Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Not Even the Small Bits

The British Museum has once again reiterated that they would consider loaning the Parthenon Marbles it has, but that "Greece can forget about their return". This was in the context of a recent announcement that it was ready to discuss return of some of the marble pieces:
New Acropolis Museum Director Demetrios Pantermalis said on Aug. 23 that at a UNESCO meeting in June he had suggested the return of small fragments from the famous Parthenon Marbles to Greece, and that talks would be held in Athens in the coming weeks. “I proposed an arrangement to colleagues from the British Museum, involving pieces – hands, heads, legs – that belong to bodies from the Parthenon sculptures and can be reattached,” Pantermalis told SKAI Radio. “The proposal has been accepted in principle, we will have a discussion in the autumn,” he said. British Museum officials denied it, saying they had agreed only to “explore” a research partnership on the detached fragments of the Parthenon sculptures in Athens, London and elsewhere. [...] "The trustees of the British Museum will consider – subject to the usual considerations of condition and fitness to travel — any request for any part of the collection to be borrowed and then returned,” it said.
The British Museum has consistently rejected successive Greek calls for the return of the Marbles ripped off the building in 1801 to 1812, arguing that the sculptures "are part of world heritage and are more accessible to visitors in London". British Museum spokeswoman Hannah Boulton in 2009 said that "the museum would consider loaning the Marbles to Greece for three months on condition that Athens recognize the museum’s ownership rights to the sculptures". Three MONTHS? That would hardly be worth the packing, cost of transport and insurance would it? What "ownership rights" would those be?

I wonder whether on a par with the finders' rewards the museums of Britain pay artefact hunters, full market value, in order to establish those "owners' rights" the Museum would be willing to pay the Greek government the full market value of every single fragment of the Parthenon Marbles it intends to keep as long as possible. How much would a single Parthenon Metope with good collecting history going back to 1801 to 1812 be worth if it came onto the open market individually? Can Britain afford to pay the actual cost of what it has in effect stolen from the Greeks? Today's value of the £35000 the British Museum paid Lord Elgin for the marbles in 1816 seems to be about £2,090,000. These days that will not even buy a single Roman copper alloy parade helmet.

Andy Dabilis, 'British Museum: No Return of Parthenon Marbles', Greek Reporter August 26, 2012


  1. We must acknowledge the consistency of the British Museum and the British Government in their rejection of calls for the return of artefacts they are illegally holding. What must now be considered is what can be done in the face of the British arrogant position in contradiction to all morality, United Nations and UNESCO resolutions? Should the claimants continue, as some seem to be doing in Nigeria and elsewhere, that gentle reminders and appeals can one day move the British even though for decades they have held on to this illegal and unjustified position? Should one not consider strong measures that may force the British to finally adopt a more conciliatory and just position? Should States continue on a path which for decades has not born any fruits? Some of us would like to see at least a change in attitude before we leave this planet. An unfounded illusion, in the face of constant British reiteration of their position, makes us wonder.
    Kwame Opoku.

  2. The problem is that it seems to me that the legality of possession is not really what is in question. It is like all these antiquities issues, doing what people do with them is "not illegal" - which does not make them necessarily legal. Here it is the moral and ethical issues which are the ones that count. Holding on to what there are very good arguments for saying should never have left the land where they were made when there is a strong demand for their return begins to take on an air of total amorality.