Quote of the Day

Elgin took sculpture from Turkish-occupied Athens by a combination of bribery, duplicity and sheer force majeure.

Nigel Spivey, Cambridge University

March 8, 2015

UK reluctant to enter Parthenon Marbles mediation process

Posted at 12:08 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Marbles Reunited

In September 2013, a request was made by Greece to Britain, to enter a mediation process to resolve the Parthenon Sculptures reunification issue. The process would take place via the snappily named Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation, a sub-committee of UNESCO.

The request for mediation marked a new step for Greece, and a clear realisation that small scale informal negotiations to resolve the issue were making little progress.

Since the request was issued, any appeals for updates have indicated that the British Government is still considering their response.

Last year, it was requested that a response would be made by 31st March 2015. However, government sources say that they are unable to make any significant announcement this side of the May election. We must bear in mind at this stage, that all current predictions are that there will be no clear majority in the May 2015 general election, so if not a change of government, at the very minimum, we can expect a significant restructuring of the coalition.

The British Government is clean to prevaricate over what is likely (according to all past policy indications) to be a negative response, but the reality is that any negative response might well be met by a stronger riposte from Greece.

For a number of years now, talks have taken place in secret in Greece regarding the possibility of some form of legal action over the Parthenon Marbles. These talks became more public when it became known that Amal Clooney was involved. As a side note, she was in fact involved all along – I have had sight of confidential papers that her name is ascribed to, from early 2011. Previously though, the lawyers were able to operate beneath the radar though, whereas Amal’s new found fame means that this is no longer such a simple proposition.

The likelihood of litigation is increased by the recent news that even if there Greek Government does not have the money to invest in this sort of venture, there are others who are happy to do so on their behalf.

What this leads on to, is that it is clear that Greece is considering other options. If their mediation request is rebuffed, they are not going to just drop the issue, but have fall back options, that could be a lot less palatable than mediation.

It is unclear, whether after an initial rejection of the mediation request, the offer to enter into the process would still be open to Britain.

Meanwhile, the British Museum, while unwilling to invest efforts in actual negotiations seems to have been taking measures to try & prop up their own back story behind why retention of the sculptures is a good idea. The first step was the rather controversial and secretive loan of one of the sculptures to the Hermitage in St Petersburg, which was announced to much fanfare in The Times. The second step is the commissioning of a rather narrowly focussed poll, aimed at giving the impression that those in the industry were entirely favourable of return (well they would say that wouldn’t they).

These moves are indicative that the British Museum is no longer sitting quite as comfortably as it once was. It is trying to make its position more secure, yet the loan to the Hermitage seems to have done exactly the opposite, with many former retentionists being strongly critical of the Museum’s actions.

It is clear that we are entering a new chapter in Greece’s quest for the return of the sculptures – one that has move on from informal applications to something much more structured. The stakes may be higher for both sides, but the aggressive responses from the British Museum indicate that the Greek approach seems to be having some sort of success. My hope is that the new SYRIZA led coalition is willing to keep up the pressure, rather than making a complete change of policy.

Parthenon Marbles in British Museum

Parthenon Marbles in British Museum

From:
Independent

Elgin Marbles row: Greece tells British Government to stop stonewalling on return of Parthenon sculptures
Ian Johnston
Saturday 07 March 2015

The Government is refusing to negotiate with Greece about the return of the so-called Elgin Marbles despite a request to do so from the United Nations, a decision that could prompt Athens to begin legal action for the first time.

British campaigners likened the UK’s stance to “clinging on to stolen booty for dear life” and contrasted it with the “generous act” of returning the sculptures to help a friendly country on the brink of economic collapse. Youth unemployment has hit 50 per cent and suicide rates have soared amid a crisis so severe the Financial Times has warned Greece could turn into a “quasi slave economy”.
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March 6, 2015

Aboriginal activist gives lecture on return of Parthenon Marbles

Posted at 1:53 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Events, Parthenon 2004

Australian Aboriginal activist, Dr Gary Edward Foley gave a talk about the restitution of the Parthenon Marbles yesterday, comparing the restitution of Aboriginal cultural artefacts to the ongoing campaign for the return of the Parthenon Marbles.

