Greece will step up its campaign for the return of the Parthenon Marbles from Britain and expects to win more support from European peers as Brexit sees British influence wane, the Greek culture minister said.
Since independence in 1832, Greece has repeatedly called for the return of the 2,500-year-old sculptures that British diplomat Lord Elgin removed from the Parthenon temple in Athens in the early 19th century, when Greece was under Ottoman Turkish rule.
The British Museum in London has refused to return the sculptures – roughly half of a 160 meter frieze which adorned the 5th century BC monument – saying they were acquired by Elgin under a legal contract with the Ottoman empire. Greece says they were stolen.
Culture Minister Lina Mendoni told Reuters that she believes the circumstances are ripe at the moment for the marbles’ return.
“It is the mentality that has changed, the fact that Britain is distancing itself from the European family, it is 200 years since the Greek revolution. I think the right conditions have been created for their permanent return,” she said.
Greece plans grand cultural events throughout 2021 to mark 200 years since the start of its revolt against Ottoman rule.
Britain will leave the European Union on Jan. 31.
She earlier told a conference in Athens: “As Britain distances itself from Europe and the ideas that it advocates, Greece, rebounding from the recent crisis will in coming years have the opportunity to attract attention and interest from an international audience.”
The British museum has said “the sculptures are part of everyone’s shared heritage and transcend cultural boundaries”.
The museum also used to argue for years that Athens lacked a suitable place to preserve the marbles. Greece says that approach smacks of an antiquated and colonialist approach of displaying ‘trophies’ from expeditions overseas.
Greece stepped up its campaign for their return after opening a new museum in 2009 at the foot of the Acropolis hill, which holds the sculptures that Elgin left behind alongside plaster casts of the missing pieces. The modern glass and concrete building’s windows reflect images of the Parthenon.
Mendoni said Greece would never give up the campaign for the marbles’ return, accusing Elgin of being nothing short of a thief.
“Motivated by financial gain, publicity and self promotion, Elgin 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 said.