Showing results 1 - 12 of 73 for the tag: UK.

July 27, 2016

More on the proposed Parthenon Sculptures (return to Greece) bill

Posted at 12:48 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Further coverage of the parliamentary bill tabled on the bicentenary of the legal handover of Elgin's sculptures to the British Museum

Further coverage of the Parthenon Sculptures (Return to Greece) bill, currently presented to the UK Parliament.

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

From:
Observer

UK Parliament Pushes Bill to Return Elgin Marbles to Greece
By Alanna Martinez
07/15/16 9:08am

For 200 years there’s been squabble over who rightfully owns the world famous Elgin Marbles: the British Museum or Greece? Now, even Brits themselves are pretty sure the answer is “not us.”

The sculptures were taken (or stolen, depending who you ask) from the Parthenon between 1801 and 1805 by Lord Elgin, British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, and in 1816 they were purchased by the British Museum following parliamentary approval. Earlier this week, a new bill proposed by members of parliament could transfer ownership of the sculptures back to Greece on the 200th anniversary of Britain’s controversial acquisition of the artifacts, reports the Independent.
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July 25, 2016

The Parthenon Sculptures and the European Court of Human Rights

Posted at 1:06 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Although one case may have been deemed inadmissible, this does not mean that Greece should give up legal action to secure return of the Marbles

I posted last week about the rejection of the case for the return of the Parthenon Marbles brought in the European Court of Human Rights by the Athenians’ Association. As I pointed out then, the inadmissibility was down to technical issues with the claim – not any sort of judgement on Greece’s right to ownership of the sculptures.

Since then, George Vardas from Australians for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures has nwritten a much more detailed summary of the legal issues involved behind the inadmissibility.

The European Court of Human Rights Building in Strasbourg

The European Court of Human Rights Building in Strasbourg

From:
George Vardas (by Email)

The Parthenon Sculptures and the European Court of Human Rights
George Vardas

In a recent interview regarding the Parthenon Sculptures, the Director of the Acropolis Museum, Professor Dimitris Pandermalis, stated that “their return is a matter of cultural morality” and stressed that “there are human rights, but great monuments also have their own rights”. He was referring to the fundamental rights of integrity: “you cannot mutilate a great monument”.

So what do we make of the recent dismissal by the European Court of Human Rights of an application brought by an Athenian association alleging that the continued retention of the Elgin collection in the British Museum infringes certain provisions of the European Convention of Human Rights?
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July 20, 2016

Parthenon Marbles legal case rejected on technicality by ECtHR

Posted at 1:19 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

While the case has been deemed inadmissible, no judgement has been made on the merits of the case

A few months ago, I wrote about & published an interview with Vasilis Sotiropoulos, the legal advisor to the Athenians’ association. At this stage, the Association was trying to bring a claim in the European Court of Human Rights over the return of the Parthenon Marbles.

Since then, the claim has been rejected as inadmissible, but this is largely down to technical issues. Part of the decision relates to the fact that the Athenians Association brought the claim as an organisation, but that the European Court hasn’t recognised that a legal entity in the form of an association/club can invoke a violation of its own human rights. On this basis, if such a claim was to be brought by the Greek state, then this reason for inadmissibility would no longer be valid.

I’m posting the Independent’s article first, followed by the Athenian Association’s response & the legal decision itself.

There are other issues, particularly one relating to timing, but none of them completely closes the door on this case – hopefully I will have time to make a longer post about this in the next few days.

Syllogos ton Athinaion logo

Syllogos ton Athinaion logo

From:
Independent

First-ever legal bid for return of Elgin Marbles to Greece thrown out by European Court of Human Rights
Ian Johnston
19th July 2016

The first-ever legal bid to force the UK to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece has been thrown out by the European Court of Human Rights.

The court ruled that because the alleged theft of the sculptures from the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple took place more than 150 years before the UK signed up to the human rights convention, it did not have the power to consider the lawsuit.
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July 11, 2016

Cross party support for bill to return Parthenon Marbles

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

A fresh bid has been launched on the 200th anniversary of the transfer of ownership of the sculptures to the British Musuem

An initiative led by the British Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures (formerly known as Marbles Reunited) seeks to secure the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece. The Parthenon Sculptures (Return to Greece) Bill will be presented today (the 200th anniversary of the bill that gave ownership of the sculptures to the British Museum) anniversary by Liberal Democrat MP Mark Williams, supported by Conservative Jeremy Lefroy and 10 other MPs from Labour, the SNP and Plaid Cymru.

Part of the Parthenon Marbles, the river god Ilissos in the Duveen Gallery

Part of the Parthenon Marbles, the river god Ilissos in the Duveen Gallery

From:
Independent

MPs introduce Bill to return ‘Elgin Marbles’ to Greece 200 years after the UK decided to buy them
Ian Johnston
11th July 2016

A cross-party group of MPs has launched a fresh bid to return the so-called Elgin Marbles to Greece on the 200th anniversary of the British Government’s decision to buy them — a move that campaigners said could help the UK secure a better deal during the Brexit talks with the EU.