Parthenon Marbles in British Museum

Parthenon Marbles in British Museum

From:
Greek Reporter

Aboriginal Activist to Give Lecture on Parthenon Marbles’ Return
by Ioanna Zikakou
Mar 4, 2015

Starting this Thursday, the 2015 Greek History and Culture Seminar series, organized by the Greek Community of Melbourne for the fifth consecutive year, will take place in the community’s new building. The seminars’ inaugural lecture is on March 5 with Aboriginal activist Dr Gary Edward Foley and Greek-Australian University of Melbourne professor Nikos Papastergiadis.

During his speech, Foley will focus on the recovery of cultural heritage and the return of Aboriginal antiquities, alongside the Parthenon Marbles case. This will be the first time that an Aboriginal will present his speech before the Greek Community of Melbourne.
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March 5, 2015

The British East India company – putting looting into the lexicon

Posted at 1:46 pm in Similar cases

A lot of the stories of artefact repatriations focus on state sponsored looting, such as the massacres in Benin or Beijing’s Summer Palace. A second category is that of private individuals such as the Seventh Earl of Elgin who were also involved in the pillaging of ancient relics, although not normally on such a large scale as it is hard for a single person to have the same impact as an army.

There is a third category though, one which brought us the word Looting – a Hindustani slang phrase for plundering. The word rapidly entered the English vocabulary via the British East India Company, one of the world’s first multinational corporations. While the British East India Company & their unprecedented levels of looting have thankfully now gone, the problem still exists, although it manifests itself in different forms, such as terrorist groups & warlords who like the EIC maintain their own private armies & relatively unencumbered by laws will happy loot ancient sites for personal gain, or merely to deprive others of the ability to see the relics that were once there.

Mughal emperor Shah Alam hands a scroll to Robert Clive, transferring tax collecting rights to the East India Company.

Mughal emperor Shah Alam hands a scroll to Robert Clive, transferring tax collecting rights to the East India Company.

From:
Guardian

The East India Company: The original corporate raiders
William Dalrymple
Wednesday 4 March 2015 05.59 GMT

One of the very first Indian words to enter the English language was the Hindustani slang for plunder: “loot”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this word was rarely heard outside the plains of north India until the late 18th century, when it suddenly became a common term across Britain. To understand how and why it took root and flourished in so distant a landscape, one need only visit Powis Castle.

The last hereditary Welsh prince, Owain Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn, built Powis castle as a craggy fort in the 13th century; the estate was his reward for abandoning Wales to the rule of the English monarchy. But its most spectacular treasures date from a much later period of English conquest and appropriation: Powis is simply awash with loot from India, room after room of imperial plunder, extracted by the East India Company in the 18th century.
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March 4, 2015

British Museum returns artefacts to their country of origin – temporarily

Posted at 1:53 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

The British Musuem is loaning various artefacts to the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. The artefacts were taken by Captain Cook while he was exploring Australia.

Various Aboriginal groups want the items returned permanently though.

One thing that loans such as this do prove, is that even though the British Museum insists that the artefacts are better located in the British Museum, there is a tacit acknowledgement that there is a significance to exhibiting them in their country of origin, even if it is only temporary. If Australian artefacts can return in this way, then why can’t they make a similar loan of the Parthenon Marbles?

Aboriginal bark painting of a barramundi dating from 1861

Aboriginal bark painting of a barramundi dating from 1861

From:
ABC News (Australia)

Indigenous artefacts collected by Captain Cook set to return for exhibit in Australia
Updated February 26, 2015 19:11:43

The National Museum of Australia (NMA) in Canberra says a controversial exhibition will see Indigenous souvenirs collected by Captain James Cook return to Australia for the first time in 245 years.

