstitute its collection of sacred books and manuscripts currently held by the Russian Federation.[1] While Chabad is now a New York incorporated entity, it has strong roots in the Russian Empire from which it emerged.[2] This litigation highlights the challenges in resolving historical disputes against a foreign sovereign in national courts.

The property contested in Agudas Chasidei Chabad v. Russian Federation, et al. consists of a library with more than 12,000 works dating back to the 1770s (Library) and an archive of over 25,000 pages of Chabad Rebbes’ documents (Archive).[3] Collectively, they are referred to as “the Collection” in court proceedings.[4] Chabad considers the Collection to be sacred and the Archives to be an “essential legacy . . . something concrete that . . . incorporates in itself both the sanctity, the very presence, the very personality of the Rebbe himself.”[5]
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March 20, 2014

Children to form human chain around Parthenon for anti-racism day

Posted at 2:06 pm in Acropolis

Stories such as this, go some way towards illustrating that the Parthenon is more than just another ancient monument – it holds a larger symbolism for many within Greece & internationally.

Perhaps a similar event should be organised on a regular basis to highlight the plight of the Marbles? People have previously suggested that the anniversary of the opening of the Acropolis Museum becomes Parthenon Day. Perhaps we could organise people to encircle both the British Museum & Acropolis Museum simultaneously on that day to show the unity of the two sites? Who’s interested?

The Parthenon

The Parthenon

From:
Greek Reporter

Kids to Hug Acropolis for Anti-Racism Day
by Abed Alloush – Mar 19, 2014

2,500 children will form a human chain round the Parthenon on Friday March 21 to mark International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Their motto will be “We hug the Acropolis, We hug democracy, We hug humanity.”

Organized by the Greek Ministry of Justice, children of different nationalities and people with special needs will sing and release colorful balloons into the sky to sending a message “of a peaceful and creative co-existence of all human beings, without any racial discrimination.”

The Acropolis museum will later host an event featuring work by celebrated artists including Antonis Remos, Dimitris Mpasis, Melina Kana, Melina Aslanidou, Sonia Theodoridou and the director, Giannis Smaragdis, as well as from children of the Paladion primary school. The event will be attended by President of the Greek Republic Karolos Papoulias and by Charalambos Athanasiou and Konstandinos Arvanitopoulos, ministers of justice and education, respectively.

March 13, 2014

Acropolis Museum popularity on the increase

Posted at 2:04 pm in New Acropolis Museum

Last year, some had noted that the New Acropolis Museum’s visitor numbers had declined since its first months of opening.

It appears now that this may be changing, as the November 2013 figures just released indicate a 14% increase from the previous year.

New Acropolis Museum

New Acropolis Museum

From:
Kathimerini (English Edition)

Thursday March 13, 2014
More visitors at Greek museums, archaeological sites

The number of visitors at Greek museums was up by 2.4 percent in November 2013, while the cultural institutions saw a 0.6 percent increase in their receipts compared to the same month the previous year, a Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) report revealed on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, although the number of visitors at archaeological sites recorded an increase of 4 percent in November 2013, the respective receipts recorded a decrease of 1.4 percent in comparison to the same period last year.
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