The issue has long been a source of tension between, on one side, the UK Government and British Museum, where the 2,500-year-old marbles are currently on display, and, on the other, Greece and international supporters of the reunification of the Parthenon temple’s sculptures.
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May 13, 2015

The new stakeholders of the Parthenon Marbles dispute

Posted at 1:14 pm in Elgin Marbles

By the end of this year, the two sides in the Parthenon Marbles restitution debate may be very different from what they were a year ago – although apart from that, nothing may have changed.

Earlier this year, Greece got a new government in the form of a coalition led by Syriza. Despite limited success so far in achieving their manifesto goals of removing Greece from the Austerity programme, they are still doing well in the polls. They have yet to speak in any detail about how they plan to deal with the Parthenon Marbles.

In London, Neil MacGregor, the Director of the British Museum announced a few weeks ago that he would be standing down later this year. Various potential candidates have been mentioned in the press and I will try to look at the credentials of some of them in a future post.

Finally, in an unexpected outcome to what the opinion polls told us, Britain has a new government. The Conservative party now has an outright majority, so is no governing alone, without the support of the Liberal Democrats. I will make a more details post on the breakdown of who is in and out of the new British Parliament, but the situation at present does not look particularly promising for restitution cases. You can refer back to my previous post, to get a rough idea of where different parties stand on the issue.

David Cameron continues as Prime Minister and has in the past made his anti-restitution credentials clear, both in relation to the Parthenon Marbles, and in his responses to questions about other cases such as the Koh-i-Noor diamond.

Finally, Britain has a new Minister of Culture, John Whittingdale. His name may well already be familiar to many people, as he has chaired the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee since 2005.

During this time chairing the Select Committee, he has made clear his anti-restitution stance on various occasions in the form of responses to statements and questions about the Parthenon Marbles.

His voting pattern on other issues indicates that he does not follow a particularly progressive line, even when compared to his own party, so we should not expect him to introduce any grand initiatives favouring restitution any time soon.

Once again, this highlights the need for Greece to increase the pressure on the British Government. While this government is in power (for five years, unless something goes badly awry), they are unlikely to make any concessions towards returning the Marbles, unless their hand is forced. In the previous Parliament, DCMS rejected the request for UNESCO mediation and unfortunately, this sort of approach is unlikely to change.

Ed Vaizey continues in in the cabinet as the Minister specifically responsible for culture serving under John Whittingdale.

John Whittingdale, secretary of state for culture, media and sport.

John Whittingdale, secretary of state for culture, media and sport.

From:
Art Newspaper

John Whittingdale appointed Culture Secretary
Patrick Steel
11.05.2015

Former chairman of Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee promoted to cabinet

John Whittingdale, the Conservative MP for Maldon, was today appointed secretary of state for culture, media and sport.

Whittingdale has overall responsibility for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which includes museums and galleries in England.
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May 4, 2015

The Parthenon Marbles & the 2015 General Election

Posted at 11:28 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, New Acropolis Museum, Similar cases

Introduction

For a long time, like many others who have followed the case closely, I have had a general understanding of which parties supported return of the Parthenon Marbles and which did not. However, with the upcoming General Election in May, I thought it would be interesting to see if the figures actually backed this up.

To the best of my knowledge, none of the parties in the UK currently have an official policy on it, although past statements actions have given a relatively good idea of where the main parties stand on the issue. As followers of British politics will know though, this election, more than any in recent years is as much about the rise of other smaller parties as it is about the main parties. Predictions are that the share of votes cast for smaller parties will far exceed what has been achieved at any previous elections.

In 2010, I took a look at the policies of the main parties and based this on historic information. As a result of this, I know that we had people in the government who strongly believed in the return of the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece, but they were unable to express these views, as they believed that there were more major issues that needed to be tackled with their coalition partners, before time was invested in things such as this.

Methodology

This time round, I have looked at the information on support from various parties using two entirely different methods.

The first analysis is based on the incumbent MPs and their previous expressions of support. The majority of these come from Early Day Motions, although there are additional instances where people have been added to the list (either for or against) based on public statements, replies to letters or direct conversations.

The second analysis is entirely new and is based on a survey of candidates on Twitter. I started this exercise following the dissolution of Parliament at the end of March 2015. I targeted a wide range of Prospective Parliamentary Candidates, some of whom had been MPs in the previous parliament and many others who had not. This helps us to better gauge levels of support not just from those who have been elected in the past, but also from those who have yet to be elected.

Because people were asked a question on twitter, it meant that the replies could be more nuanced than a simple yes or no. This made it harder to categorise the results, but led to some additional categories and could form the basis for development of new campaign strategies in the future.

