December 6, 2006

More on the UN resoltion for return of cultural property

Posted at 2:15 pm in Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

Coverage in the Greek press of the UN draft resolution of the return of cultural property.

Athens News Agency

UN adopts ‘cultural property return’ Resolution

New York (ANA-MPA/P. Panagiotou) — Greece’s culture minister George Voulgarakis called for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece late Monday night, speaking at the UN just after the General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution tabled by Greece last month on the return or restitution of cultural property to their countries of origin. He also welcomed the adoption of the resolution by the plenary session as “exceptionally important”.

“The Greek initiative for the Resolution that has been unanimously adopted by the United Nations, which concerns the reunification of antiquities, is an exceptionally important event,” Voulgarakis said after the adoption of the resolution, adding that “this result is the outcome of the efforts we have made recently to enable the antiquities to return to their places of origin”.

“The adoption of this resolution in itself signals and guides the countries to help so that the antiquities from all over the world will return to their homes. Greece will always seek and strive, in that direction, for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to their rightful place”.

Addressing the General Assembly, Voulgarakis explained that “the uniqueness of the Parthenon, as a momument-symbol of the global civilisation, is the decisive factor that renders the demand for their return universal, but also more timely than ever, particularly now, when we are in the final stage of completion of the New Acropolis Museum” in Athens.

The draft resolution on “The Return or Restitution of Cultural Property to their Countries of Origin” had been tabled at the UN by Greece’s Permament Representative, Ambassador Adamantios Vasilakis, on November 3.

Addressing himself to the president of the UN’s 61st General Assembly and the representatives of the UN member countries, Voulgarakis said:

“I thank you for the opportunity you have given me to address the General Assembly, to express the sincere gratitude and appreciation of the Greek government, for the unanimous adoption of the resolution on the return and restitution of the cultural treasures to their countries of origin. The adoption of the resolution, with a ‘consensus’, and its endorsement by the majority of the representatives, clearly states its importance for the international community, and the clear intentions of all of us to proceed with bilateral and multilateral collaborations so as to resolve these matters.”

Noting that “UNESCO’s systematic and hard work is at the core of these efforts for the protection of cultural heritage”, Voulgarakis also conveyed the Greek government’s appreciation to UNESCO director-general Koichiro Matsuura.

Voulgarakis further noted the immense legal dimensions of antiquities smuggling, stressing that “the illicit trade in antiquities is included in the same category as the illicit trade in weapons, narcotics and people. It constitutes a form of organised crime that is directly linked with the mafia and money laundering. It is a crime against all of us. Not only against the States whose cultural heritage is being decimated, but also against all of humanity, because the monuments are destroyed, information is lost, the artefacts are cut off from their historical and physical environment”.

He also spoke of the value of heritage, stressing that “a person without history and a cultural identity becomes poorer as an existence and substance, he is cut off from his natural and cultural environment, and is deprived of his ability to explain the phenomena of his evolution”.

However, Voulgarakis continued, “a new wind has been blowing in recent years”.

“An increasing number of museums are adopting strictal ethical codes in the acquisition of cultural property. The international scientific community and the archaeologists, regardless of nationality, are raising their voices for the protection of the world cultural heritage and demanding that an end be put to the looting and smuggling of cultural artefacts. New, more stringent legislation is being adopted in this direction, such as recently in Switzerland and Britain. But the global public opinion, too, and the media, have been sensitised, particularly after the destruction of cultural properties in Afghanistan and Iraq,” he explained.

Voulgarakis stressed “we hear this necessity, and we are giving it flesh and blood with today’s Resolution”.

“Greece took the initiative to introduce this Resolution, which is greatly important to the protection of cultural heritage and signals this new era. It reflects the initiatives that have been taken at international level through international conventions, resolutions and intiatives by UNESCO, and other international initiatives. It advances the cooperation among the countries, in the framework of the UN and UNESCO, in order to protect humanity’s cultural heritage and its values. It ensures the advancement of the return and restitution of the cultural properties that have been illegally removed from their countries of origin, and stressed the need for their return to those countries,” he said.

“In the age of globalisation, the peoples must be able to preserve their historic and cultural identity and, at the same time, communicate and collaborate amongst themselves without the barriers of the past. But this cooperation and movement of cultural properties must abide by ethical codes and rules,” he added.

Noting the recent positive developments in this area, Voulgarakis stressed: “Greece, through its collaborations with other states and museums, has already succeeded, in this past year, to repatriate some of its antiquities. Two important antiquities have been returned by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, while discussions are pending for the return of two more antiquities by the same museum. Also returned to Greece were two fragments from the Acropolis, on of which was from the Parthenon. The one fragment was returned by the University of Heidelberg, while the other was returned by Sweden. These returns were made in the framework of the need for restitution of a momument which, although it is situated in Greece, belongs to the entire world.”

However, the Greek culture minister continued, “the Parthenon Marbles remain ‘divided’ between Athens and London”.

“The uniqueness of the Parthenon, as a monument-symbol of world heritage, is the decisive factor that renders the demand for their return universal, but also more timely than ever. Particularly now when we are at the final stage of completion of the New Acropolis Museum. This Museum will house all the remaining parts of the Parthenon and is expected to also include the Marbles we seek back from the British Museum,” Voulgarakis said.

“The reunification of antiquities signals the completion of civilisational mosaics which, for the time being, are gapingly incomplete, the completion of a fragmented image which, precisely due to the looting of its basic pieces, is distorted and misleading. If we succeed in completing the cultural image of each country with the repatriation of those antiquities that have been removed, illegally or unjustly, from their countries of origin, we will be creating steady foundations not only for the present, but also for the generations that will follow,” the minister stressed.

“The cultural heritage of every country is the cultural heritage of all of humanity. All of humanity bears the burden and responsibility for the protection of this cultural heritage,” the Greek culture minister concluded.

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