As Lockdowns Ease in Europe, Greece’s Culture Minister Again Puts the Squeeze on London to Return the Parthenon Marbles

Greek officials are coordinating with proponents for restitution to put pressure on the British Museum.

Part of the Parthenon Marbles at the British Museum. Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images.
Part of the Parthenon Marbles at the British Museum. Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images.

In a television interview on Friday, May 22, Greece’s Culture Minister Lina Mendoni reiterated calls for the British Museum to return the Parthenon Marbles. The renewed pressure for London to reunite the 2,500-year-old sculptures in Greece comes after a letter urged politicians and proponents to launch a coordinated effort to lobby the institution for repatriation. It also comes as Greece, aiming to restart its struggling economy, plans to open up certain vacation spots to tourists—and the country’s vital tourism industry—in mid-June.

“Without the supreme symbol of culture, the Parthenon, Western civilisation cannot exist, and this symbol deserves to be reunited with its expatriate sculptures,” Mendoni said during an interview with STAR TV.

The Greek government was seemingly emboldened in its demands after receiving a letter from the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures on May 21, marking the International Day of World Culture. The letter proposed putting a coordinated pressure on the British Museum to lobby for the marbles’ return, according to Le Journal des Arts.

In the televised interview, the minister said she hopes that the UK institution, which is currently closed to the public due to the ongoing lockdown in the UK, will reconsider its position ahead of the Acropolis Museum’s 11th birthday on June 20. “Does [the British Museum] want to be a museum that meets and will continue to meet modern requirements and speak to the soul of the people, or will it remain a colonial museum which intends to hold treasures of world cultural heritage that do not belong to it?” she asked.

For generations, Greek officials have been calling for the return of the ancient sculptures that were removed by Lord Elgin and brought to the British Museum in 1816. In recent years, the scales of public opinion have tipped in favor of restitution: a survey from 2018 on the issue conducted by the UK government found that 56 percent of respondents thought that the marbles should be returned to Greece.

Next year marks the 200th anniversary of Greek independence. Last fall, Greece’s prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis made a request to the UK government to loan the marbles in exchange for other Greek antiquities. The British Museum is reportedly considering the request.

Greece is planning to weave contemporary culture into its historical sites throughout 2020 with a new program called “All of Greece, one Culture” that is set to begin in July and include more than 250 events and performances across 111 archaeological sites and museums in the nation.

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