Anyone who looks in detail at either of these methods will see that they both have their flaws. However, if we bear in mind these issues, there are some interesting things that can be learned from the data, some of which backed up my expectations, while others were unanticipated.

Survey 1: Indications of the opinion of MPs in the previous parliament

Limitations

  1. Nearly all the data here is collated from responses to Early Day Motions. Prior to the 2010 election, my data covered more MPs, but so many stood down at that election, that there have not been enough significant events since then to gauge support from new MPs so clearly.
  2. The results skew towards those who sign EDMs. MPs that are in the Government (e.g. ministers, junior ministers etc.) tend not to sign EDMs. There are others out there too, who never sign EDMs on principle – often because they believe them to be a waste of time, which does not achieve anything directly. While this may be true up to a point, there is no denying, that they allow other MPs to gauge levels of support for a cause, which may then be utilised in other ways. And MP may know of a few other strong supporters of a cause, but often EDMs add to their list others who they barely know, or who they had never considered as being potential enthusiasts in the same issue.
  3. Results can be skewed for smaller parties. With a larger (hypothetical) party, 20 supporters out of 100 MPs can give a clearish indication of 20% support within the party. With a party of 1 or 2 members though, it is easy for them to come out as being 100% in support, whereas the reality is that the sample size is smaller & therefore the results potentially less accurate.

The dataset

The data is based on the 649 MPs (the speaker is not counted) at the end of the previous parliament. This is to say – the 21 by-elections during the last five years have been factored into the results. Data has been collected both during the previous parliament and in the case of those who were MPs prior to that, from EDMs dating back as far as 1991. In total, the results of 24 pro-restitution and 3 anti-restitution EDMs have been taken into account.

249 MPs were new to Parliament in the 2010 election (an unusually high number, in part due to many retirements) or have joined through by-elections since then. As only two EDMs have referred to the Parthenon Marbles since 2010, results skew in favour of those MPs who have been in parliament for longer.

Results

Of the parties with more than ten MPs, the highest level of support is from the Lib Dems, at 46%. Labour is next at 23%. Finally, there are the Conservatives with 2%.

Of the smaller parties (where results may hold less accuracy), the SNP has support at 33%, with 2 out of 6 MPs. The SDLP both show 60% support with 2 out of 3 MPs. Plaid Cymru has 100% support with 3 MPs Respect show support of 100%, but only has a single MP.

There have also been some anti-restitution EDMs tabled – generally in direct response to the pro-restitution EDMs that the above results are based on. Of these, the only signatories are from the Conservatives, with 20 MPs indicating that 7% of their MPs have specifically stated that they are against reunification of the sculptures.

As these results do not go against what my more recent survey showed, I will deal with the conclusions of both sets of results together.

Survey 2 – Twitter survey of PPCs

Limitations

As mentioned before, there are a number of potential flaws to this study.

  1. There is an election on – as a result, many PPCs have other things on their mind as well as answering questions on twitter, so well thought out responses would not necessarily be forthcoming. Results may skew towards those who have more time available, which is likely to mean those who are not part of the incumbent government.
  2. Some MPs have a twitter account purely as a PR tool, which in managed for them by their office staff on an occasional basis.
  3. The results as a whole will skew towards those MPs who are on twitter – something that I would imagine ties to a younger demographic, although as more and more expand their online presence, this becomes less of an issue.
  4. Perhaps most importantly, when related to the results of the first survey, my findings from the twitter poll suggest that those who are against the return of the sculptures are less likely to reply than those who are.

The Dataset

I messaged 1174 PPCs who were on Twitter. From this, I received 138 responses – a reply rate of approximately 12%.

351 of those contacted had been MPs during the previous Parliament, (equating to 54% of the 650 constituencies) so there was a good representation amongst those asked of both current MPs and potential new ones (particularly when one bears in mind that 89 from the last Parliament are retiring of have been deselected – bringing the number of incumbents asked to 63% of those who are standing again).

The candidates selected were based on various lists of twitter contact details I came across, so were somewhat random in their nature, involving a selection of all the parties expected to win seats in Mainland UK. None of the Northern Irish Parties were represented by this list.

With the exception of SNP members, all others came from a single list of Twitter handles that I located, so the balance of parties comes from there. It is skewed a bit heavily in favour of Labour, but all parties are represented by enough members to constitute a reasonable sample size.

The question I asked initially in my tweets was:

In run up to election, was wondering what your views are on Parthenon Marbles return? Many voters feel strongly about it

After I had sent out the first 200 or so messages, a number of people queried the use of the term “many people”. I still stand by my use of it – perhaps not as a percentage of those in the UK it is not many, but worldwide, we are talking of numbers in terms of millions.

