By Thanasis Gavos – London
A very public row over the parts of the Parthenon sculptures that are located in London’s British Museum has brought back to attention the issue of their restitution, a long held demand of Greece.
The man who started it all this time was none other than George Clooney. Promoting his new film ‘The Monuments Men’, which tells the story of a group of daredevil soldiers and experts who regained more than 5 million stolen pieces of art by the Nazis during World War II, the Hollywood mega-star answered a question about the Parthenon sculptures with an affirmation of his wish to see them repatriated.
Among others the eccentric London mayor Boris Johnson waded in, accusing Clooney of “advocating nothing less than the Hitlerian agenda for London’s cultural treasures.”
The mayor’s unfortunate comments were not left unanswered, as George Clooney – who in the meantime had repeated his support of the reunification of the Parthenon masterpieces – dismissed them as “too much hyperbole washed down with a few whiskies.”
Beyond the eye-catching headlines, George Clooney also touched the deeper substance of the matter. As he told the Huffington Post, the Parthenon sculptures (widely known in the UK as the Elgin marbles after the Scottish peer that brought them over from Athens) were chipped away from the Parthenon while Greece was under Turkish occupation. “It would be as if the statue of David’s head were sold to England, his arm to the Vatican and his torso to the Met.”
The British Museum has been feeling the pressure even more intensely ever since Athens got its New Acropolis Museum. In a crucial change of tactics the Greek side has left any hyper-patriotic arguments aside and has been focusing on an unquestionable moral truth: it is sacrilegious to keep such a monumental piece of art dismembered.
The British Museum shows a stubborn lack of respect to art and ignores the overwhelmingly supportive towards the restitution of the sculptures public opinion. If its intention is to include the Parthenon sculptures in the museum’s narration of the history of human civilisation, as goes the argument, then could it not return the sculptures to where they were supposed to be and replace them with other cultural treasures of classical Greece?
If the British Museum is serious about respecting human civilisation then it should be leading efforts to reunite a brutally chopped masterpiece. This is not mainly about Athens; it’s about the wholeness of the Parthenon sculptures which can only be achieved in Athens – unless the Bloomsbury museum and the hyperbolic Mr Johnson requested that all surviving pieces were transferred to London…
But as George Clooney added: “Those are the facts. But maybe it’s just easier to compare me to Hitler.”