May 30, 2024

Athens News

News in English from Greece

British Museum in talks for Parthenon sculptures?

The British Museum promised do not dismantle his collection after reports that the institution’s chairman had held secret talks with the Greek prime minister over the return of the Parthenon sculptures, also known as the Elgin marbles.

The report in the Greek newspaper Ta Nea is the latest twist in a longstanding dispute over the ownership of ancient sculptures that originally stood on the Acropolis in Athens and have been the centerpiece of the British Museum’s collection since 1816. Ta Nea revealed on Saturday that talks between museum chairman George Osborne and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis have been ongoing since November 2021 and are at an advanced stage.

While the museum did not deny that negotiations took place, a spokesman declined to discuss the specifics of Ta Nea’s history. The museum said it was ready to “talk to anyone, including the Greek government” about the new “partnership” of the Parthenon. “As the chairman of the board of trustees said last month, we are acting within the law and have no intention of dismantling our great collection as it tells the unique story of our common humanity,” the museum said in a statement released Saturday. “But we are looking for new positive, long-term partnerships with countries and communities around the world and, of course, with Greece.”

The Greek government has not commented on the report. Although British authorities have rebuffed attempts to bring the sculptures back to Greece since at least 1941, the tone has changed in recent times as museums around the world try to address issues related to how ancient artefacts were acquired during periods of imperial domination and colonial expansion.

In July, Jonathan Williams, deputy director of the British Museum, said the institution wanted to “change the temperature of the debate” around marble. “We call for an active Parthenon partnership with our friends and colleagues in Greece,” he told the Sunday Times. “I strongly believe that there is room for a really dynamic and positive conversation, in which new ways of working together can be found.”

The museum says on its website that it is willing to consider leasing the sculptures to Greece, but successive Greek governments have refused to recognize ownership of the museum. Currently, negotiations on this issue are not underway, they say in the museum.

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