To avoid getting side-tracked by queries and to tie the question more closely to current events, for the remainder of those questioned, I asked:

In election run up, was wondering what your views are on Parthenon Marbles return? & of UK rejection of UNESCO mediation

It rapidly became clear once I started getting answers that a simple yes or no was not going to cover everything.

Many people added more detail to qualify their answer; I will cover some of the key points from this later.

Quite a few of the answers were not yes or no, or even maybe. I created a separate category for cases where their intent was completely unclear. It also includes those who only reply to queries from those in their constituency.

Others were undecided, so fell into the maybe category.

Finally, a surprising number (enough to create a category of its own) stated that either that they had no answer or did not have the time to consider it, because they did not see the subject as being an issue. No constituents had ever asked about it in their years of campaigning, or they did not have the time to think about it.

The results of this survey are shown below:

Views of PPCs from different parties on whether the Parthenon Marbles should be returned - May 2015

PartyYesNoMaybeUnclearUnimportant
Con18%41%12%18%12%
Green87%0%10%0%3%
Lab65%2%15%9%9%
LD70%13%4%9%4%
PC100%0%0%0%0%
UKIP38%25%13%13%13%
SNP100%0%0%0%0%
Responses broken down as a percentage of those questioned from each party

There was quite a lot of data to digest there, but it can be made simpler if those from the maybe, unclear and unimportant categories are ignored. It seems safe to assume that if it came to a vote, these people would be likely to at the very least follow a 50 / 50 split, or to follow the split of opinions of those in their party who have already made their views known, meaning that the overall trend in the results should still be relatively similar.

As you can see from this table, the results are fairly clear cut. With the exception of the Conservatives, in all other parties the clear majority of respondents support return of the Parthenon Sculptures – in most cases by a massive amount.

UKIP is perhaps the most erratic in their responses, with no definite trend. As with most of the other parties, there is no set party policy on the issue, but in their case, members seem more divided on whether or not they want the sculptures returned.

What is interesting is to interpolate these results to match the actual breakdown of the MPs in parliament. The breakdown of each of the parties questioned is taken as a percentage of their number of seats multiplied by their percentage of yes votes. Other parties not covered by my survey are included as zero support, although we already know from the first part of this study, that Respect (with a single MP) supports the return of the Marbles. The total number of MPs used for calculating the percentages is 650 minus the speaker (who does not vote) and minus the 5 Sinn Féin MPs (who do not take their seats in Parliament) Giving a total of 644 voting MPs. This same methodology (in terms of voting and non-voting members) is used to calculate how many seats are required for a majority in Parliament.

Interpolated outcome for a hypothetical vote in the final session of the previous parliament (2014-2015) based on a Twitter survey of PPCs - May 2015

PartyMPsAs %Yes %Aggregate 
Total62%
Con30347%30%14%
Green10%100%0%
Lab25840%97%39%
LD579%84%7%
PC30%100%0%
SNP61%100%1%
UKIP20%60%0%
Others142%0%0%

Not all parties are included in this survey and it relies on a lot of assumptions, but based on the information available, it still represents a surprising outcome, that even with the Conservatives forming the largest block in Parliament (albeit not an overall majority), 62% would support return of the Marbles. This result is notable, as it indicates that support for the issue amongst members might well be higher than the party leaders acknowledge. Bear in mind though that this result, excludes those who are undecided or gave unclear answers, on the assumption that their decision would either match that of others in their party, or not be enough to alter the overall balance.

Additional comments received

Various twitter responses included more detail in addition to the yes / no answer, and from this a number of themes emerged.

From those in support of the return of the Marbles:

  • A solution mediated by a third party (e.g. UNESCO) would be the most sensible way of overseeing a fair outcome.
  • While Parliament can take a view on the Parthenon Marbles, it is important that they also respect the independence of the British Museum.
  • The Loan to the Hermitage in St Petersburg of one of the Parthenon Sculptures weakened the British Museum’s position, both because a loan was made of one of the sculptures and because of the fact that the loan was made to a country with which Britain is not on good terms with at present.
  • That the basis for a return agreement could be the previous offers made by Greece (when Venizelos was Culture Minister) for some form of reciprocal loan of new artefacts to display in place of the Marbles.
  • The importance of context was seen – that the Marbles were intended to be displayed in a certain place and under Greek light – something that can never be replicated in London.
  • That the New Acropolis Museum strengthens Greece’s argument.
  • That the UK could keep copies of the sculptures if the originals were returned.
  • PC PPCs raised the issue of the Mold Cape as one that they see as having parallels to the Marbles, but is relevant to them.
  • That the Marbles are a part of world heritage and as a result are best located in the country where they were created.
  • That they had concerns over whether other artefacts would have to be handed back too if the Marbles returned.

Out of those that opposed the return of the sculptures, arguments raised justifying retention included:

  • The fact that the Marbles were legitimately purchased by Lord Elgin.
  • That Greece has greater problems to deal with at present.
  • That they are “happy with them where they are at the moment”.
  • That if Elgin had not taken them then they would have been destroyed.
  • That Greece would just sell them if they were returned.
  • That they are safer in the British Museum.

