June 13, 2012

Stephen Fry convinces the public that returning the Elgin Marbles would be the right thing to do

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

More coverage of the Intelligence Squared debate on the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles held at Cadogan Hall last Monday. The London Bytes blog also has a good writeup of the event.


Stephen Fry steals show, and Greek hearts, in Parthenon marbles debate
A talk in London about whether the British Museum should return the sculptures was screened live to an audience in Athens
Posted by
Lizzy Davies
Tuesday 12 June 2012 15.00 BST

They came in their Athenian finery, filing patiently into the low-lit auditorium and waiting to hear a message of hope. Its deliverer: a man who until recently was unknown to them but who is now regarded as something of a hero; a saviour of the Greek people in the face of foreign meddling and arrogance; a man who has come to their rescue in troubled times to fight for Hellenic pride.

No, restrain yourselves; it wasn’t Syriza’s Alexis Tsipras. The man they had come to see was one Stephen Fry, and the issue at stake was the future of the Parthenon marbles, currently held by the British Museum.

Monday night’s debate at Cadogan Hall in London, organised by Intelligence Squared and entitled Send Them Back: the Parthenon marbles should be returned to Athens, was also screened live at the Acropolis Museum in Greece before a rapt audience who vigorously applauded Fry’s declaration that the it would be “an act of the supremest class” for Britain to return the sculptures which have resided in London for nearly 200 years.

Conversely, there was much huffing at Labour MP Tristram Hunt’s argument from the other side that “the people of Greece should have intense pride that their Parthenon marbles sit in the British Museum today.” Similarly, an assertion by the historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto that “modern Greece is not a continuation of ancient Greece” did not go down well.

The Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George sounded the right notes in his appeal to Britain’s “better instincts”, arguing that a return of the marbles “pillaged from an occupied country” by Lord Elgin would simply be “the right thing to do”.

But it was a Socrates-invoking, Byron-quoting Fry who stole the show, and with it Hellenic hearts. He wanted, he said, to see the Parthenon structures “in the blue light of Greece”. For those around me, it was a winning strategy. When, at the end of the night, it was announced that the Athens audience voted 93% in favour of restitution, the only surprise was that 7% had not.

“It’s an emotional issue not only a logical issue,” explained one young man called Dimitris.

But are there not more important things for us to be worrying about right now? The debt crisis, political extremism, the return of the drachma, to name but a few?

Cambridge graduate Stefania Xydia, 25, put me right, explaining that, with the economic crisis having dealt a heavy blow to Greece’s cultural and political pride, the debate about the marbles had become “more pertinent than ever”.

“It’s a matter of pride,” she said. “And we have been so ridiculed and degraded that this would really help.”

Left Foot Forward

Stephen Fry: “Let’s be a classy country” and return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece

Published by Katie Stanton, June 12th 2012 at 8:00 am

Actor and writer Stephen Fry has declared his support for returning the Parthenon Marbles to Greece, a country he says is in “dire need” of our friendship and the tourism boost.

National treasure Stephen Fry was speaking at a debate on the fate of the Greek sculptures hosted by Intelligence Squared. He said:

“Let’s be a classy country and return the marbles to Greece. We would be admired by the rest of the world, offering friendship to a country in dire need.

In Greece, there are men queuing up for food and when the cameras are turned on them, they turn away because they are so ashamed.

If we can do this one thing for the poor people of Greece, if we can just help their tourism and make a story out of this.

Until we return the marbles – regardless of how much their debt crisis means they owe us – we will never be able to repay the debt that we owe Greece.“

The Parthenon marbles, currently on display at the British museum, were once part of the Parthenon temple situated on the Acropolis of Athens.

Thomas Bruce, 7th earl of Elgin, received permission to remove parts of the Parthenon while serving as British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Some historians believe that Elgin legally took the sculptures while others argue they should be returned to Athens.

Fry added:

“How classy would it be to put a film in the place of the marbles, showing how our heads of government decided to replicate the marbles and then have them returned to where they were quarried?”

Joining Stephen Fry at the debate yesterday evening were Labour MP Tristram Hunt, Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George and Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, professor of History at the University of Notre Dame.

Tristram Hunt was against returning the sculptures to Greece, saying:

“The people of Greece should have intense pride that the marbles are in London. [Returning them] will start us down a slippery slope that will purge our museums of cosmopolitan sensibility… The Ethiopian tablets and Rosetta Stone will have to be returned. It will be a global loss of learning.”

An audience poll taken before the event asking ‘Should the marbles be returned to Greece?’, showed 196 voted for, 202 against and 158 didn’t know. A second poll taken after the debate showed a majority of 384 voting in favour of returning the marbles, with 125 voting against and only 24 audience members voting don’t know.

Andrew George MP

Parthenon marbles debate
June 12, 2012 By Andrew George MP

Andrew George MP has welcomed the result of a debate held in London last night to discuss the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece.

