Quote of the Day

It’s time to heal the wounds of the monument with the return of the marbles which belong to it.

Karolos Papoulias, Hellenic Republic president

May 11, 2016

Can international pressure help Parthenon Marbles case?

Posted at 1:12 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Despite previous contradictory statements, Greece is still motivated to pursue legal action if required

Further coverage of the statements by Greece’s Culture Minister, re-asserting the country’s willingness to follow a legal route over the Parthenon Marbles. This route is not their first choice, but will remain as an option if other efforts fail.

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

From:
Newsweek

Greece Looks To Forge New Alliances To Win Back Elgin Marbles
By Elisabeth Perlman On 5/9/16 at 5:58 PM

The Greek government is not giving up in its quest to reclaim the Elgin marbles from the British Museum, where they have resided for almost two centuries.

Greece hopes that forging new strategic alliances might engender change. One option is to take the British Museum to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Alternatively, the southeastern European country could appeal to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and apply for an advisory judgment from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in a bid to win back the marble statues.
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May 9, 2016

Greece hasn’t written off legal action over Parthenon Marbles

Posted at 10:24 pm in Elgin Marbles

During the last year, there have on more than one occasion been mixed messages from the Greek Government with regard to the possibility of legal action over the Parthenon Marbles.

Now, in a new interview, Culture Minister Aristides Baltas reveals that pursuing the issue in international courts remains a possibility. They still have a desire to deal with the case by other diplomatic methods, but if such endeavours fail, then it appears that they are open to the option of taking legal action. It is assumed that this reasoning is based on the report produced by a legal team from the UK commissioned by the previous ND government. The team consisted of Geoffrey Robertson, Norman Palmer and Amal Clooney.

I will publish the legal advice in full in a separate post.

David Hill, Amal Clooney & Geoffrey Robertson in Athens

David Hill, Amal Clooney & Geoffrey Robertson in Athens

From:
Guardian

Greece looks to international justice to regain Parthenon marbles from UK

As 200th anniversary of artefacts’ removal approaches, Greek culture minister says government will appeal to courts and the likes of UN

Greece has not abandoned the idea of resorting to international justice to repatriate the Parthenon marbles and is investigating new ways in which it might bring a claim against the British Museum.
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April 12, 2016

Should Palmyra be fixed or left?

Posted at 1:02 pm in Similar cases

Since the destruction of various Syrian sites by ISIS, a number of different projects have been launched that aim to either virtually, or physically rebuild and revert the sites to their pre-ISIS form.

Here, Jonathan Jones argues against such actions. Similar discussions have taken place ever since Greek Independence on the form that any restoration of the Acropolis might take. What new buildings could be removed and what should stay, where does a restoration turn into a reconstruction etc.

The destroyed Temple of Bel in Palmyra

The destroyed Temple of Bel in Palmyra

From:
Guardian

Palmyra must not be fixed. History would never forgive us
Jonathan Jones
Monday 11 April 2016 14.06 BST

Palmyra must not “rise again”, as Syria’s director of antiquities has promised. It must not be turned into a fake replica of its former glory. Instead, what remains of this ancient city after its destruction by Isis – and that is mercifully more than many people feared – should be tactfully, sensitively and honestly preserved.

The honesty has to begin with Palmyra’s newfound fame. Before Isis seized this extraordinary Syrian site last year, Palmyra was a name known best to archaeologists, historians and classicists. In a monstrous and horrific way, by blowing up some of its most beautiful monuments and carrying out inhuman atrocities amid its splendours, the terrorist army has made Palmyra known.
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April 8, 2016

The Parthenon Marbles – why now is the time for legal action

Posted at 8:19 am in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Some weeks ago, I wrote about legal action being taken in the European Court of Human Rights by the Athenians’ Association, a private group of Greek citizens unconnected to the government.

Since then, I have been fortunate enough to conduct an in-depth interview with Vasilis Sotiropoulos, the Athenians’ Association Lawyer. In this interview, he helps to explain a bit more about the importance of the case to the Association, why it is important that action is taken now and some of the key issues on which the case is based.

Vasilis Sotiropoulos, Lawyer to the Athenians' Association, standing in front of the Parthenon

Vasilis Sotiropoulos, Lawyer to the Athenians’ Association, standing in front of the Parthenon

First of all, can you tell me a bit more about your legal background?