This analysis is not the place to try and refute these assertions, but many of these statements are factually incorrect and other articles on this website have already explained this in more detail.

Others suggest that some MPs do not really see the return of the Marbles as an issue.

Finally, I was surprised to hear from some that despite the recent loan to Russia, the presence of Amal Clooney in Athens and previous comments by both George Clooney and Stephen Fry, some said that they had never heard of the case.

Conclusions

At the level of which parties support or are against the return of the Marbles, both surveys present broadly similar results. Although the level of support indicated varies (in part due to the very different methods used in each survey), the indication is that there is support from all the major parties, with the exception of the Conservatives and possibly UKIP.

Because of the nature of both surveys, it is hard to translate the survey results to an exact level of support, although my attempts show that it may well be high enough that a majority in Parliament would be in favour of their return if an un-whipped vote was taken. Factors to consider are whether those who do not reply / do not respond to EDMs do so because they are against the issue, or because they do not have the time, or any one of many other possible reasons.

One thing that surprised me was the numbers that did not see is as an issue of importance. I put this largely down to a lack of understanding of how the other side might feel – while it is easy to be in Britain and happy with the current situation, or uncaring about it, it is harder to take this point of view if you consider how those on the other side of the argument (in this case, the citizens of Greece) feel about the situation. While we might have concerns here about the transport system or the NHS, return of the Marbles is something that relatively easily rights a historical wrong, and at the same time would show that Britain had moved on from an imperialistic viewpoint and increase our standing internationally.

The issue of understanding the other side of the argument is perhaps what produces the high level of support from Plaid Cymru and SNP PPCs. There are various relevant intra-national cases that affect both these areas, the most notable being the Mold Cape and the Lewis Chessmen, which allow them to far more easily understand how another country in a similar situation might feel than for many British MPs who are more comfortable with the status quo.

While there were some inaccuracies in the understanding of the situation by those who supported return, it was clear from the responses that the amount of misinformation within the retentionist camp is far higher. This highlights that education is key to resolving the issue – many are against restitution in large part only because their understanding of the situation is built on factual inaccuracies. No inaccuracy in the media should go unchallenged, but at the same time spurious arguments that might weaken the reunification cause should be dropped.

In a separate message endorsing the cause that I received from a former Tory councillor, I queried that his opinion was at odds with the majority in his party who I spoke to and whether there was a reason for this. He suggested that a major reason was that many people did not know the history of the case well enough.

So, to sum up, anything other than a Conservative Majority on May 7th 2015 will increase the chances for the return of the Marbles. Once the election is over, I will re-visit this Analysis, both in terms of how the breakdown of parties has changed, and in terms of how many of those questioned have become MPs both within the new Parliament and within the Government.

As a closing comment, one of the PC PPCs who I spoke to noted that: “Finders keepers should be remain a playground chant & not form part of government policy.”

Perhaps this is the simplest summary of the reasons for return of the sculptures.

Key to abbreviations used

Party names

APNI – Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
Con – Conservative
DUP – Democratic Unionist Party
Lab – Labour
LD – Liberal Democrat
PC – Plaid Cymru
SDLP – Social Democratic and Labour Party
SNP – Scottish National Party
UKIP – UK Independence Party

Other

PPC – Prospective Parliamentary Candidate
EDM – Early Day Motion

April 13, 2015

The nature of the rejection of UNESCO mediation for Marbles

Posted at 1:01 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Kwame Opoku gives his analysis on the British Museum and British Government’s rejection of mediation through UNESCO to resolve the Parthenon Marbles dispute.

A metope from the Parthenon Sculptures, currently in the British Museum

A metope from the Parthenon Sculptures, currently in the British Museum

From:
Kwame Opoku (by email)

BRITISH GOVERNMENT AND BRITISH MUSEUM REJECT GREEK REQUEST FOR UNESCO MEDIATION ON THE PARTHENON MARBLES.

Very few readers will be surprised by the negative response of the British Museum and the British Government to the Greek request for UNESCO mediation over the Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum.(1) The real surprise is that it took such  a long time, from 9 August 2913 to 26 March 2015 to send the British response. We used to think that a prompt reply or a response within a reasonable period was the hallmark of politeness.

The negative response consists of two separate letters to UNESCO, one from the British Government and the other from the British Museum. Though both letters conveyed a negative reply, it appears better, for clarity to discuss them separately. We will also see clearly the division of labour between the two British institutions that are united in the final objective but adopt different paths and style.
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April 10, 2015

UNESCO mediation rejection – what next

Posted at 1:01 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Following the rejection of mediation through UNESCO for the Parthenon Marbles issue, the question is, what happens next.

At present, Greece is awaiting the report produced by a team of lawyers who visited Athens last year, and it is unknown how much weight they will be giving to the advice that it gives.

