The Parthenon Marbles are making headlines again, more than 200 years since they were stripped from the ancient temple they once adorned.
Leaked documents made their way to the media and claim that Greece plans to include the return of the stolen marbles in European Union negotiations with Great Britain.
A leaked draft of Brussels’ negotiation mandate includes a stipulation that Britain should “return unlawfully removed cultural objects to their countries of origin.”
A British government spokeswoman quickly ruled out such talks, reiterating the UK’s claim of ownership.
“The UK’s position on the Parthenon sculptures remains unchanged – they are the legal responsibility of the British Museum,” she said. “That is not up for discussion as part of our trade negotiations.”
The Greek government refused to rule out whether or not it would use the Parthenon Marbles as a bargaining chip in Brexit negotiations.
Government spokesman Stelios Petsas said Athens would keep up its campaign for the return of the 2,500-year-old treasures and would consider which tools could support its cause.
“Greece’s request for the return of the Parthenon marbles remains strong and it is not linked to a Brexit deal,” Petsas said when asked if the issue would hinder EU negotiations with Britain.
“We’ll continue to call for their return and if this is a tool we can use, we’ll consider it in due course,” he added.
But Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni has repeatedly stated that the time was “ripe” for the return of the marbles to Greece.
In an interview with Reuters last month, she reiterated her country’s position that Lord Elgin, who took the sculptures to Britain in the early 19th century, “deployed illegal and untoward measures to extract from Greece the sculptures of the Parthenon and a plethora of other antiquities in a blatant act of serial theft.”
She also made clear that Greece sees the talks on Britain’s future relationship with the EU as a chance to push its campaign for the repatriation of the sculptures.
“I think the right conditions have been created for their permanent return,” Mendoni said. “It is the mentality that has changed, the fact that Britain is distancing itself from the European family.”
Featured image: Edward Dodwell and/or Simone Pomardi, Descending the marbles at the south-east corner of the Parthenon, 1801-1805, watercolor. The Packard Humanities Institute, Los Angeles
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