Greek leader in London calls for return of ancient sculptures
LONDON (AP) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson held talks with the Greek leader in London on Tuesday amid renewed pressure from Athens for the British Museum to return the marble statues that once stood in the Parthenon .
Johnson said he “understood the strength of the feelings of the Greek people” about the sculptures after Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis raised the issue during the talks. But the British leader stressed that decisions on the matter rest with the British Museum, where the marbles are kept.
“The leaders agreed that this issue in no way affects the strength of the UK-Greece partnership,” Johnson’s office said.
The marbles – 17 figures and part of a frieze that decorated the 2,500-year-old Acropolis monument – were salvaged from the ancient temple by Lord Elgin, the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, in early 19th century. They have been at the center of a long dispute between the two countries.
Britain maintains that Elgin acquired the sculptures legally when Greece was ruled by the Ottomans. The Greek government says they were stolen and wants them returned for display in the new Acropolis Museum which opened in 2009.
Mitsotakis told the British newspaper Daily Telegraph last week that “the marbles were stolen in the 19th century, they belong to the Acropolis museum and we need to discuss this issue seriously.”
Earlier Tuesday, Johnson’s spokesperson stressed that the British Museum operates at arm’s length from government and is free from political interference.
“All decisions relating to the collections are made by the museum administrators and any questions about the location of the Parthenon sculptures are up to them,” he said.
The British Museum said on its website that Elgin’s actions were “thoroughly examined by a special parliamentary committee in 1816 and found to be entirely legal, before the sculptures entered the British Museum’s collection by a Act of Parliament ”.
Museum administrators added that they “firmly believe that there is a positive and a public benefit in dividing the sculptures between two large museums, each telling a complementary but different story.”