For some, UNESCO mediation was seen as a final step – the last possible diplomatic effort to secure the return of the sculptures. There are still glimmers of hope though. Neil MacGregor has now announced he is leaving the British Museum, and there is also a British General Election coming up (I will write more on this in another post), so by the end of this year, the British side of the negotiating team may be very different to the one that we have now.

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

From:
Ethnos

NICK XYDAKIS FOR THE SCULPTURES:
The negativism is striking …
30 March 2015

Irina Bokova was to have arranged for mediation between Greece and Great Britain for the Parthenon sculptures, but the British Museum did not inform her directly, but through the Deputy Director of UNESCO.

Greece had addressed the Director General personally, seeking her active participation, prior to placing the issue of mediation before the international organisation, which she accepted. But it seems that the British Museum did not … agree.
Read the rest of this entry »

March 27, 2015

UK government rejects Parthenon Marbles UNESCO mediation

Posted at 10:56 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

In September 2013, after long deliberation, the Greek Government made the decision to invite the Britain (via UNESCO) into mediation to resolve the Parthenon Sculptures issue.

Since then, the issue of the Parthenon Marbles has risen far higher up the agenda, publicised first by George Clooney, and then the presence of his wife Amal, as a member of a team of lawyers invited to Athens to advise on potential legal action.

Most recently, the British Museum themselves pushed the case of the Marbles back into the limelight with an (arguably) ill received decision to secretly loan one of the sculptures to the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg.

All this time, despite the issue of the Parthenon Marbles making international news headlines on numerous occasions, no response to the request was forthcoming from the British Government or the British Museum, other than the fact that they were considering it and would respond in due course.

During this period, ICOMOS passed a resolution in support of the mediation request, letters were written to the Prime Minister and questions were asked in Parliament. Earlier this month, Andrew George MP tabled an Early Day motion intended to draw attention to this inaction.

Suddenly today, the British Museum published responses on their website from themselves and the British Government, that were sent to UNESCO to be forwarded on to the Greek Government.

As one might have predicted, the response was negative.

Now, maybe it just took seventeen months of careful thinking to arrive at the decision that they did not want to enter into mediation, but alarm bells are ringing regarding the timing of this. Following the 2010 General Election in the UK, the decision was made that from then on, Parliament would operate on five year fixed terms – so for the first time ever, the date of the next election was known well in advance.

Although Parliament is to be dissolved on 30th March 2015 prior to the election, it was prorogued on 26th March. What this means is that at prorogation, all parliamentary business ends, although that Parliament would still exist until dissolution.

It seems an unlikely coincidence that the date of 26th March is exactly the same one given on the top of the two letters of response to the mediation request. To me, this looks like the person who fires of an email that they know will be contentious, just before leaving the office for a two week holiday. They leave it until he last minute, hoping that someone else will deal with the fallout, or that it will be forgotten by their return.

In my day job as an architect, I have on occasion come across similar behaviour, in the context of planning application rejections. The objections were filed at the latest possible point in the process, where the other party had no time to respond, meaning that the whole process would be for an entire month until the next committee meeting. The end result of this process though, was that it was discovered that the objecting party was not being entirely honest – their awkwardly obstructive tactics merely drew attention to this fact, and in the end, it transpired that the validity of their objections was entirely cast into doubt by far greater transgressions on their own part.

I can not help noting a parallel between these two situations. If the British Government / British Museum felt that they were sitting entirely comfortable and had a strong case, why would they not respond on a timescale where the other party could reply at leisure if they so desired within the current session of Parliament? There has been more than enough time in which to do so, and the timing of this announcement merely highlights the level of awkward obstructiveness that is faced when anyone tried to actually engage the British Government or the British Museum in discussions on the issue.

I have previously highlighted the carrot and stick approach to cultural property negotiations. Like many, I was never convinced UNESCO mediation would work, as there was nothing to compel the British Museum to enter into the process. They feel that they are sitting comfortably, so why should they voluntarily enter into a procedure, the outcome of which might be that they end up significantly less comfortable? If a potential threat of legal action was also on the horizon though, then the mediation might have been perceived very differently. Suddenly, mediation would become a distinctly palatable alternative to a costly and high profile lawsuit, which could sully the name of the institution and drag on for years.

As yet, no official proposals have been made for litigation, although we know that it has been considered. Who knows whether if and when it does take place, mediation will still be available as an option. If the mediation offer is withdrawn, the British Museum / British Government might well regret not taking the offer when it was available.

All this highlights that importance of the Greek Government keeping up the pressure on Britain. The first serious attempt at negotiation may not have worked, but it should be followed up with alternative options, making sure that the UK realises that attempting to ignore the situation will not make it go away. The issue of the Marbles is one that needs to be resolved, and mealy mouthed talk of Universal Museums and denial of the existence of past loan requests is not the way to achieve this.