The British Museum in London will loan 150 Indigenous exhibits for display, including the shield and spears thought to be taken by Captain Cook from Botany Bay in 1770.
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March 3, 2015

Parthenon Marbles legal fees may be paid by wealthy individual

Posted at 11:16 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Reports from a former official at the Greek Ministry of Culture indicate that a wealthy Greek shipping magnate may be providing funds to cover legal fees relating to the Parthenon Marbles. At present (according to this report), the group of lawyers (Geoffrey Robertson, Norman Palmer and Amal Clooney) who visited Athens last year to appraise the Greek government on the legal options available to them, have been appointed to produce a more in-depth report into the case. This report is due to be delivered to the Greek Government on 30th March 2015.

The news that this stage of the initiative is to be privately funded is interesting, as it was something that I had previously raised as a possibility, when people queried the issue of whether it would be affordable to the Greek Government.

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

From:
Washington Post

Shipping magnate foots the bill for Amal Clooney to represent Greece
By Daniela Deane
March 3 at 4:29 AM

LONDON — Greece is broke, correct? That’s why it needed bailing out by the rest of Europe.

But then, the cash-strapped Greek government hires the high-profile and expensive London law firm that employs Amal Clooney, American actor George Clooney’s glamorous new bride, to represent it in its never-ending quest to get the Elgin Marbles back from the British Museum. With no public tender.

What’s missing from this picture? A Greek shipping magnate, of course.

A former official in Greece’s culture ministry said Monday that an unnamed Greek shipping tycoon who operates in both Athens and London wanted to make a “grand gesture of patriotism” by paying the London-based lawyers’ legal fees, according to the London Times newspaper. The official said the fees had been deemed “too extravagant” by the Greek government, which is in the midst of a financial crisis, the paper reported Tuesday.
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February 27, 2015

Bronze Statuette returned to Oliveriano Archaeological museum

Posted at 1:57 pm in Similar cases

A bronze statuette stolen from an Italian museum has been returned after it was identified at an Auction in New York.

Bronze statuette of Hercules from Oliveriano Archaeological Museum in Pesaro

Bronze statuette of Hercules from Oliveriano Archaeological Museum in Pesaro

From:
BBC News

25 February 2015 Last updated at 16:13
Stolen art returned to Italy from New York

An ancient statuette and an 18th Century painting have been returned to Italy, having turned up in New York decades after being stolen.

The painting, The Holy Trinity Appearing to Saint Clement, is by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, a Venetian artist born in 1696.
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February 25, 2015

Christopher Price, MP and stalwart Marbalista – 1932-2015

Posted at 2:23 pm in Elgin Marbles, Marbles Reunited

I was sorry to hear earlier this week that Chris Price had passed away at the age of 83.

For those who didn’t know him, Chris was a former Labour politician, who worked tirelessly for many years in support of the return of the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece. He studied classics at Oxford and expressed his views on the Elgin Marbles (as they were then known) to colleagues as early as 1958. This is interesting, as many retentionists like to believe that any movements for return only originated when Melina Mercouri became Culture Minister in Greece in the 1980s, whereas the reality is that the return movement has always existed.

Chris was one of the original members of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, and its Deputy Chairman for many years. He was also a member of Marbles Reunited, liaising between the two committees. He was also a great philhellene and critic of the Turkish invasion of Northern Cyprus. Unlike many of today’s politicians, he was a man of substance and conviction – somebody who would do what he believed to be right, rather than perpetually worrying about whether this would damage his chances of being re-elected.

After leaving parliament following electoral defeat in 1983, he went on to become the vice-chancellor of Leeds Polytechnic during its transition to becoming a university, part of his lifelong commitment for a fairer and more equal society and the importance of educational opportunity. Once he retired had more time available to devote to the restitution of the Parthenon Sculptures, regularly using his parliamentary contacts and in-depth knowledge of government procedures to secure meetings, discover about new bills that were going to be debated and otherwise intervene, to make sure that the opinion of those supporting reunification of the sculptures was heard.

He enriched the lives of all of us who were lucky enough to have known him, and his expertise will be missed by all who campaign for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures. While others might have pre-conceived ideas of how the campaign should be managed, Chris was always open to adapting strategies and incorporating new approaches, in order to accommodate changing conditions. When I last met with him in 2010, he was enthusiastically talking to me about the idea of cultural decolonisation – the idea that Britain had decolonised physically, but never bothered to send back the cultural artefacts when she granted independence & that this was a widespread movement that needed to happen.

