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Decision on Parthenon Marbles should be based on the will of the British People

Greek Culture Minister, Evangelos Venizelos, says that the return of the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece is the will of the British People. He is in the UK on a mission to promote the case for the return of the statues, currently housed in the British Museum.

BBC News [1]

Tuesday, 12 November, 2002, 17:14 GMT
Minister puts case for Marbles return

The Greek culture minister has said the British people want the Elgin marbles to be returned to Greece.

Evangelos Venizelos is in London to introduce Greece’s first official proposal to return the marbles to their home and will meet the UK’s Culture Minister Tessa Jowell.

On Monday, Professor Venizelos met with the director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, who refused to hand the marbles back to Greece.

The marbles, ancient sculptures which once adorned the Parthenon in Athens, have been held in the British Museum since 1811.

“The trustees position is that the Marbles are an integral part of the British Museum and they cannot be leant without damaging the Museum’s role,” MacGregor said.

“There is no question of putting it back on the Parthenon, you can’t recover what’s lost, so you can’t actually recreate the integrity of the Parthenon as a work of art.”


Ahead of his meeting with Ms Jowell, Professor Venizelos held a press conference in London saying he believed British people wanted the marbles returned to Greece.

Greece is proposing exhibiting the marbles in a new Acropolis gallery, so they could be seen next to their original home.

In return the British Museum would be loaned other Greek treasures on a “rolling loan basis”.

“Our proposal is not just a concession because we have the official contact with the British Museum but simultaneously we have a direct contact with wider British public opinion,” he said.

“Finally the decision belongs to the public opinion – this is the most important democratic principle.”


He said the Greek government wanted to “co-operate with the British Museum” over the display in the new Acropolis facility.

The Acropolis Museum is currently being built and is expected to be finished in time for the Olympic Games in 2004.

Professor Venizelos says that a recent poll held by British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles suggested the majority of the British public wanted to see them return home.

But opponents say the marbles may not be stored in ideal conditions back in Greece.

One in four of the people polled said they would support the sculptures going back to Greece, but only if they were exhibited properly.

The British Museum believes it is the most suitable building in Europe for the marbles to be held in.

Professor Venizelos, however, has claimed that the only place for the sculptures to be viewed in their original context is at the Acropolis.

Guardian [2]

Museum sinks hope of marbles deal
Greek culture minister fobbed off with tea but no sympathy
Fiachra Gibbons, arts correspondent
Wednesday November 13, 2002

He came, he was given a cup of tea, and yesterday Evangelos Venizelos, the Greek minister of culture who wants the Parthenon marbles back in time for the 2004 Olympics, returned to Athens bearing an ancient piece of broken masonry.

Unfortunately, a 5th century BC sculpture he carried back from his “historic” visit never adorned the top of the Parthenon.

Instead it was a headstone stolen from Thebes museum that had somehow turned up in London. The choice of gift from Britain could not have been more symbolic.

For after making the biggest concessions in the three-decades-long cultural cold war over the marbles, the Greeks great hope of making a breakthrough were effectively buried again yesterday.

In a friendly but nonetheless firm statement, the British Museum’s director, Neil MacGregor, said that since the marbles were among a “select group of key objects which are indispensable to the museum’s core function to tell the story of human civilisation, the sculptures cannot be lent to any museum, in Greece or elsewhere”.

The very fact that Mr MacGregor had been willing to meet the minister – the first director of the museum to do so – had been interpreted by the Greeks as a sign that glacial indifference their protests had been met with in the past was over, and the British Museum might be willing to do a deal.

In a historic attempt to compromise, Professor Venizelos dropped all claims to repatriate the treasures, and insisted that the issue of ownership of the marbles was no longer of the “utmost significance”.

He even offered the British Museum a share of the gallery being built at the foot of the Acropolis to accommodate the Greek-owned half of the surviving marbles as a sweetener for a long-term loan.

The clarity of the British Museum’s statement seems to rule out any even short-term loan of the figures, which were bought by Lord Elgin in the most murky of circumstances while Greece was still part of the Ottoman empire.

Greek commentators are angry that the statement setting out the reasons for the museum’s refusal was handed out even before the minister could put his case in person.

But the bullish Prof Venizelos, the man responsible for preparing Greece for the Olympics, the biggest construction project undertaken there since the days of the classical architect Deinocrates, attempted to put a more positive spin on events.

He insisted that his was not a wasted visit. “We have applied pressure. A Mori poll has shown that a big majority of the British people would like the marbles to be put on dis play in Athens, and we have begun a dialogue between the British Museum and the New Acropolis Museum.”

Nonetheless, last night he went over Mr MacGregor’s head to appeal directly to the prime minister, Tony Blair, saying it would be a shame if museum opened and “we were obliged to promote the dismemberment of the marbles” instead of celebrating their symbolic return. Although work on the sensitive archeological site on which the museum is being built has only just started, Prof Venizelos said the first-floor gallery built to house the marbles would be opened before the Olympics.

Associated Press [3]

U.K. to Decide on Elgin Marbles
The Associated Press

LONDON (AP) – The British people should decide whether the Parthenon marbles are returned to Greece, the Greek culture minister said.

“Finally the decision belongs to the public opinion – this is the most important democratic principle,” said Evangelos Venizelos, who was in London Tuesday presenting the Greek government’s proposals for the return of the ancient sculptures.

Greece has long sought – and Britain long resisted – the return of the marbles, a 160-yard frieze consisting of 17 figures that once decorated the Parthenon.

On Monday, Greece offered to lend antiquities to the British Museum in exchange for the marbles, which the Greek government wants returned in time for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

But British Museum director Neil MacGregor said the friezes would not leave the country.

“The trustees’ position is that the marbles are an integral part of the British Museum and they cannot be lent without damaging the museum’s role,” he said.

Greece proposes to build a new Acropolis gallery in Athens where the treasures could be displayed – on permanent loan – alongside the building they originally adorned.

The British Museum acquired the marbles in 1811 from Lord Elgin, British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.