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

From:
British Museum

Alfredo Pérez de Armiñán
Assistant Director-General for Culture
United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation
1 Rue Miollis
75732 Paris Cedex 15
France

26 March 2015

The Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum: UNESCO mediation proposal

I write on behalf of the Trustees of the British Museum, who at their meeting of 19th March 2015 considered the request put forward by the Greek Government that they should enter into a process of mediation, facilitated by UNESCO, on the subject of the Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum. After full and careful consideration, we have decided respectfully to decline this request. We believe that the more constructive way forward, on which we have already embarked, is to collaborate directly with other museums and cultural institutions, not just in Greece but across the world.

The British Museum admires and supports the work of UNESCO, fully acknowledging the importance of its unique ability, as an intergovernmental agency, to address the serious issue of the threats to, and the destruction of, cultural heritage around the world. The Museum has a long history of collaboration with UNESCO, notably in Iraq in 2003-5, and is currently engaged with UNESCO in formulating responses to the crisis in Syria, including the illicit trafficking of antiquities. The Museum would wish always to align itself with UNESCO’s purposes in the preservation and safeguarding of the world’s endangered cultural heritage. However, the surviving Parthenon Sculptures, carefully preserved in a number of European museums, clearly do not fall into this category.

The British Museum, as you know, is not a government body, and the collections do not belong to the British Government. The Trustees of the British Museum hold them not only for the British people, but for the benefit of the world public, present and future. The Trustees have a legal and moral responsibility to preserve and maintain all the collections in their care, to treat them as inalienable and to make them accessible to world audiences.

In pursuit of this aim, the Trustees would want to develop existing good relations with colleagues and institutions in Greece, and to explore collaborative ventures, not on a government-to-government basis but directly between institutions. This is why we believe that UNESCO involvement is not the best way forward. Museums holding Greek works, whether in Greece, the UK or elsewhere in the world, are naturally united in a shared endeavour to show the importance of the legacy of ancient Greece. The British Museum is committed to playing its full part in sharing the value of that legacy for all humanity.

The potential of this approach can be seen in the British Museum’s current special exhibition Defining Beauty, the Body in Ancient Greek Art, which opened to the public today. Here some of the Parthenon Sculptures are displayed with other works that similarly show the intense humanism of ancient Greek civilisation, including masterpieces generously lent by museums around the world. Nowhere else in the world is it now, or has it ever been, possible to see these objects together. The aesthetic impact is considerable, and the intellectual content compelling. This seems to us to point the way forward, as an example of the great public benefit that arises from museums internationally using and sharing their collections in this way.

In this same spirit, the Trustees recently lent one of the Parthenon Sculptures to the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, and were pleased to learn that in only six weeks some 140,000 Russian visitors had the chance to see it there. This was a new audience for this extraordinary work of ancient Greek art, most of whom could not have visited either Athens or London. Visitor surveys revealed that the display of the sculpture was received with great interest and warm enthusiasm. After two and a half thousand years, this was Russia’s first glimpse of the splendours of fifth-century Athens that have played such a central part in shaping Russian consciousness and culture.

Such initiatives, arranged directly between the participating institutions, seem to the Trustees a natural way of building from the fact that the surviving Parthenon Sculptures are shared among a number of European collections. This means that the sculptures can already be seen in a different historical context in each museum, and the Trustees believe this to be to the great benefit of world audiences. The sculptures in London are already seen by more than six million visitors each year, free of charge.

Views on the historic distribution of the surviving Parthenon Sculptures naturally differ, though there is unanimous recognition that the original totality of the sculptural decoration cannot now be reassembled as so much has been lost, and that the surviving sculptures can never again take their place on the building. The scholars of the British Museum and of other institutions that hold Parthenon Sculptures enjoy excellent collaborative relationships with Greek museums and universities, in Athens and elsewhere. These have included collaboration on research projects, publications and exhibitions. The British Museum has routinely lent to Greece, and indeed British Museum objects are currently on loan to the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens. This demonstrates the warm relationships of mutual trust and respect that have been built up between scholars in Athens and London. The Acropolis Museum and the British Museum are both centres for Parthenon studies, and curators and colleagues from each institution have together discussed their common efforts to seek new audiences and to find new ways of interpretation.

As Trustees we attach great importance to these joint ventures, and believe that both the study of the Parthenon Sculptures and their display to the widest possible audiences illuminates not only the Classical Greek achievement but also its impact on the world. In conclusion, therefore, we would invite our colleagues in Greek museums to continue to work with us and to explore new ways of enabling the whole world to see, study and enjoy the sculptures of the Parthenon.

We are sending this letter both in English and in Greek, and are copying it to the Ministers for Culture and Europe, who are replying separately to Mr Bandarin’s letter of 9 August 2013.

