January 14, 2004

Athens Olympics may hasten resolution of Elgin Marbles return

Posted at 2:35 pm in Elgin Marbles, Marbles Reunited

Campaigners suggest that the Olympics in Athens later this year may well act as a catalyst to help speed the return of the Elgin Marbles to Greece.


Games may force move on Elgin Marbles
Wed 14 January, 2004 18:06
By Peter Apps

LONDON (Reuters) – This summer’s Olympics in Athens will deliver a huge boost to efforts to persuade Britain to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece, campaigners say.

Public support in Britain for the sculptures to be returned is growing anyway, a poll showed this week, and August’s games can only intensify the pressure at a time when Britain is also aiming to gain support for its own Olympic bid.

“Everyone feels that this is a rather decisive moment,” said campaign spokesman Professor Anthony Snodgrass on Wednesday. “The time is right to reunite the marbles.”

Public pressure alone could force the return of the marbles, which have spent almost 200 years in London after being removed from the Parthenon temple in Athens, they said.

But other campaigners thought it would take longer for a decision to be made, despite a poll which showed eight in ten of the public supported returning the marbles.

“I think there is a very good chance the government will shift on this,” campaigner Chris Price told Reuters. “I’m sure it will happen in the next five to 10 years.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said the government’s position had not changed, and that it remained a matter for the British Museum.

The Greek government was willing to allow the sculptures to remain British Museum property and for British Museum staff to look after them, campaigners said. In return, a range of Greek artefacts never before seen in this country could be loaned to the British Museum.

The museum said its trustees had a duty to hold objects “to secure maximum public benefit”, and that the Greek government was not simply asking for a return of the marbles for the Olympic games alone.

“Their aim has always been the perpetual removal of all the fragments now in London,” a statement said. “This absolute position makes it virtually impossible for trustees to have serious discussions given their…responsibilities.”

A survey commissioned to mark the launch of the campaign “Marbles Reunited” showed that 77 percent of Britons believed that the British Museum, which currently houses the marbles, should make some commitment on the issue this year.

Half of the surviving Parthenon marbles remained in Greece, with parts of the same statue split between London and Athens, ex-foreign secretary Robin Cook said. He compared them to the statue of Lord Nelson in Trafalgar Square.

“It’s as though someone hacked off Nelson’s head and we were left with the stomach and the legs,” he said. “That’s exactly what’s happened with some of these statues.”

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