Kyriakos Mitsotakis to Boris Johnson: Message on Returning Parthenon Sculptures

Kyriakos Mitsotakis addressed an open invitation to the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to return the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece .

At the urging of his British counterpart Boris Johnson, “Mr. Prime Minister, it is time to seize this moment,” the Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, details Athens’ arguments for the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures at the Acropolis Museum in an article. published today in the British newspaper, “The Mail on Sunday”.

In this article, Mr. Mitsotakis emphasizes that his British counterpart has pledged not to block the start of a dialogue on the future of the Sculptures, between the Greek government and the British Museum, citing the majority of British public opinion, which, as he says, welcomes the unanimous decision of Unesco to return the Sculptures and reiterates its proposal that the Greek government could “allow the British Museum to exhibit some of the most iconic works in the world, works of art that have never been found outside Greece “.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s article is as follows: Very few former British Prime Ministers studied Classical Studies at university. Even fewer have spoken so emphatically about the influence of Ancient Greece in shaping their political thought. No one, I suppose, has called an Athenian politician of the 5th century BC. one of his heroes.

And then came Boris Johnson, always following his own path. The current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has done all three: Study Classical Studies at Oxford. He has a deep understanding of the contribution of classical culture to the modern world. He even has a bust of Pericles, who is one of his heroes. Boris Johnson understands to a greater extent than most the unique link that connects modern times with ancient history.
That is why, when I met him last week on Downing Street, he told me that he understood how strong the feelings of the Greek people are about one of the few dividing lines between Greece and the United Kingdom: what is to be born with the Sculptures of the Parthenon.

The sculptures were created by the Greek sculptor Pheidias and have the form of a frieze that originally adorned the great temple. Most of the frieze is preserved today and remains in Athens. The section illegally removed by Lord Elgin remains, however, enclosed inside the British Museum, almost 2,500 km from his real home and cut off from both the city and the world monument to which he undoubtedly belongs.

Just walk around for a few minutes the beautiful room with the transparent glass facade, on the third floor of the Acropolis Museum in Athens, and it is not difficult to understand what I mean. The museum is located just a few hundred meters south of the Parthenon itself and for most of the sculptures is their home. It is the only place in the world where one can admire the sculptures in a space that connects them to the monument, as it stands in front of 2,500 years of history and faces the panoramic view of the temple. It is the right place, the best place and the only place where one can appreciate the cultural and historical significance of the sculptures where they belong.

It is precisely the grace of this symmetry that makes the separation of the sculptures found in London from the main collection in Athens such a large gap. A gap that is impossible to ignore. Their importance is universal and without the missing sculptures one can not admire in their entirety the frieze and the Parthenon itself. Instead of sculptures, plaster casts are in the places belonging to the original works – or, in some cases, the showcases are empty. A sad proof that a part of this invaluable part of the world cultural heritage is missing.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the revolution for independence from the Ottoman Empire, a war in which Britain sided with Greece in the struggle for freedom. What could be a greater proof of Prime Minister Johnson’s vision for a new, confident, open and truly “Global Britain” than for his government to take a bold step forward and, together with the British Museum, to return the Parthenon Sculptures?

In such a case, Greece is ready to consider, for its part, to allow the British Museum to exhibit some of the most emblematic works in the world, works of art that have never been found outside Greece. After all, museums and galleries are increasingly returning, sharing, lending and collaborating. Take for example the great new exhibition at the Museum of Science in London, “Ancient Greeks: Science and Wisdom”, which I opened last week. Within the framework of this exhibition, works have been collected not only from Greece and the United Kingdom, but also from many other countries and collections. Of course, the reunification of the sculptures is not just a position of the Greek government.

It is also the unanimous position of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Commission for the Return of Cultural Property to Countries of Origin (ICPRCP). In September, the Commission criticized the British side’s refusal to address the issue, saying “the case is intergovernmental and therefore the obligation to return the Parthenon Sculptures rests solely with the UK government”. Many Britons seem to agree. Polls show that in recent years more and more people are in favor of the return of the Sculptures to Greece. The British Museum would certainly argue that the return of the sculptures would be just the beginning – a move that would force it to return other objects. Would not be.

We believe that sculptures are a special and unique case. Indeed, Lord Elgin acted illegally. Using dynamite and iron crowbars, he literally broke the marble reliefs to detach them from their bases, damaged the Parthenon and sent the sculptures out of Greece in the early 19th century. At the end of the day, however, our disagreement is not limited to property or legality. Because we are talking mainly about an important case with a political and moral dimension, which also has a relatively simple technical dimension.

Reuniting the Sculptures would have been much easier if the British government had lifted the political restrictions on the British Museum, in the form of the British Museum Act of 1963. Now, given that Prime Minister Johnson told me not to will hinder Greece’s attempt to start a formal dialogue with the British Museum on the future of Sculpture, my assessment is that things will be different. That it will not hinder any future agreement. And that, instead, the Prime Minister will seek to amend the relevant legislation to allow the return of the sculptures.

One thing is for sure. The ties that connect Greece and the United Kingdom have a history of centuries. This relationship is strong and resilient today. But we can not pretend to be complete. That is why I hope that London and Athens will work together to redress this injustice that weighs on the hearts of all Greeks. Your most important poet, Lord Byron, was one of the many Britons who fought on our side for the Independence of Greece.

In 1824 Byron died as a hero for Greece, after the second siege of Messolonghi. Almost 200 years after Byron’s death, I believe that Boris Johnson, as a scholar of the classical era, realizes that he has a unique opportunity to seize the moment, and this generation, to be the one who will finally reunite the Parthenon Sculptures. Mr Prime Minister, it is time to seize this moment.

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One thought on “Kyriakos Mitsotakis to Boris Johnson: Message on Returning Parthenon Sculptures

  • November 24, 2021 at 2:10 am

    The beautiful marbles should and
    must go back to the stunning Parthenon they do not belong to the UK,they certainly should not have been hacked off and put on show in a Museum, they must be put back where they belong! Not in the UK! I hope our Government and the British Museum come to their senses and return them to their rightful home.
    A petition should start in Greece and UK to have these beautiful works of art put back.🏛
    Kent, England.
    Who loves Kefalonia😍


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