Sir Richard Lambert
Chairman of the British Museum Board of Trustees

From:
British Government

26 March 2015
Alfredo Pérez de Armiñán
Assistant Director-General for Culture
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
1 Rue Miollis
75732 Paris Cedex 15
France
Dear Mr
Pérez de Armiñán,

PARTHENON SCULPTURES IN THE BRITISH MUSEUM

We are writing in response to the letter of 9 August 2013 from your predecessor, Francesco Bandarin, to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Minister for Equalities, the Foreign Secretary and the Director of the British Museum.

We would first like to express how much we value the role that UNESCO plays in helping to safeguard cultural heritage and in providing a forum for the resolution of international disputes through the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation (ICPRCP). The issue of the Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum has been the subject of much discussion over the years both within the Committee and elsewhere, and while the UK is not formally a member of the Committee, officials from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the British Museum have regularly attended and sought to assist the Committee in its work.

Mr Bandarin asked us to consider a request put forward by the Greek Government to agree to a process of mediation, facilitated by UNESCO, with a view to transferring the Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum to Greece. At the Nineteenth Session of the ICPRCP in October 2014, the UK acknowledged that UNESCO stands ready to facilitate mediation discussions and the ICPRCP adopted a recommendation that invites the parties to consider making use of the mediation process as proposed by Greece.

While we remain keen to cooperate with UNESCO in its work, the fact remains that the Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum were legally acquired by Lord Elgin under the laws pertaining at the time and the Trustees of the British Museum have had clear legal title to the sculptures since 1816. Neither the British Government nor the British Museum are aware of any new arguments to the contrary since 1985, when a formal Greek request for the return of the sculptures was turned down by the British Government. We have seen nothing to suggest that Greece’s purpose in seeking mediation on this issue is anything other than to achieve the permanent transfer of the Parthenon sculptures now in the British Museum to Greece and on terms that would deny the British Museum’s right of ownership, either in law or as a practical reality. Given our equally clear position, this leads us to conclude that mediation would not carry this debate substantially forward.

In addition to the matter of clear legal title, a further relevant factor is that the Trustees of the British Museum are prevented by law from de-accessioning objects in the Museum’s collections unless they are duplicates or unfit for retention. Successive governments have indicated their support for this important legal principle, which is in common with the legal obligations of all the UK’s major public museums and protects the integrity of the British Museum’s collections.

We acknowledge that the Greek Government has aspirations relating to the transfer of the sculptures to Greece and all of us who have had the opportunity to visit the Acropolis Museum greatly admire it. The Acropolis Museum has allowed a greater proportion of the rich collection of sculptures from the Acropolis in Athens to be exhibited than ever before, and has provided a fitting home for many of the Parthenon sculptures that have been removed from the temple in recent years.

Given the global nature of the collection held by the British Museum, the many millions of visitors who visit each year have the opportunity to understand the significance of the Parthenon sculptures in the context of world history and they can do so free of charge. While we understand the strength of contrary opinion, we think that this is something of incalculable international benefit.

In that spirit, the British Museum has a long history of friendly collaboration with colleagues in the Greek Archaeological Service and has contributed to discussions around the restoration of the Acropolis monuments. It has also worked on a project to scan elements of the surviving Parthenon sculptures in both Athens and London. The UK Government is keen that the process of mutual, bilateral cooperation that exists between the UK and Greece on cultural matters should continue to develop.

Setting aside the differences relating to the Parthenon sculptures, we believe that there is scope for further co-operation and collaboratio n between the British Museum and the Acropolis Museum in the years ahead, and we hope that this path can be pursued.

We are copying this letter to Sir Richard Lambert, Chairman of the Trustees of the British Museum, who is replying separately to Mr Bandarin’s letter.

ED VAIZEY MP
Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy

RT HON DAVID LIDINGTON MP
Minister for Europe

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 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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January 14, 2015

The Parthenon Marbles – transported or stolen?

Posted at 2:05 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Greece’s Education Ministry plans to stop using an art history book, which describes the Parthenon Marbles as having been transported to England, rather than giving more detail of how Lord Elgin removed them from the country, in circumstances of questionable legality, which are still disputed today.

It appears that in large part, the reason for making this decision now, is due to the fact that there is an upcoming general election in the country, and that the wording in this book was recently drawn to public attention by a politician from the main opposition party.

Parthenon Marbles in British Museum

Parthenon Marbles in British Museum

From:
Kathimerini (English Edition)

Wednesday Jan 14, 2015
Education Ministry to scrap schoolbook with ‘monstrous’ Marbles reference

Greece’s Education Ministry plans to scrap an art history schoolbook which was recently criticized of misrepresenting the history of the the 5th-century B.C. Parthenon Marbles, now housed in the British Museum.

Education Minister Andreas Loverdos said the book with the “monstrous reference” would no longer be used at schools as of next year, while teachers across the country had received instructions on how to correctly present the subject.
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