July 16, 2012

Could legal action form a solution to the Parthenon Sculptures dispute?

Posted at 1:08 pm in Elgin Marbles

More coverage of the discussions over the merits of using legal action to expedite the resolution of the long running dispute between Greece & the UK over the Elgin Marbles.

BBC News

21 June 2012 Last updated at 02:42
To sue or not to sue? Parthenon Marbles activists debate
By Trevor Timpson BBC News

Activists from around the world seeking the return of the Parthenon sculptures to Athens have met in London to discuss their strategy as Greece faces troubled times.

“The Olympics are a four-yearly reminder to the world of all we owe to Greece,” said former MP Eddie O’Hara – who chairs the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles.

The meeting, he added, “ought to remind people in London and throughout the world that there’s one debt to Greece that will never be repaid until those sculptures in the British Museum are returned.”

But he said there was a “hiatus” in the campaign because economic woes meant not much action could be expected from the Greek authorities.
‘No excuse’

All agreed they should continue to work to inform public opinion, especially in Britain, to encourage the UK government and British Museum to return the sculptures. But there were differing views on what more was needed.

“There is no excuse,” said Emanuel Comino, head of the Australian committee for the Restitution of the Marbles, for the British and Greek governments not getting together to discuss demands for the sculptures held in London to be reunited with those still in Athens.

However, Whitehall insists the dispute is a matter for the British Museum, which it says is independent.

And the museum says its Parthenon sculptures, displayed in the same building as relics of so many other civilisations, are “an important representation of ancient Athenian civilisation in the context of world history.”

Those at the meeting were divided on whether the Greeks should step up pressure on Britain by pursuing their claim in court.

“I want to see the Marbles of the Parthenon reunited, not because of some legal argument but because culturally and ethically it’s the right thing to do,” said Mr O’Hara.

But Michael Reppas, who chairs the American Committee for the Reunification of the Marbles, said litigation should not be ruled out. “I absolutely don’t believe it’s a foregone conclusion that the issue will be unsuccessful for the Greeks.”

The prospect of a court battle raises the pace and “stirs people and makes people act,” he said.

Most thought a claim would have to be pursued in England – but other venues were possible, Mr Reppas told BBC News, such as Athens or the United States.

Some thought Greece could not be expected to enter such a battle – but Mr Reppas thought it could be “a great morale booster for the Greek people right now”.

Former MP Andrew Dismore said a challenge now to the British Museum’s right to have acquired the marbles in 1816 faced insurmountable obstacles.

A court battle would be an “expensive and time-consuming sideshow”, and losing it would do major damage to the campaign to send the Marbles back, Mr Dismore told the meeting.

He believed an act of parliament could overcome the legal restrictions which the British Museum cites as preventing it from disposing of the sculptures. All that was lacking was political will.

Greek-South African human rights advocate – and lawyer to Nelson Mandela – George Bizos said “we should try to increase the number of our friends” in parliament, the universities and schools, and the media, until the British said “Let’s come to terms”.

“But the threat of litigation cannot be set aside altogether,” he said.

If there were a court case the Greeks might lose, he said, but the evidence would prove the House of Commons was “taken for a ride” when it decided in the 19th century that British envoy Lord Elgin was the legitimate owner of the Marbles which he had removed from the Acropolis and shipped to the UK.

This point was reinforced by archaeologist Dr Elena Korka who told of correspondence between Lord Elgin and his successor.

The letters indicate that “There was no legality whatsoever in Elgin’s acquisition of the Marbles and he knew it well,” she said.

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  1. DR.KWAME OPOKU said,

    07.16.12 at 6:59 pm

    In such a case, the possibility of a legal action should not be a priori ruled out but it would be better for all sides to solve the issue through negotiations. It is clear that Lord Elgin had no legal right to cart away the sculptures as he did. It is remarkable that no one has ever seen the original Turkish document (firman) on which his right is allegedly based. Only an Italian translation of the original has been seen. How do we know that the Italian text corresponds to the original?

  2. Steve Kay said,

    07.18.12 at 4:25 pm

    It is perfectly clear that Lord Elgin must have had and could only have had the full permission and cooperation of the governing bodies in Athens to openly “cart away the sculptures” and ship them out of Athens in full view of all and sundry over an extended period of years.

  3. Antonis Deves said,

    08.22.12 at 3:03 pm

    Negotiations to come to terms has always been the most favorable way to settle a dispute. In the case of the Parthenon Marbles though negotiations have been tried and failed simply because the BM and the BG have turn it in to a funny game. The only way the Marbles can be returned is by choking pressure that will leave these two entities without a choice. That is a universal, peaceful demonstration outside the parliament and the BM DEMANDING the marbles back at once or a unified law suit attacking both entities at once. The Marbles were removed at a time Hellas was at war with Turkey. The Hellenic Revolution had already started in Peloponnese when Bruce was stripping the Parthenon. It is a reason that his side kicks did not spend more time than they did in Morea causing more damage than what they did. Thomas’ Bruce act was a crime of war. Despite the public opinion of the British nation and the rest of the world I have serious doubts that the BM and the BG will ever display the dignity that is required for an act of honor and return the Marbles to Athens. I would love to be surprised but for the time being I say SUE THEM!!!

  4. Antonis Deves said,

    08.22.12 at 3:28 pm

    In addition to my comments stated above, I would like to add that the fact that several members of all the global organizations supporting the return of the articrafts to Athens are world-class lawyers makes litigation a more fisible choice. In addition, I would like to believe that these gentlemen will provide their services for minimal fees if any. Constructing a multi sided attack with several law suits filed at once against the BM and the BG will certainly make reconsider and most likely will change their arrogant attitude instantaneously. They will be unable to ignore this issue any longer and I am certain (specifically the BM) that the burden of the necessary funds to face and counterattack these law suits will force them to reconsider and finally come to negotiations. The stirring in public media that the BM will face being formally the defendant in global law suit for plagiarism, war crimes, theft, fraudulence of documents etc will be something that they can’t ignore. As far as I am concerned instead of only contributing my electronic vote to several web sited that support the cause I would not mind at all to contribute funds for the cause as well.

  5. Antonis Deves said,

    08.22.12 at 3:41 pm

    In response to Mr. Steve Kay’s comment: All the articles and books that I have study concerning the Elgin story in Athens refer to a mystified firman that has never been produced as original document but only in an Italian translation (why Italian by the way?) and a ton of confessed bribes to the Turks from Elgin’s side kicks. For reference to the authenticity of the firman please refer to Dr. Rudenstein’s research.

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