As negotiations between Britain and Greece over the Parthenon Marbles broke down, Evangelos Kyriakidis made an ethical somewhat than authorized argument.
What ought to museums do with antiquities taken throughout the colonial interval? This query is on the core of the rift between the Greek and British governments.
For greater than 40 years, the Greek authorities has been pushing for the return of the Parthenon Marbles. Whereas this coverage was outright rejected within the UK for a lot of that point, the final yr has seen momentum behind efforts to return the prized antiquities.
On 15 November, former Chancellor and Chairman of the British Museum George Osborne mentioned he hoped the museum “can attain an settlement with Greece.” That hope has been dashed when Prime Minister Rishi Sunak walked away from talks this week, prompting Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to precise his “annoyance”.
The Parthenon Marbles, also referred to as the Elgin Marbles, have been housed within the British Museum in London for over 200 years.
The Parthenon Marbles are a set of sculptures constructed between 447 and 438 BC that adorned the Acropolis of Athens. Between 1801 and 1812, the seventh Earl of Elgin licensed the removing of the statues and their transport to Britain. On the time, he claimed that he was legally allowed to take action by the ruling Ottoman Empire.
Final yr, UNESCO hoped to facilitate discussions between the 2 international locations relating to the return of the traditional Greek marbles. Greece has tried to get the marbles again since 1983 and Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis has made it a central a part of a number of offers with British Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Sunak.
Mitsotakis was on account of meet Sunak throughout a go to to London in the present day (28 November) to debate the Israel-Hamas struggle, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the marbles.
Nevertheless, late Monday night, Mitsotakis issued a press release “expressing his outrage at the truth that the British Prime Minister has canceled our deliberate assembly simply hours earlier than it was to happen.”
Britain confirmed the 2 leaders wouldn’t meet and mentioned Mitsotakis would as a substitute maintain talks with Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden. The BBC experiences that the Greek chief had declined the invitation.
“Greece and Britain are certain by conventional bonds of friendship and the scope of our bilateral relations may be very broad,” Mitsotakis mentioned.
“Greece’s place on the matter of the Parthenon statues is well-known. I hoped that I’d have the chance to debate with my British counterpart the present main worldwide challenges: Gaza, Ukraine, local weather change and migration.
“Anybody who believes that his place is nicely based and justified has by no means been afraid to interact in debate.”
Sunak’s workplace issued a press release which didn’t point out the statues in query, whereas saying “UK-Greece relations are extraordinarily necessary”.
ethical argument, not authorized
Evangelos Kyriakidis, director of The Heritage Administration Group and former senior lecturer in Aegean Prehistory on the College of Kent, believes museums have to look past authorized arguments.
“The British Museum says there is no such thing as a authorized argument, and I don’t suppose that’s true. However I don’t need to get into the authorized debate as a result of I feel the ethical argument is stronger,” he says.
Kyriakidis argues that the rationale the Parthenon Marbles are an necessary level for Greece is that it’s not simply an necessary monument, it’s a nationwide image.
“That is sovereignty. It’s utterly fallacious to have the Greek nationwide image in a museum referred to as the British Museum. It’s just like the Crown Jewels had been in Greece,” he says.
In Kyriakidis’s thoughts, harboring a significant nationwide image is the elemental cause why the British Museum is an anachronistic establishment. “The British Museum portrays itself as a world museum, nevertheless it offers utterly the fallacious message to the world. Why would you name it a British Museum the place you primarily study Persia or Greece, however there’s barely any room for British antiquities. “It’s a relic of the colonial period.”
There are three important issues usually raised by folks when defending the British Museum’s proper to maintain antiquities from different cultures, such because the Parthenon Marbles. 1) the unique international locations usually are not in a position to hold the artifacts, 2) if they begin giving some issues again, they must give all the things again and be left with nothing, and three) the British Museum is a superb place for folks to go to. Come at no cost to study world historical past.
Kyriakidis believes there’s a good argument towards every of those factors. “It’s true that Iraq doesn’t but have a very good museum to deal with its antiquities. This will likely occur sooner or later, however not for the time being. However Greece does. There’s a purpose-built museum in Greece.
“One other argument is the avalanche impact. If they provide us again the Parthenon Marbles, Italy begins asking for this, Iran begins asking for that, and so forth,” Kyriakidis explains. However this logic doesn’t maintain true when you think about that Greece solely needs the Parthenon Marbles again. Is asking for all his antiques.
“The British Museum really comprises sculptural parts from one other World Heritage Web site in Greece. The Temple of Apollo Epicorios at Bassae is the primary temple constructed by the identical architect because the Parthenon and is within the British Museum,” Kyriakidis says.
A future for the British Museum
Kiriakidis says the British Museum’s third worry, that they’d lose their free middle of schooling in London, has additionally been resolved by a doable answer.
What if, as a substitute of storing antiquities from its colonial previous, the British Museum established open hyperlinks with different international locations, opening up the opportunity of fascinating short-term exhibitions.
The British Museum was initially constructed across the room the place the Parthenon Marbles are saved. “How can we use it as an exhibition house for a short lived show of antiquities that Greece can ship to Britain?” Kyriakidis suggests. “Then the British Museum may present extra of Greek tradition with out holding antiquities hostage.
The chances for trade then grow to be virtually limitless, with the museum having the ability to often change what it exhibits by collaborating with different governments. It’s also a possible cash maker, as proven by the way in which the Victoria and Albert Museum generates cash by broadcasting greater than 30 exhibitions world wide.
For Kyriakidis, it’s an academic and diplomatic alternative. For British youngsters who used to go to the museum a number of occasions a yr, there’ll now be a cause to go to the museum a number of occasions a yr.
“It is also used as a grand gesture to the Greek folks for public diplomacy,” Kyriakidis suggests, noting that Most Britons are additionally in favor of this To return the marbles.
Traditionally, the British authorities has shied away from the problem, claiming that it’s depending on the British Museum as an impartial organisation. “This troubles Greece quite a bit,” Kyriakidis says.
“Everyone knows that the British Museum will get funding from the British authorities. That funding comes with sure circumstances,” says Kyriakidis. “So, sure, the British Museum is finally impartial. However so long as the museum accepts authorities funding, the museum has to take into consideration the federal government’s choices.”
Kiriakidis fears that the longer the federal government waits, the much less possible an exquisite alternative to share the antiquities will come up. “There are committees for the return of the marbles in 25 international locations. The Australian authorities requested Britain to return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece. American politicians have additionally carried out this.
“It’s not nearly Greece and Britain,” Kyriakidis says. “This can be an enormous optimistic sign for the remainder of the world.”