Welcome to the site of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles. These pages contain detailed information on the Parthenon (Elgin) Marbles, together with the case for their return to Athens, Greece. If you would like to find out about the various ways to get involved with the campaign, or simply to learn more about the subject, then please read on.
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Athens Colloquy 2015: the state of the campaign: Review and Prospects
ATHENS 27 July 2015
The tumultuous events of the past twelve months have had mixed implications for our campaign. On the one hand they have brought unprecedented press coverage drawing our case to the attention of a vast cross section of the public including areas normally far beyond our reach. Such publicity is the oxygen of the campaign and, sure enough, a pair of opinion polls demonstrated an increase in support. On the other hand it has shown up tensions within the campaign which need be resolved, it has produced reactions from the British Museum which need to be addressed, and it has distracted us from priorities which we ought to have been addressing almost a year ago.I shall address each of these in turn.
TENSIONS WITHIN THE CAMPAIGN: These properly should be addressed elsewhere than in this paper or in this colloquy. There is however one issue which I must address, litigation. First and last, whether or not to have recourse to litigation is for the Greek Government alone to decide. The responsibility of supporters is to support them in whatever course of action they choose. Personally, I wish to see the Parthenon marbles reunited on cultural and ethical grounds. Nevertheless, pragmatically, if the Greek Government were able to secure a favourable adjudication through litigation I would welcome it. However the position of the BCRPM on litigation is encapsulated in the excellent paper delivered by Andrew Dismore at our colloquy in 2012 and available on our website. The factual, practical and legal impediments after 200 years to securing a safe adjudication on the legality of Lord Elgin’s acquisition of his collection are insuperably immense. Resolution is however possible through legislation, through the reform of the British Museum Museum Act 1963.
There is another matter. The widely held perception of something dubious about Lord Elgin’s actions lends strength to our campaign. A suicidal act of litigation initiated by the Greek Government would throw this away and indeed bolster the BM’s position . The other possible ground for litigation is human rights. At time of writing the case remains to be made for this.
REACTIONS FROM THE BRITISH MUSEUM: At first it looked as if the BM was uncertain how to react to the tidal wave of publicity. It had sat tight on the invitation to submit to the UNESCO mediation process. Then a tightly coordinated set of initiatives emerged. First the loan of Ilissos to the Hermitage, then the formal announcement of the Defining Beauty exhibition in which selected pieces from the Elgin collection are used, simultaneously with synchronised announcements by both the BM and the British Government of the rejection of the UNESCO mediation initiative. In all this the BM appears to be using the Parthenon Marbles to underpin, revamp and relaunch the concepts of cultural diplomacy and the universal museum in their justification for retaining them. I am not sure that we have yet articulated a clear and adequate response to this. We may however be encouraged by the recent poll by the Museums Journal of its readers in which 81% voted that the response to the UNESCO mediation initiative should have been more positive.
DISTRACTION FROM PRIORITIES: In the summer of 2014 my mind was turning to the enhanced campaigning required in the lead up to the 200th anniversary in 2016 of the British Government’s purchase of Elgin’s collection. I was thinking initially of identifying as many prominent supporters from as many professions as possible, journalism, literature, broadcast media, music, theatre, the arts, sport, academia, with a view to deploying them serially or en masse. Instead I found myself swept along by all that was happening around us. However this colloquy gives us the perfect opportunity to address these preparations with renewed vigour. It is the launch pad for Campaign2016. We have a colloquy in London planned for 2016. It should be commensurate with the occasion. For this it needs to be fully supported and properly resourced in terms of administration and funding. It need not be seen in isolation. It could be the focal point or climax of a continuous stream of diverse initiatives in the intervening period. I invite a brainstorming of ideas to this end.
But ideas need to be turned into reality. If ever there was a need for a campaigns officer this is it. 200th anniversaries are too rare to waste. Let us not waste this one.
