Greece has been asking the UK for decades to return marble pieces and sculptures from the Parthenon and Athens Acropolis. The dispute is old, but the solution may finally be in sight. The president of the British Museum in London said he was open to an agreement on the partial return of the pieces.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, Greece has officially demanded the return of a 75meter high frieze that was taken down from the Parthenon and brought to the English capital. The Mediterranean country still wants one of the marble caryatids that supported a small temple on the Acropolis of Athens, which is kept as one of the British Museum’s treasures.
The UK has always refused to provide a refund, as the pieces were acquired legally, through a purchase in 1802 by the British diplomat Lord Elgin, who resold the pieces to the museum. However, Greece claims that the pieces were looted during the Ottoman occupation of its territory.
The matter came up again in March when the British Museum was sued for preventing the marble pieces from being 3D scanned. The Oxford Institute of Digital Archeology intended to create a threedimensional version of the Greek pieces to expand access to the material and resolve the imbroglio between Athens and London, the institute’s director told the Guardian newspaper.
In April, Boris Johnson’s government even said it would open negotiations with the Greek government before UNESCO. However, the government backed down, saying that such a decision was up to the museum.
This week, the President of the British Museum issued a statement showing its willingness to resolve the issue. In an interview with LBC Radio, George Osborne said he was open to an agreement to share the pieces.
“I believe that if we discuss this situation without too many preconditions or obstacles, an agreement to tell her story simultaneously in Athens and in London is possible,” he said.
When asked if it was possible to exhibit the pieces in Greece for a while and later bring them back to London, he explained that these kinds of negotiations were possible. “Something that allows you to see them in all their glory in Athens and see them as examples for other civilizations in London,” he explained.
Public opinion in the UK is overwhelmingly in favor of repatriating the parts. A recent survey by Britain’s Yougov Institute shows that 59% of respondents believe the pieces should be repatriated. Eight years ago, the proportion of the population that supports the restitution of works was only 37%.
Pressure has grown on European cultural institutions to return pieces that were taken from their countries during colonial times. In 2021, Cambridge University returned a bronze work to Nigeria that had been looted from the country about a century ago.
The British Museum, which is lined with ancient pieces from civilizations around the world, has so far refused to discuss the restitution of works.