The hope of an early return to Greece of the Parthenon friezes held by the British Museum was quickly extinguished. Cutting short the information relayed on January 3 by the daily The Telegraphthe British government has denied any plans to return this 75-meter-long ancient treasure, which has been demanded for decades by the Greek authorities. “I’ve been very clear about this: I don’t think they [les frises] should return to Greece, decided the conservative culture minister, Michelle Donelan, in an interview with the BBC, Tuesday, January 11. They belong to the UK, where we have taken care of them for a long time. »
In his eyes, these sculptures were legally acquired in 1802 by the British diplomat Lord Elgin, before being sold to the British Museum. “The purchase is indeed legal, but it may be objected that Greece was then under Ottoman occupationhowever specifies the World French archaeologist Jean-Paul Demoule, recalling that the new Acropolis Museum, opened in 2009, immediately planned the place of the Elgin marbles, occupied for the moment by casts whose summary character is a call for replacement by authentic pieces. »
In early December 2022, the Greek daily Your Nea asserted that secret negotiations on this subject had been going on for more than a year between the two countries. The president of the British Museum, George Osborne, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer of the government of David Cameron, would thus have spoken at least twice with the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis. The same month, Pope Francis also set an example by announcing the return to the Orthodox Archbishop of Athens of three fragments of the Parthenon kept by the Vatican museums. January 3, The Telegraph clutched by assuring that George Osborne was in the process of concluding an agreement with Athens for the return to Greece of these fragments within the framework of a long-term loan of one hundred years.
No unambiguous position
“It is certainly not his intention”refuted Michelle Donelan, believing that the position of George Osborne had been “misinterpreted”. For her, this restitution would constitute an unfortunate precedent by opening ” Pandora’s box “. The British Museum is already in the sights of Nigeria, which is demanding the return of 900 Benin City bronzes held by the London museum. But a 1963 law, drafted in the wake of independence in Africa to guard against claims from newly liberated colonies, drastically limits the possibilities of transfer by the museum.
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