Mr George, who chairs Marbles Reunited, was invited to take part in the event by actor Stephen Fry and he said he was delighted with the outcome which ended with a majority for the motion that they be returned to Greece of 384 to 125.

Prior to the debate, which was hosted by Intelligence Squared and chaired by the television and radio broadcaster, Zeinab Badawi, 196 were in favour of the marbles being returned and 202 were against.

Mr George said: “It was a good natured and fair debate in which the issues were very well aired and the audience itself were extremely well informed.

“It was a privilege to be asked by Stephen to join him in the debate and it is reassuring that when people hear the issues and understand what we are calling for, our reasonable and modest request gathers support.”

The opponents to the motion were Professor Tristram Hunt MP – Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central and Professor Felipe Fernandez-Armesto – History Professor at Notre Dame University.

The Parthenon Marbles were taken from Athens in 1802 by Lord Elgin and have since 1816 been the property of the British Government and have been on show in the British Museum.

Kathimerini (English Edition)

Subject: Letter to the Editor

The BBC Intelligence Squared debate on Monday night in London highlighted that the return of the Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum to their rightful Athenian birthplace is long overdue. The winning team, led by Stephen Fry and Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George, triumphed in its case for the restitution of the marbles to the new Acropolis Museum in Athens, by a margin of 384-125 votes, never ceasing to argue with reason and logic. Whilst the marbles were obtained by British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Lord Elgin, with a license issued by the Ottomans, Greece was under occupation at this time — an age of institutionalised and systematised pillaging and exploitation of sources of Hellenistic and Byzantine history, culture and civilisation.

Whilst the British Museum has hidden itself under the guise of protecting these highly-valued artefacts as Greece has been unable to do so in its modern history of Ottoman occupation, Balkan, First and Second World Wars, civil war, military dictatorship and underdevelopment, it is clear that its permanent claim over these prized Greek possessions is now untenable. Despite the headlines, Greece has developed enormously under its European Union membership; it has realised its 30-year dream of constructing the New Acropolis Museum, voted in 2010 the best in the world by Britain’s own journalists and tourist authors, with the Parthenon Gallery dedicated to the marbles’ restitution, and; Athens has become the modern city it is destined to be, with world-class airport, road and rail infrastructure, a rejuvenated tourism sector since the Olympics and with a population vying for recognition and inspiration of what once made and still can make Greece such a powerful contributor to our world. The tide is certainly turning against the British Museum. Greece has achieved similar restitutions from Germany, Italy, Sweden and even LA’s J. Paul Getty Museum. In London’s year of spotlight, it would be “classy,” as Stephen Fry says, to return the marbles, as a matter of “decency” in reflecting the truly diverse and malleable spirit to which the British Museum aspires.

Denying Greece of such a cultural right would be to deny Greece’s growth and development as a country from the 1800s; the positions of Fry and the audience of the debate prove that Britons have progressed. Surely the British Museum can reflect its own people’s development from its colonialist era of an ambassador prizing chiselled marbles from a once-occupied and oppressed cradle of democracy.

Jiannis Tsaousis
Melbourne, Australia

Greek Reporter

Motion to return the Elgin Marbles wins majority in a debate
By Spyros Kouvoussis on June 12, 2012

In a debate hosted by Intelligence Squared in London, the motion made by actor Stephen Fry to return the Elgin Marbles to Athens won by a vote of 384 to 125. Intelligence Squared is a London-based forum which organizes debates on a number of issues from politics and society to culture and arts.

Last night it hosted a debate on whether to return the Elgin Marbles to Athens or not. On the one side was Tristram Hunt (Labour MP) claiming that the Marbles should not return. His main arguments were that the Marbles are more protected in the British Museum and that a visitor in the British Museum can see with one visit many different cultures and civilizations. He also pointed out that if the Marbles return that would boost other countries with rich civilizations to ask their own artifacts be returned, making them less accessible to tourists. Also, he insisted that Greeks should feel proud for the fact that the Marbles are accessible to millions of tourists who can see them along with artifacts from other cultures. On the other hand, Stephen Fry claimed that although Greece owes a lot to Britain due to the debt crisis “we will never repay the debt that we owe Greece.” He also argued that giving back the Elgin Marbles to Greece, especially now that Greece has built its own Archaeological Museum “would be an act of grace and dignity.” He said it would be “classy” if future visitors to the British Museum could see a “Parthenon experience” including a film showing how Britain had curated the marbles for 200 years and then handed them over to the Athens Acropolis Museum. Andrew George, a Liberal-Democrat MP, also pointed out that wonderful work to preserve the Elgin Marbles has been done by the British Museum, but it is now time to return them to Greece. He also pointed out that there is no serious argument to contend that what Elgin did was perfectly legal as Greece was occupied by the Ottoman Empire when Elgin removed the Marbles.

Although this debate will have no official effect on the Museum’s policy, it is a very interesting point that returning the Marbles has started gaining support in the general public of Britain.
(Source: BBC, Intelligence Squared)

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