January 19, 2004

Debate continues over return of Parthenon Marbles to Greece

Posted at 2:01 pm in Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

The launch of the Marbles Reunited campaign has considerably raised the profile of the debate over reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures, not just in the UK, but also in the international press. In many instances, other countries can draw parallels with other similar issues that are affecting them more directly.

The Times of India

Campaigners demand return of Elgin marbles to GreeceAdd to Clippings
MONDAY, JANUARY 19, 2004 12:00:24 AM

No nation has exclusive claim to our common heritage

The campaign to return the Elgin marbles, housed in the British Museum for over two hundred years, to their original home in Athens , is ill-advised.

In today’s globalised world such moves reek of parochialism and the pro-Parthenon activists who have organised themselves into a group called “Marbles Reunited” should know as much.

When Britain ’s ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in 1801, Lord Elgin, brought some of the Parthenon sculptures to London , he did so with due permission from the then Greek authorities.

Any attempt to ‘right’ this ‘wrong’ — which is as much a part of world history as the ‘Indian’ Kohinoor diamond now in London and the ‘Italian’ Mona Lisa, exhibited in the Louvre, Paris — will almost certainly open a huge can of worms.

Heritage is common to humanity and to impose border restrictions on it is somewhat like limiting employment to “sons-of-the-soil”.

By the same token many of today’s global initiatives such as long-distance learning and outsourced employment opportunities would have to be banned.

The British government should not succumb to pressure on this count. For one, the priceless relics preserved and exhibited in the British Museum are in far better shape than are their counterparts in the Parthenon.

Athens lies in a seismic zone and also suffers from high atmospheric pollution.

As for the request that the sculptures be returned before the forthcoming Olympics — to be held in Athens in August this year — as a “gesture of goodwill”, there is no reason why the British collection cannot be loaned to Athens for the relevant period.

Touring exhibitions of heritage art, artefacts and manuscripts are common in a world where it is becoming increasingly meaningless to circum-scribe ownership rights of tradition and culture or even ideas.

Even if the initial transfer of the marbles by Lord Elgin was a “dishonourable act of vandalism” it is best that the phase is treated as part of history, rather than as an unending chapter of righting wrongs.

The Bamiyan Buddhas and the Iraqi treasures destroyed after Saddam’s ouster, might have been saved if they had been housed in safer places.

World Leisure News

world leisure news
19 Jan 2004
Debate continues over return of Parthenon Marbles to Greece

Marbles Reunited launched a new campaign on 14 January to return the Parthenon Marbles – also known as the Elgin Marbles – to Greece.

The stones were acquired by Lord Elgin in the early 1800s and transported to England during the Ottoman occupation of Greece. They were then sold to the British Museum in 1816, where they remain today.

The Marbles Reunited campaign, which has both British and Greek members and includes distinguished academics, museum curators and politicians, has so far been met with indifference by both the British government and the British Museum.

The official Greek government position on the restitution of the Marbles is that, while the Marbles cannot be considered a moveable monument, a long-term loan could be agreed between the British Museum and the New Acropolis Museum, an ambitious new structure specifically to house the complete Marbles, currently under construction at the foot of the Acropolis.

The combination of the upcoming Athens 2004 Olympics and the construction of the New Acropolis Museum has added a new impetus to the re-launched campaign.

However, the British museum has said that the Greek government is not asking for a loan of the marbles ‘in the ordinary sense’, but that its aim has always been ‘the perpetual removal of all the fragments now in London’. As a consequence, the position of the Greek government ‘makes it virtually impossible’ for the museum trustees ‘to have serious discussions’ with them.

Two polls recently carried out by Marbles Reunited and the British Museum have delivered contradictory results.

The Marbles Reunited campaign claims that its opinion poll shows 80 per cent of the British public support reuniting the marbles in Athens while a separate Exit Poll they commissioned outside the British Museum indicated that only one in five visitors said they had come to see the Marbles when asked what they had come to visit at the museum.

The British Museum has retaliated with its MORI visitor surveys, which have consistently shown that the Parthenon Sculptures are seen by approximately 60 per cent of all visitors. It also says the MORI survey shows that the sculptures are the second most popular display in the museum, after the Egyptian Galleries.

The museum believes that, because the original Parthenon Sculptures work of art can never be reconstituted due to centuries of damage, the current division of the sculptures between 10 museums, with roughly equal quantities present in London and Athens, is the best arrangement for maximum public benefit.

Drector, Neil MacGregor, said: “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 from around the world every year entirely free of entry charge. Only here can the worldwide significance of the sculptures be fully grasped.”

Speaking at the launch of the Marbles Reunited campaign, Professor Anthony Snodgrass responded: “For 200 years Britain and Greece have been locked in argument over the question of who owns the sections of the Parthenon Sculptures currently housed in London.

“The time is right to reunited the Marbles. 2004 is the year when the Olympics return to their home city of Athens. 2004 is also the year when the British Government and British Museum should agree to reunite the Marbles on display in Athens, its original home city.” Details: www.marblesreunited.org, www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk, www.culture.gr

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