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Negotiations for the return of the Parthenon Marbles

When Count Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, took the spheres from the Parthenon in Athens and took them to London, he did not know that it was still possible to talk about the consequences of that initiative 220 years from now. Above all, he did not know that those glass globes that are currently in the British Museum are perhaps the most controversial and sensitive subjects in diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and Greece.

While the United Kingdom maintains that the marble was duly purchased from Elgin, the Greeks have long believed it to be a plundered treasure, and therefore must be returned. After years of rather non-existent contacts and difficult relations, things now seem to be opening up and taking a positive turn for Greece: but it is too early to make predictions, because the talks between the two countries are still unchanged. early stage.

That these conversations are known is a really cool element. Until now, both sides have limited themselves to detailed public statements, never showing openness in one direction or the other. At the beginning of January instead of the British Museum confirmed it Secret negotiations are under way with the Greek government which may lead to the return of some parts, but not all of them. And this week The New York Times published a purpose With a series of details about the negotiations and some unpublished information about the positions involved in the negotiations.

We call the sculptural groups and friezes that were once found in the main temple of the Acropolis of Athens, the Parthenon Marbles, and they are still considered among the greatest masterpieces ever produced by mankind. Before the passage of Elgin in the 19th century, they had been in that temple since the 5th century BC, in this case on the two gables and on the four sides of the Acropolis temple. Each of the arches is decorated with about twenty very realistic and detailed statues, which must have been an even more amazing sight at the time.

(Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The first to try to loot the Parthenon They were from VeniceIn the seventeenth century. At that time Greece was a part of the Ottoman Empire. It was also at the end of the eighteenth century, when Elgin was appointed ambassador to the Sultan of Constantinople. As ambassador he undertook a trip to Greece with the aim of studying and acquiring the works of ancient Greece, where he first clashed with the French vice-consul Louis-François-Sébastien Fauville. When Fauville and other Frenchmen were arrested by the Turks, Elgin obtained permission from the Turkish authorities to carry out inspections on the Acropolis of Athens, with a view to making engravings, drawings, and casts.

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Then in 1803 he managed to obtain a permit from the Sultan himself who authorized him to take any sculpture or relief from the Acropolis, as long as it did not endanger the structures of the castle.

It is not known whether Elgin acted on behalf of the British government or on his own initiative. What is known is that it was likely Facilitated by a dominant position, because at that time the Ottoman Empire was counting on the United Kingdom to protect itself from France, and was inclined to make concessions. And therein lies the complication: the British Museum is technically correct in saying that the takeover was legal, but Greece believes Elgin abused his position, claiming, among other things, that it was not an independent country at the time.

Whether he abused his position or not, Elgin transported by ship more than 60 chests containing the sculptural groups and friezes from the Parthenon. He brought it to London and in 1816 sold it to the authorities, who displayed it in the British Museum.

In recent weeks, various articles have been published on the progress of the negotiations, and they have also been published by reliable newspapers such as bloomberg The Greek newspaper Ta Nya. According to these articles, the negotiations will almost certainly be successful and the closing of the deal will be soon. the The New York TimesHowever, this account has denied reporting information from two anonymous sources close to those negotiating, who believe the agreement is still a long way off.

According to these two sources, negotiations have been going on since November 2021, led by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and George Osborne, former Minister of Economy and now Head of the British Museum. Allegedly, the meetings took place mainly in a luxury hotel or in the residence of the Greek ambassador. Sometimes a delegate for Mitsotakis was Giorgos Gerapetritis, a minister without portfolio in the Greek government.

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The two men overheard it The New York Times They will be aware of the Greek and British position in the negotiations respectively. According to these sources, Mitsotakis would like the British Museum to return all the friezes that adorned the temple, which were some eighty meters of carved and carved marble panels, to be exhibited in Greece for at least twenty years. The idea is that after that time the British position will become softer, at which point Greece can ask to keep them there permanently. Meanwhile, Mitsotakis allegedly offered to lend the British Museum some very valuable works of art and ancient objects, which had never left Greece before.

As for the marbles, namely the statues of the arches, Mitsotakis would like to negotiate their return to Greece at a later date.

However, the other party is not in a position to accept this offer. Osborne’s position is that the museum makes a short-term loan for part of the friezes and marbles, at most one-third of the total. Once the part lent is paid off, the museum will loan another, progressively more substantial part “to reflect the growing trust between the two parties,” he writes. The New York Times.

The point is that the British Museum can only remove an object from its collection if it is “unsuitable” for display, that is, if it has some kind of legal offence. But given that, according to the Elgin Museum, he obtained the marble legally, if no agreement provided for the return of the marble, the decision could be the subject of appeal and legal disputes. This is why the British Museum pays for a short-term loan. However, the sources ensure that any agreement will be written in such a way that Greece does not have to acknowledge the British Museum’s rightful ownership.

(EPA / FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA)

Meanwhile, the negotiations attracted the attention of a large number of law firms, art experts and museum directors. However, it turns out that the question of the marbles will most likely affect the future of the British Museum, which houses many other objects of controversial origin.

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Moreover, the museum is planning a major renovation this year to rejuvenate the structure. to me financial times The works will cost about 1.15 billion euros, and the contribution of investors and donors, who may be interested in the outcome of the negotiations with Greece, will be required to choose whether and how much to pay. According to Leslie Ramos, founder of a consulting agency for museums, the fact that the British Museum has acknowledged the existence of negotiations over the Parthenon Marbles could be an attempt to “attract new generations of philanthropists”.

In fact, awareness has been changing around the issue of returning works of art for several years now. It is often a theme associated with colonialism, because the collections of some Western museums are also the result of the ancient dominance of the countries that host those museums. Most of the time it is difficult to prove that something or a work was obtained illegally, but the return can still take place as a sign of recognition and distance from the past: it is a definite practice back home And it began above all thanks to the initiative of UNESCO, which in 1978 created an intergovernmental commission specifically to promote the return of illegally acquired cultural assets. The aim of the committee is to strengthen bilateral relations between the countries concerned, and to help them reach an agreement on final reparations.

In any case, recoveries have recently increased: if previously they were mainly small museums, now it has become a theme that has penetrated also historical and important facts. Just this past December the Vatican did announce Who will donate to the Archbishop of Athens three parts of the Parthenon that have been in the Vatican Museums for two centuries. The Smithsonian Institution in Washington and the Humboldt Forum in Berlin have also moved in this direction, while the British Museum has always shown some reluctance even to discuss topics of this kind in public. In the museum’s collection, not only are the Parthenon marbles the subject of disputes and requests for recovery, but also Rosetta StoneSome Boys bronze it’s a Easter Island Statue.

– Also read: Who are the artifacts in museums?

Earl Warner

"Devoted bacon guru. Award-winning explorer. Internet junkie. Web lover."

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