ATHENS: Greece will step up its campaign for the return of the Parthenon Marbles from Britain, the Greek culture minister has said, and expects to win more support from European peers as British influence wanes after Brexit.
Since independence in 1832, Greece has repeatedly called for the return of the 2,500-year-old sculptures that British diplomat Lord Elgin removed from Athens’ Parthenon temple in the early 20th century.
London’s British Museum has refused to return the sculptures - roughly half of the 160-meter frieze that adorned the fifth-century B.C. monument - saying they were acquired by Elgin under a legal contract with the Ottoman Empire. Greece says they were stolen.
“It is the mentality that has changed, the fact that Britain is distancing itself from the European family,” Culture Minister Lina Mendoni told Reuters recently. “It is 200 years since the Greek revolution. I think the right conditions have been created for their permanent return.”
Britain left the EU on Jan. 31. Greece plans cultural events throughout 2021 to mark 200 years since the start of its revolt against Ottoman rule.
The British Museum has said “the sculptures are part of everyone’s shared heritage and transcend cultural boundaries.”
The museum also used to argue for years that Athens lacked a suitable place to preserve the marbles. Greece says that approach smacks of an antiquated and colonialist approach of displaying “trophies” from expeditions overseas.
Greece stepped up its campaign for their return after opening a new museum in 2009 at the foot of the Acropolis hill, which holds the sculptures that Elgin left behind alongside plaster casts of the missing pieces. The modern glass and concrete building’s windows reflect images of the Parthenon.
Mendoni said Greece would never give up the campaign for the marbles’ return, accusing Elgin of being nothing short of a thief.
“Motivated by financial gain, publicity and self-promotion,” she said, “Elgin deployed illegal and untoward measures to extract from Greece the sculptures of the Parthenon and a plethora of other antiquities in a blatant act of serial theft.”