I end on another encouraging note: as I write these words the most recent opinion poll has just closed. It was run by the Daily Telegraph, a newspaper noted for its extreme reactionary views and readership. It was placed online not at the end but in the middle of a hostile article (“Greece knows that it has no legal right…”) full of misrepresentations, opinions and errors presented as facts. For the unwary it even reversed the normal order of questions so that NO indicated that the marbles should be returned to Greece. Despite all this 58% voted that indeed they should!
Full moon Tango at the Acropolis Museum 29 August 2015, plus free entrance
The Acropolis Museum to celebrate the August full moon on Saturday 29 August 2015 with a music and dance event ‘Tango Acropolis’. From 8:30 p.m. until 11:30 p.m., the Museum’s entrance courtyard will turn into a dance floor where world-renowned artists will first present tango choreographies and the public will have the opportunity to dance with music by the orchestra of the famous composer Marios Strofalis.
This event is held under the auspices of the Embassy of Argentina, in collaboration with the Acropolis Museum.
On Saturday 29 August, the Acropolis Museum will remain open from 8 a.m. to 12 midnight (free entry will be available from 8 p.m. onwards) and visitors will be able to enjoy the permanent exhibition areas but also the temporary exhibition ‘Samothrace. The Mysteries of the Great Gods’. The restaurant of the second floor will be open until midnight.
Classicists unite to say, 'we owe Greece a cultural debt'
It is timely to remember the very great cultural debt that we owe to Greece, how valiantly many Greeks fought in WWII and how hard-working, frugal and family-minded the majority of Greeks have long been and continue to be. Whatever the precise nature of Greece's economic future, it is profoundly to be hoped that the Greek people will receive robust support from its European allies, including those in the British Government.
Prof Angie Hobbs, Dr Bettany Hughes, Mar...tha Lane Fox, Tom Holland, Victoria Hislop, Prof Simon Armitage, Prof Michael Wood, Prof Paul Cartledge, Melvyn Bragg, Prof Chris Pelling, Dr Armand D’Angour, Natalie Haynes, Charlotte Mendelson, Prof Edith Hall, Prof Armand Leroi, Dr Michael Scott.
And for the full article in the Telegraph, read it here
Celebrate the Acropolis Museum's 6th anniversary
20 June 2015 Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece
Many of us cannot help but relive the amazing time that was had by all when the superlative Acropolis Museum first opened it's doors in June 2009. There were those that criticised the new museum but the majority of visitors from all over the globe, were awe struck. The sheer scale and depth of the exhibitions, the great sense of elation, at all times with spectacular views to the Acropolis and the Parthenon were and continue to be treasured.
On occassions as special as Saturday 20 June, we will also remember those that aren't able to celebrate this superlative museum's 6th anniversary. In the case of BCRPM it will be the sad loss of Vice Chair, Christopher Price, who passed away in London in February. But just like Melina Mercouri, Jules Dassin, Robert Browning and Graham Binns, Christopher will be remember for his tireless campaigning to support the reunification of the fragmented Parthenon Marbles.
For those visiting Athens on the 20th June 2015, the Acropolis Museum will have the following events in store, including:
A new exhibition ‘Samothrace. The mysteries of the great gods’, which has been organised in cooperation with the Ephorates of Rodopi and Evros and the expert on Samothracian antiquities, Mr. Dimitrios Matsas. This exhibition will be open to the public from 9 pm till midnight and it will continue to be available for visitors until 30 September 2015. On the following day after the official opening of this exhibition, Sunday 21 June at 10 pm the Museum has also scheduled a conference focusing on recent archaeological research in Samothrace.
Images from the new exhibition ‘Samothrace. The mysteries of the great gods’, courtesy of the Acropolis Museum. This exhibition will run from 20 June until 30 September 2015
On the Sauturday 20 June, at 9 pm the Museum will also present a music concert in the entrance courtyard, to be performed by the Athens Municipality Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus with music and songs from the interwar years, the cinema and Greek operetta.
Additional bonus for visitors on Saturday 20 June - the exhibition areas and the restaurant of the Acropolis Museum will remain open from 8 am until 12 midnight and admission to the Museum will be reduced (3 euros) for all.
