British Museum pledges 'not to dismantle' Parthenon sculptures amid reports of talks with Greece

The British Museum has pledged not to dismantle its collection
The British Museum has pledged not to dismantle its collection   -  Copyright  Matt Dunham/AP
By Euronews  with AP

Could the more than 200-year-long dispute between London and Athens over the return of the so-called Elgin Marbles be finally coming to an end?

A  newspaper says that Greece's Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has been holding 'secret' talks with the Chairman of the British Museum for more than a year for the return of the Parthenon sculptures.

The report by the Greek newspaper Ta Nea is the latest twist in the long-running dispute over ownership of the ancient sculptures, which originally stood on the Acropolis in Athens and have been a centrepiece of the British Museum’s collection since 1816.

In response, a spokesman for the museum pledged not to "dismantle its collection."

While the museum didn’t deny that discussions have taken place, it added that it was prepared to “talk to anyone, including the Greek government’’ about a new Parthenon “partnership.’’

“As the chair of trustees said last month, we operate within the law and we’re not going to dismantle our great collection as it tells a unique story of our common humanity,’’ the museum said in a statement released on Saturday. 

“But we are seeking new positive, long-term partnerships with countries and communities around the world, and that of course includes Greece.”

The Greek government offered no comment on the report.

Colonial backlash

Although British authorities have rebuffed efforts to return the sculptures to Greece since at least 1941, there has been a change of tone recently as museums around the world seek to address concerns about the way ancient artefacts were acquired during periods of imperial domination and colonial expansion.

On its website, the museum says it is willing to consider loaning the sculptures to Greece, but that successive Greek governments have refused to acknowledge the museum’s ownership. 

The issue is complicated by a UK act of Parliament that prohibits the museum from selling, giving away or otherwise disposing of any items in its collection unless they are duplicates or not needed for study.

The marbles are remnants of a 160-metre-long (520-foot) frieze that ran around the outer walls of the Parthenon Temple on the Acropolis, dedicated to Athena, goddess of wisdom. 

Much was lost in a 17th-century bombardment, and about half the remaining works were removed in the early 19th century by a British diplomat, Lord Elgin.

They ended up in the British Museum, which has repeatedly rebuffed Greek demands for their return.

Successive Greek governments have argued that Elgin illegally sawed off the sculptures, exceeding the terms of a questionable permit granted by Turkish authorities while Greece was an unwilling part of the Ottoman Empire.

The British Museum rejects that stance - despite indications that public opinion in the UK favours the Greek demand.

The Parthenon was built between 447-432 B.C. and is considered the crowning work of classical architecture. The frieze depicted a procession in honor of Athena. Some small bits of it - and other Parthenon sculptures - are in other European museums.

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