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Greece renews its calls for British Museum to return Parthenon Marbles in wake of priceless thefts

Greece renews its calls for British Museum to return Parthenon Marbles in wake of multiple thefts
Greece renews its calls for British Museum to return Parthenon Marbles in wake of multiple thefts Copyright Sang Tan/AP
Copyright Sang Tan/AP
By David Mouriquand
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Questions are being raised about the British Museum's security protocols, its handling of thefts, and how long senior management was aware before action was taken. Now, Greece is renewing its calls for the return of the Parthenon Marbles.

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The British Museum is in the midst of dealing with the fallout over the theft and sale of items, after the news broke that as many as 2,000 precious items were stolen and sold online, or otherwise damaged.

In the context of the scandal, Greek officials are renewing their calls for the return of the Parthenon Marbles.

The security questions raised by the missing objects “reinforces the permanent and just demand of our country for the definitive return” of the Marbles, Greece’s Minister of Culture, Lina Mendoni, said in a recent interview with the newspaper To Vima.

“The loss, theft, deterioration of objects from a museum’s collections is an extremely serious and particularly sad event,” said Mendoni. “In fact, when this happens from within, beyond any moral and criminal responsibility, a major question arises regarding the credibility of the museum organization itself.”

She further explained that the “Ministry of Culture is following the development of the issue with great attention.”

In response, the chairman of the British Museum All-Party Parliamentary Group has accused Greece of “blatant opportunism” in claiming the institution is “not safe” following thefts from the museum.

Tim Loughton told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that news of items going missing from the museum’s collection in London is “damaging” but the institution is taking the thefts “seriously”.

The Conservative MP added: “For reassurance, people want to know the extent of the objects which have disappeared, what investigations took place at the time when various reports came in and what is being done now because otherwise (it’s) getting out of hand.”

“What is particularly damaging is (the) blatant opportunism of the Greeks and others saying ‘Oh no, the British Museum is not safe…’ It’s incredibly rare that things go missing.”

Loughton also said the disappearance of items was serious but “it’s not the heist of the Mona Lisa.”

Despina Koutsoumba, head of the Association of Greek Archaeologists, also said her colleagues were 'worried' about how many Greek items were missing.

She told the BBC: 'We want to tell the British Museum that they cannot any more say that Greek culture heritage is more protected in the British Museum. It is obvious that it is very well protected in Greece and not in the British Museum.'

Getty Images
Visitors view the Parthenon Marbles at the British Museum in LondonGetty Images

Last week, the British Museum announced that it had dismissed an employee after discovering valuable items in its collection were missing. The institution said it planned to take “legal action” against Peter John Higgs, a senior curator of Greek and Roman art who had worked at the museum for 30 years. Higgs is suspected of having stolen the objects over a period of years.

Many of the items were listed for sale on eBay.

The Daily Telegraph reported that the number of stolen items is believed to be “well over 1,000″ and “closer to 2,000”, with a value running into “millions of pounds”.

The museum has strenuously denied claims of a cover-up after it was reported that managers were warned two years ago that items were being taken from the collection and sold.

The British Museum, which has owned the Parthenon sculptures - also known as the Elgin marbles - since they which were removed from the Acropolis of Athens in the early 19th century by Lord Elgin, has repeatedly denied Greece’s requests for the relics to be repatriated.

Nevertheless, the Greek campaign has gained momentum amid international calls for cultural institutions to decolonize their holdings. In March, the Vatican returned three fragments of the Parthenon temple it had kept for centuries.

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In March this year, Sir Noel Malcolm, a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, stated that ‘the Elgin Marbles are the Crown Jewels of the British Museum, a national museum with a universal mission. We should feel proud of our ability to show them to the world in London. There is nothing to apologise for here.”

Additional sources • To Vima, The Daily Telegraph

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