As for my background, I studied law at Athens University and I hold a Master’s in public law. After working briefly for the European Data Protection Supervisor, I began practicing in my own office with a focus on new technologies, intellectual property and human rights. I currently serve as the elected Regional Ombudsman of the Attica Region.

I have never previously come across the Athenians’ Association. Have they always had an interest in the case of the Parthenon Marbles?

Our organisation was always talking about this topic, because it is one of the most famous legal debates of all time. As a human rights lawyer, I have always supported the idea that we Athenians should have our day in court with regard to the cultural dimension of the rights concerned. The cultural dimension of the case is a legal issue that goes beyond the sovereign rights of the Greek State.

As Plaintiffs, the people of Athens play an important part. We must bear in mind that there are families that have been living in Athens for hundreds of years. Having served as the first Ombudsman in Athens Municipality, I had the opportunity to forge relationships with citizens who are proud for their Athenian identity. In the core of these people’s soul, there is a strong demand for justice regarding the case of the Parthenon Marbles. The ancestors of some of these people were present when Elgin’s team committed this unpunished crime.

In the Greek branch of Transparency International, where I was legal advisor for some years, we used to follow a very simple definition of corruption. “Corruption is the abuse of power for personal gain”. This is exactly the case with Elgin’s removal of the Parthenon Sculptures. This is the reason why I gladly accepted the proposal to represent the Athenians’ Association before the European Court of Human Rights, although not a member of the Association myself.

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April 7, 2016

Greece should not abandon its principles – or its relics

Posted at 8:19 pm in Elgin Marbles

Jim Egan is director of Ferrumar, a marine exploration company and has had a long standing interest in the case of the restitution of the Parthenon Marbles and how it might be resolved.

He recently forward me this piece outlining some of the recent interventions that he has made, along with his thoughts on how the resolution of the issue might be expedited.

The corner of the Parthenon pediment

The corner of the Parthenon pediment

From:
Jim Egan (via email)

Greece should not abandon its principles – or its relics

Perplexed am I over Greece’s consistent failure to remedy its ancient problems, whether in small steps or creative ways.

One method for resolving the Parthenon Marbles puzzle involves sidestepping, at least temporarily, the morass of moral claims and legal principles (Financial Times, “Judgment is not set in stone”, Tiffany Jenkins, Life & Arts, February 12) over whether or not the British Museum rightfully owns the Parthenon Marbles in its collection.

David Critchley’s subsequent Letter to the Financial Times (“Restore the Parthenon with replica statues”, February 27) plots the optimum course. Coincidentally, six years ago my firm offered the Greeks that same solution so as to help relieve their understandable agony over the long-missing Marbles still residing in multiple out-of-context non-Greek locations.
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February 19, 2016

Private Greek Citizens group to sue UK in ECHR over Marbles

Posted at 3:41 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

More coverage of the proposed legal case being pursued in the European Court of Human Rights by the Athenian Association.

Syllogos ton Athinaion logo

Syllogos ton Athinaion logo

From:
Athens News Agency

Private citizens’ association sues Britain at European Court of Human Rights for Parthenon Marbles
18/ 02/ 2016
Last update: 14:05

A private citizen’s group called the “Athenians’ Association” said on Thursday they filed a lawsuit at the European Court of Human Rights against the United Kingdom over the removal of the Parthenon Marbles by Lord Elgin in the 19th century, the association said in a press conference in Plaka on Thursday.

The association, which opened in 1895 and among whose aims is to research the history of Athens and help preserve of its cultural monuments, said the decision was taken after its board was informed about Britain’s refusal to participate in a mediation procedure, as part of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Goods in the Country of Origin.
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Athenian Association to sue UK over Parthenon Sculptures

Posted at 3:33 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

A lawsuit is being brought in the European Court of Human Rights over the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures. The case is being brought by The Athenian Association, an Athens based organisation chaired by Eleftherios C. Skiadas, the vice mayor of Athens.

This case is interesting, as it is happening outside of the remit of the Greek Government, although it is unclear what knowledge the government has of the process. The Athenian Association were prompted to take action following the rejection of UNESCO mediation prior to the prorogation of Parliament in 2015.

It will be interesting to find out more details of this case in due course, in particular what arguments they are basing their case on.

