The Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is piling further pressure on the British Museum to return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece, telling the BBC that he will continue to lobby for a partnership deal during a visit to London this week. Mitsotakis is due to meet the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the leader of the Labour party, Keir Starmer, who will not stand in the way of a proposed deal, according to the Financial Times.
Speaking on the BBC's Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg show, Mitsotakis said: “This is not a question of returning artefacts… this is not an ownership question, this is a reunification argument. Where can you best appreciate what is essentially one monument? It’s as if I had told you [I] had cut the Mona Lisa in half and you would have half of it at the Louvre and half of it at the British Museum.”
Mitsotakis added that he would keep pushing “for a deal that would be essentially a partnership between Greece and the British Museum but would allow us to return the sculptures to Greece and have people appreciate them in their original setting…. I’m a patient man and we’ve waited hundreds of years; I will persist in these discussions.” However, he says that he has not made as much progress as he would like in negotiations.
The 1963 British Museum Act currently prohibits a full return of the artefacts but a source close to Labour told the Financial Times: “We’re sticking with the existing law, but if a loan deal that is mutually acceptable to the British Museum and the Greek government can be agreed, we won’t stand in the way.” For the past 40 years the Greek government has formally claimed the sculptures and expressed its desire to complete the display at the Acropolis Museum in Athens.
In May, Mitsotakis won a general election, securing around 40% of the vote. The same month, he told The Independent newspaper: “We will never recognise that these sculptures are owned, legally owned by the British Museum... But again, we have to be constructive and we have to be innovative if a solution is to be found.”
Last year, the chair of the British Museum, George Osborne, said that there is a “deal to be done” over sharing the Parthenon Marbles with Greece. At the museum’s annual dinner this month, he reiterated this plan, expressing a hope that “we can reach an agreement with Greece”, for at least some of the British Museum’s sculptures “to be seen in Athens”. In return, he wants “other treasures from Greece, some that have never left those shores, to be seen here at the British Museum”.
The fifth-century-BC statues have been housed in the British Museum since 1816 after they were removed from the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis in Athens by agents working for the Scottish nobleman Lord Elgin, the then ambassador to the Ottoman court. The sculptures went on display in the British Museum in 1817.