London, March 31, 2015/ Independent Balkan News Agency
By Daniel Stroe
The British Museum and the British government have rejected the request put forward by the Greek government that they should enter into a process of mediation, facilitated by UNESCO, regarding the Parthenon Sculptures located in the British Museum.
In a letter addressed to the organisation’s Assistant Director-General for Culture, the Chairman of the Museum’s Board of Trustees Sir Richard Lambert suggests collaborative ventures with colleagues and institutions in Greece, not on a government-to-government basis but directly between institutions, as “the more constructive way forward,” suggesting the so-called Elgin Marbles could be loaned to Greece.
While expressing the Museum’s admiration and support for UNESCO’s work and noting instances in the past when there was collaboration between the two parties to preserve and safeguard the world’s endangered cultural heritage, Sir Richard comments that “surviving Parthenon Sculptures, carefully preserved in a number of European museums, clearly do not fall into this category.”
“This is why we believe that UNESCO involvement is not the best way forward. Museums holding Greek works, whether in Greece, the UK or elsewhere in the world, are naturally united in a shared endeavour to show the importance of the legacy of ancient Greece. The British Museum is committed to playing its full part in sharing the value of that legacy for all humanity,” reads Sir Richard’s letter.
He adds one of the most common arguments the British Museum uses against calls for the restitution of the Sculptures: “There is unanimous recognition that the original totality of the sculptural decoration cannot now be reassembled as so much has been lost, and that the surviving sculptures can never again take their place on the building.”
The government letter, signed by the Culture Minister Ed Vaizey and Europe Minister David Lidington, states inter alia that the Sculptures were legally acquired by Lord Elgin and that the Greeks essentially deny the British Museum’s right of ownership.
The two letters are dated 26 March, apparently planned to coincide with the opening of a new exhibition examining the body in ancient Greek art, in an attempt to demonstrate the British Museum’s respect for the ancient Greek civilisation, a move dismissed by the other side as “cheap cultural diplomacy”.
The UNESCO mediation proposal rejection caused the Greek government’s reaction, with the Deputy Minister of Culture Nikos Xydakis accusing Britain of “negativism and lack of appropriate respect”.
There was also immediate reaction by the Chairman of the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles Eddie O’Hara. The former Labour MP told this agency that some of the points raised in the British Museum’s letter were misleading, like the fact that 6 million visitors see the Parthenon Sculptures in London each year. According to Mr O’Hara this number refers to the visitors that pass through the gates of the Bloomsbury museum, without necessarily visiting the hall where the Greek sculptures are.
He also rejected the notion that the British government has no say over the fate of the Sculptures, as well as the argument that since not all of them have survived the remaining parts should not be reunited. “None of the arguments in the letters beat off our core argument, namely that the Sculptures in Athens and in London are a single entity and as such they should be brought together,” commented Eddie O’Hara.