Syllogos ton Athinaion logo

Syllogos ton Athinaion logo

From:
The Athenian Association

APPEAL OF THE «ATHENIANS’ ASSOCIATION» BEFORE THE EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS FOR THE ACROPOLIS SCULPTURES

The historical “Athenians’ Association” (Syllogos ton Athinaion), which celebrated 120 years of existence this year (1895-2015), instituted proceedings at the European Court of Human Rights against the United Kingdom regarding the Acropolis Sculptures. The natives of the Greek capital set out the array of violations to their human rights regarding the cultural treasures of their city, characterised by Paul the Apostle as the «devotions of the Athenians». Indeed, this is the sole case worldwide of a UNESCO World Heritage Monument (1987) being despoiled through the removal of structural elements, such as the metopes and sculptures of the Parthenon.

Among the statutory objectives of the “Athenians’ Association”, special mention is made to “the making provision for the preservation and conservation of the monuments, works of art, etc., linked to the history of Athens”. Its founding members comprised descendants of the Athenians who stood up against the despoilment of the Parthenon by Lord Elgin. Besides, one of the very first actions undertaken by the Association was an event organised in 1896 to commemorate the liberation of the Acropolis from the Ottoman Turks and during which its deputy chairman, professor Theodossios Benizelos (1821-1900) mentioned that the Parthenon was a place of daily worship, the holy of holies, a life good for our ancestors and that the Athenians strongly protested against the despoilment of the Acropolis’ extant statues by Elgin.
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February 5, 2016

Do museums keep too many items in storage

Posted at 2:18 pm in Similar cases

A common claim made by museums is that restitution of artefacts would lead to gaps in their collection. They like to leave the impression that is the Parthenon Marbles went back to Greece, then the Duveen gallery would end up just lying empty, with nothing of interest to fill it.

As I have noted before though, the reality could not be further from the truth. The British Museum only has 1% of its items on display at any one time.

This article looks at various other examples, such as the fact that 108 Picasso paintings are not on permanent display in any museum, compared to 139 that are. This means that 44% of his works held by museums can not be viewed by casual visitors unless they are part of a special temporary exhibition.

Museums are not private collections – they get various tax benefits & government grants because of this fact. Surely their purpose is to display items for the benefit of the public – not to put it in storage?

It is worth looking at the original article, for the extensive graphs that it has to back up its case.

Alte Mühle, (1916) Egon Schiele. None of his works are on public display in museums

Alte Mühle, (1916) Egon Schiele. None of his works are on public display in museums

From:
Quartz

Museums are keeping a ton of the world’s most famous art locked away in storage
Christopher Groskopf
January 20, 2016

Most of Georgia O’Keeffe’s work is in storage.

Nearly half of Pablo Picasso’s oil paintings are put away.

Not a single Egon Schiele drawing is on display.

Since the advent of public galleries in the 17th century, museums have amassed huge collections of art for society’s benefit. But just a tiny fraction of that art is actually open for people to view and enjoy—including, it turns out, many works that are considered masterpieces. The dynamic raises questions about who actually benefits when museums collect so much of the world’s best art.
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February 1, 2016

Satellite images show ISIS destroyed Iraq’s oldest monastery

Posted at 2:01 pm in Similar cases

Iraq’s oldest Christian Monastery has been destroyed by ISIS, according to analysis of recent satellite photos of the area.

St Elijah’s monastery in Mosul had been used as a place of worship for 1,400 years.

US Soldiers celebrate Easter Mass at St Elijah’s monastery in 2010

US Soldiers celebrate Easter Mass at St Elijah’s monastery in 2010

From:
Guardian

Isis has destroyed Iraq’s oldest Christian monastery, satellite images confirm
Associated Press
Wednesday 20 January 2016 12.16 GMT

New satellite photos confirm what church leaders and Middle East preservationists had feared: the oldest Christian monastery in Iraq has been reduced to rubble, yet another victim of Islamic State’s relentless destruction of heritage sites it considers heretical.

St Elijah’s monastery stood as a place of worship for 1,400 years, including most recently for US troops. In earlier millennia, generations of monks tucked candles in the niches, prayed in the chapel and worshipped at the altar. The Greek letters chi and rho, representing the first two letters of Christ’s name, were carved near the entrance.
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January 28, 2016

Is not knowing an artefact was Nazi loot an excuse to retain it?