Chris died last Saturday 20th February 2015, after a period of poor health following a stroke.

Christopher Price, Deputy Chairman of the BCRPM

Christopher Price, Deputy Chairman of the BCRPM

From:
Independent

Christopher Price: Energetic MP who despite his combative nature was liked and admired both by colleagues and opponents
Tam Dalyell
Tuesday 24 February 2015

It was Christopher Price’s misfortune – and in my informed opinion the nation’s – that he never held a safe Labour seat. In 1966 he took Birmingham Perry Barr from the Conservative incumbent Dr Wyndham Davies but perished when Edward Heath came to power in 1970. In February 1974 he was elected to Lewisham West, and held the seat in 1979, but to the huge sadness of his many Labour friends – he had the rare gift in politics of being candid and outspoken without making enemies – he lost by a sliver in the 1983 election at which Gerald Kaufman described Labour’s manifesto as “the longest suicide note in history”.

Had Price survived he would certainly have been elected to the Shadow Cabinet, and might well have been elected leader rather than Neil Kinnock; he would have garnered votes from a number of colleagues. His eventual successor in Perry Barr, Jeff Rooker, then a young engineering manager, told me Price had been well-regarded by the Birmingham Labour councillors and local union leaders. Jill Knight (Edgbaston) remembered him as a first class colleague on City of Birmingham supra-party issues. Brian Walden, elected in 1964 for Birmingham all Saints, told me, “Chris Price was a very, very good constituency MP. He genuinely cared about people, not least those from ethnic minorities. I have nothing adverse to say about him.” Coming from the most acerbic TV inquisitor of our age, that last sentence is an accolade.
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February 24, 2015

Germany sued in US courts over Nazi looted Guelph treasure

Posted at 2:02 pm in Similar cases

Once again, the courts of the District of Columbia seems to be one of the destinations of choice for litigation involving Nazi loot.

In this instance, the items in question are the Guelph Treasures, which two claimants were sold under duress by their ancestors in 1935 to the state of Prussia, then overseen by high-ranking Nazi Hermann Göring. The treasures are currently displayed in Berlin’s Bode Museum.

Part of the Guelph treasure currently on display in Berlin

Part of the Guelph treasure currently on display in Berlin

From:
Wall Street Journal

Germany Is Sued in U.S. Court Over Medieval Treasure Acquired by Nazis
By Mary M. Lane
Updated Feb. 24, 2015 12:13 a.m. ET

BERLIN—A year after Germany pledged to bolster its efforts to return art stolen by the Nazis, Jewish claimants to medieval relics valued at millions of dollars say the government isn’t living up to its promise.

Two claimants to a collection of medieval Christian treasure filed a suit in the U.S. District Court in Washington on Monday against the German government and the government-controlled museum that owns the artifacts. They allege their ancestors sold the collection, known as the Guelph treasure, under duress in 1935 to the state of Prussia, then overseen by high-ranking Nazi Hermann Göring.
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Virtual technologies as a solution for cultural property disputes

Posted at 1:44 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

Kwame Opoku has written an interesting response to Paul Mason’s recent article suggesting that virtual reality and 3D printing could be a solution to the Parthenon Marbles problem.

Parthenon Marbles in British Museum

Parthenon Marbles in British Museum

From:
Kwame Opoku (by email)

CAN MODERN TECHNOLOGY HELP RESOLVE DISPUTES ON RESTITUTION OF CULTURAL ARTEFACTS?
Kwame Opoku
20 February 2015

There is no doubt that modern technology can contribute a great deal to arts and education generally in spreading knowledge about the cultures of the world. For example, a child in Nigeria can learn a lot about Africa if she has access to Internet, IPhone or IPad. She can learn about African History, the drinking habits of the English, German family relations, Ghanaian Music and Dance. She could also learn about Yoruba cosmology, costumes and sculpture. But it still remains to be established whether modern technology could help resolve thorny problems of restitution of cultural artefacts.