Posted at 2:47 pm in Similar cases

The Musée des beaux-arts in La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland has been in the news recently, for their refusal to return a Constable painting looted by the Nazis to the heirs of the rightful owner.

The excuse given by the museum is that they did not know that they purchased the item in good faith. Further to this, they also argue that as a neutral power in the Second World War, their history is unencumbered by the holocaust.

Neither of these reasons holds much credibility for me though. If the legitimacy of a purchase is merely down to good faith, then surely this leads us down a route where nobody asks awkward questions when making a purchase. Even if the due diligence process was thorough, this should not be an acceptable excuse. although perhaps there is an argument that some compromise could be made – either between the museum and the rightful owners, or potentially the governments of countries that expect their institutions to be able to do the right thing. There is no precedent for the second argument – that Switzerland had no involvement in the situation that led to the looting. Britain was actively fighting against the Nazis during the Second World War, arguably giving it a stronger claim to this than Switzerland, but various institutions have already made restitutions in similar cases and the right to do this is enshrined in law by the Holocaust (Stolen Art) Restitution Act.

Despite all the above though, what this article skips over, is that the Holocaust is not a special case in this regard. Museums should make far wider examinations of provenance and their justifications for ownership. The Benin Bronzes and the Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum are just some of the many other cases currently outside of the legal frameworks that allow for the return of Nazi loot, meaning that the institutions that hold them feel little need to argue a case, as they know that there is no legal way for the items to be deaccessioned from their collections at present.

John Constable’s Dedham From Langham, 1813

John Constable’s Dedham From Langham, 1813

From:
Guardian

Why a Swiss gallery should return its looted Nazi art out of simple decency
Jonathan Jones
Wednesday 27 January 2016

Memory has many colours. A work of art that survives the centuries is an embodiment of history, marked invisibly by all the hands that have held it. Who owned it? Where did it hang? These are not just arcane questions for scholars but the network of human experience that haunts works of art in museums and makes them richly alive.

The hunt for works of art looted by the Nazis matters. Researchers who discover the true owners of a painting stolen in wartime Europe and later acquired innocently or knowingly by a museum or gallery are piecing together shadowy stories of oppression, injustice, murder and destruction. Why did the Nazis loot art from Jewish owners? It was not only greedbut an ideological belief that Jews contributed nothing to European civilisation and did not deserve to share in it.
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January 27, 2016

Time to fight back against terrorists destroying cultural heritage

Posted at 2:12 pm in Similar cases

In the face of increased ISIS attacks against the ancient heritage of the areas that they occupy, UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova outlines the three ways that she believes the world must fight back against such acts.

  1. Fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural objects coming from Iraq and Syria
  2. Reinforce preventive actions
  3. Strengthen international cooperation
The ruins of Apamea in Syria in 2004, before the current conflict

The ruins of Apamea in Syria in 2004, before the current conflict

From:
World Economic Forum

Terrorists are destroying our cultural heritage. It’s time to fight back
Irina Bokova, Director-General, UNESCO
Monday 18 January 2016

At this very moment, the invaluable legacy of humanity’s common heritage is under attack in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya. Heritage sites are destroyed and looted to finance terrorism, individuals are persecuted on religious and cultural grounds, cultural diversity is targeted.

The destruction of culture has become an instrument of terror, in a global strategy to undermine societies, propagate intolerance and erase memories. This cultural cleansing is a war crime that is now used as a tactic of war, to tear humanity from the history it shares.
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Switzerland returns looted Etruscan treasure to Italy

Posted at 2:02 pm in Similar cases

Its great to see that Switzerland is finally doing something to clear up the murky world of artefacts smuggled via the Free Port in Geneva.

An Etruscan sarcophagus is among stolen ancient artworks that Switzerland has returned to Italy

An Etruscan sarcophagus is among stolen ancient artworks that Switzerland has returned to Italy

From:
The Local (Switzerland)

Switzerland returns looted Etruscan treasures to Italy
Published: 14 Jan 2016 16:18 GMT+01:00

Switzerland has returned to Italy 45 boxes of ancient Etruscan art stolen during illegal excavations and stashed away for more than 15 years, including two rare sarcophaguses, authorities said on Thursday.

“The antiques were given back to Italian authorities today,” a statement from Geneva’s public prosecutor’s office said.
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