Paul Mason has in an article in the Guardian, ”Let’s end the row over the Parthenon marbles – with a new kind of museum” has suggested that technologies such as virtual reality and 3D printing could make the physical location of ancient artefacts less important:
“However, the rise of digital technology should allow us to imagine a new kind of museum altogether. The interactive audio guides and digital reconstructions found in some museums should be just the beginning. It is now possible to extend the museum into virtual space so that exhibits become alive, with their own context and complexity. Hard as it is when you are managing a business based on chunks of stone and gold, we should challenge museum curators to think of their primary material as information.”
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February 19, 2015

Does the art industry support returning Parthenon Marbles?

Posted at 2:13 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

ITV News is carrying a story (I haven’t seen it picked up anywhere else so far), that a survey carried out by Public relations firm Bell Pottinger Arts indicates 60% of art experts back keeping the Parthenon Marbles in London. The article is short on detail or analysis, so most of what follows below is purely based on my own knowledge, observations and conjecture.

The poll result is interesting, as it does not reflect the results previously shown in a multitude of other surveys of the general public, or targeted groups, all of which have tended to show that more people are in favour of return than retaining them. These surveys have been conducted by respected polling companies such as Ipsos Mori, as well as by newspapers and magazines. Two things have been noticed from thee polls – firstly, that as time has progressed, support for the return for the sculptures has generally increased (possibly due to an increase in awareness in the subject, as press coverage of it has also increased). Secondly, there was a general trend, that the more educated people were about the topic, the more likely they were to support return. This was proven, not just where people were asked to rate their knowledge of the subject, but also borne out in polls such as that carried out by the Museums Association’s journal, which would clearly be catering for an audience that would have a greater understanding of the case than the general public.

Bearing in mind the above, alarm bells are ringing, when a new survey appears that seems to go against what has been shown in every other previous survey that I am aware of from the last 15 years. As such, the methodology has to be examined carefully.

There are a number of things that I would like to know:

Firstly, what was the actual question that people were asked? In most polls, the exact question wording is made public, but in this one, there is no indication of exactly what was being asked and the context of it within the questionnaire.

Secondly, who was asked? It talks about the 70 journalists and leaders of arts organisations in the UK, the Middle East and Asia who were questioned, without going into any more detail of who these were, how they were selected and the breakdown by country, type of organisation etc. It seems to have been a very targeted poll (perhaps intended to produce a certain result) and also to have a very small sample size. Polls by Ipsos Mori have typically used sample sizes of over 1000 members of the public.

Thirdly, the thing that interests me most, is who commissioned this poll and why? In my experience, companies such as Bell Pottinger don’t work for free, so some company / organisation / individual must be paying them to carry out this work. As this is all about the Parthenon Sculptures, the first thought is that the British Museum might be involved. There is also a clear linkage as to why this institution would chose to use Bell Pottinger, as Baroness Wheatcroft of Blackheath (AKA former Journalist Patience Wheatcroft) is not only the Deputy Chairman of the British Museum, but also an advisory board member of none other than Bell Pottinger. She is also a Conservative peer and former Daily Telegraph editor and it is well known that neither of these bodies are sympathetic to reunification of the Marbles.

If my above guesswork is correct, it is interesting, as it indicates that the British Museum have determined that they need to play a very different set of tactics to those that they have employed in the past (namely that of burying their heads in the sand). If they are now employing an outside PR company (albeit one with a less than stellar reputation for being anything other than guns for hire), then it suggests that they are perhaps no longer sitting quite as comfortably as they once were.

This assertion is backed up by the loan of one of the Parthenon Sculptures to St Petersburg last December, something that was the first real variation in policy noticed since Neil MacGregor took over as director of the museum over ten years ago. I can only deduce that is is clear that they are feeling the pressure, that they finally need to try and defend themselves. This ties in to heightened publicity in recent months about the sculptures in general, but also to the fact that it is now publicly known that the Greek Government has been in discussion with lawyers over whether legal action could be used to help secure the return of the sculptures.

I would suggest that this shows that the current Greek strategy is working, and as such I hope that the new Syriza government will continue to follow the footsteps of those who preceded them, in terms of how they deal with this issue, rather than backing off and letting the issue fall off the agenda once more.

One final thing to note is that the use of the name Elgin Marbles to describe the sculptures is a very loaded term, although it is unclear whether this was the decision of Bell Pottinger or ITV London. Even the British Museum has not used this term for many years now.

If The British Museum has appointed Bell Pottinger to handle this issue for them, I am sure we will be hearing far more about it in the coming months. Watch this space.

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

From:
ITV London

18 February 2015 at 12:20pm
60% of art experts back keeping Elgin Marbles in London

A survey of art experts found 60% in favour of the British Museum in London keeping the Elgin Marbles.

The marbles, which are 2,500 years old, were presented to the London institution almost 200 years ago after being removed from the Parthenon temple at the Acropolis by Lord Elgin. The debate over whether they should be returned to Greece raging ever since.
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February 18, 2015

UN Security Council resolution to protect Syrian Heritage

Posted at 2:03 pm in Similar cases

Its great that the UN has taken an interest in the looting of Syria, although as pointed out before, a lot of misinformation also surrounds the issue.

On the other hand, it is criminal that it takes so long to acknowledge that it is going to be a problem. With both Iraq and Egypt still fresh in people’s minds, it was clear that if the rule of law is removed, then the looting begins not long after. There are already international laws about purchasing of looted artefacts (although not all countries are signed up to them). What is needed is more control over the dealers that act as a conduit for artefacts out of war zones into the hands of private collectors. Without a market for the items, there might still be destruction in Syria, but the looting with the intent of profit would all but disappear.

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:
Artnet

UN Bans Export of Antiquities To Target Islamic State Revenue
Hili Perlson, Tuesday, February 17, 2015

UNESCO has published the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2199 that condemns the destruction of cultural heritage and adopts legal measures to counter illicit trafficking of antiquities from Iraq and Syria. The resolution decidedly targets Islamic State revenues, and threatens to place economic and diplomatic sanctions against countries and individuals that enable terrorist groups to profit from trade in antiquities, oil, and hostages.

The Director-General of UNESCO, Ms Irina Bokova, welcomed the new resolution, calling its adoption “a milestone for enhanced protection of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria.” The measures stipulated in the document extend to Syria “the prohibition of trade of cultural objects already in place for Iraq since 2003,” she added.
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February 16, 2015

Virtual reality as a route to ending Parthenon Marbles dispute?

Posted at 10:48 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Following the recent articles about 3D printing and museums, Paul Mason looks at how new technologies could perhaps provide a solution to the long running Parthenon Marbles dispute.

This is not the first time that such a proposal has been made – Something similar was proposed by Neil MacGregor in 2003. The big sticking point though is that while both sides feel that a replica may be a solution for the other side, they want to hold onto the originals themselves.

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

From:
Guardian

Let’s end the row over the Parthenon marbles – with a new kind of museum
Paul Mason
Sunday 15 February 2015 20.00 GMT

In the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, a marble statue of the river god Ilissos is displayed in heavily guarded isolation. Purloined by Lord Elgin in 1805, it was loaned to Russia by the British Museum last December, in the face of protests from the Greeks, who want all the Parthenon marbles back. The move was highly controversial. Russia and the EU had imposed mutual sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine, and critics made much of the fact that Brits could move statues to Russia, but Greek farmers could not export peaches there. It was a reminder that the politics of culture is always the politics of physical things.

The 21st-century museum keeper is faced with many voices clamouring for justice: for the return of stolen goods, for recognition of imperialist wrongs, for racial justice and women’s rights. They have offered two broad responses to such claims. The first builds on the “universal museum” principle, outlined by a group of influential directors, in 2004. Their argument is, first, that the present location of treasures such as the Parthenon marbles is, itself, a historical fact to be respected. Since antiquities fertilised the British Enlightenment, they have become part of our national culture. On top of that, they argue that, by maintaining large, free and well–secured collections in metropolitan centres, the “universal museum” gives global access to collections that are global in scope. This argument gained strength after the US military recklessly damaged archaeological sites in Iraq, and then Islamic State fighters overran them.
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