Support for the Greek Government's rejection of litigation in favour of diplomacy
The British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles (BCRPM) notes the decision of the Greek Government to reject litigation in favour of a diplomatic approach to the resolution of the dispute over the Parthenon Marbles, respects this decision and offers continued full support to whatever initiatives it takes.
And a link to the paper that Andrew Dismore delivered at the London 2012 Colloquy which we organised in conjunction with the Internationalthe International Organising Committee - Australia - for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles and the American Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures. Andrew Dismore is a former Labour MP and a Labour London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden.
Andrew supports the reunification of the Parthenon sculptures but explained why he did not feel that a legal case would be successful.
We wish Neil MacGregor success in his future career.
NEIL MACGREGOR RETIREMENT
The announcement of Neil MacGregor’s impending retirement gives us a welcome opportunity to clarify a possible misconception. The British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles has been in open dispute with the British Museum over the retention of their collection of these marbles for the whole of his tenure and for some 20 years before. At no time has it ever been personal to Neil MacGregor or any of his staff.
We acknowledge that the British Museum, with its vast and important collection, is preeminent among the great museums of the world, particularly so for its standards of curation, display, research and education. We question however the concept of the universal/world/encyclopaedic museum and its justification for the continued impairment of one the most magnificent examples of world art.
We acknowledge the importance of cultural diplomacy but question how it squares with the British Museum’s refusal to deal seriously with Greece over the reunification of its national icon. In recent months we have been further concerned at the British Museum’s evident new policy of impairing still further the integrity of the Parthenon marbles by using individual pieces to support the theme of an exhibition and even by sending them abroad on loan.
We shall continue to campaign for the reunification of the Parthenon marbles on cultural and ethical grounds, albeit perhaps this will not now happen on Neil MacGregor’s watch. In the meantime we are pleased to acknowledge the many tributes expressed about Neil MacGregor’ s qualities and achievements during his distinguished tenure as Director of the British Museum. We wish him all success in his future career.
The trustees of the British Museum have published a new statement of their position on the Parthenon marbles
THE PARTHENON MARBLES: RESPONSE TO NEW STATEMENT OF BM TRUSTEES
The trustees of the British Museum have published a new statement of their position on the Parthenon marbles. It consists mainly of a puzzling list of “common misconceptions”:
“ALL OF THE SCULPTURES OF THE PARTHENON ARE IN THE BRITISH MUSEUM”
This is puzzling given that the whole argument is about the reunification of the sculptures in London and Athens. Also puzzling is the statement that 30% of those that remain are in London and 30% in Athens. These figures of course refer to those which survive, divided approximately 50/50% between London and Athens.
“THE SCULPTURES IN THE BRITISH MUSEUM WERE STOLEN”
No one doubts that the British government bought them in good faith from Lord Elgin and entrusted them to the Museum. No one questions that he had certain licence from the Ottoman authorities. The questions hang on whether he exceeded that licence. There is much evidence that he exceeded that licence. For understandable reasons the Greek government will not accept the legality of his actions. However for a complex of legal reasons including the passage of time, the loss of much evidence, the demise of the Ottoman Empire and thus of its legal system, and much else, it is highly unlikely that the legality or otherwise of Lord Elgin’s acquisition of his collection could be conclusively demonstrated in a court of law. A Select Committee of Parliament of course is not a court of law. Anyway, the case for reunification rests mainly on cultural and ethical arguments.
“THE GREEK GOVERNMENT HAS ASKED FOR A LOAN OF THE SCULPTURES WHICH HAS BEEN TURNED DOWN BY THE BRITISH MUSEUM”
This also is puzzling. Given that the Greek Government (as quoted) “has never acknowledged the legal title of the British Museum to the Parthenon Marbles”, this situation could not arise. Indeed it enables the British Museum to go through the charade of offering a loan in full knowledge that it will be refused, because “loan” implies “ownership”.
“THE BRITISH MUSEUM FEELS THAT THE SCULPTURES SHOULD REMAIN IN LONDON BECAUSE THERE IS NOWHERE TO HOUSE THEM IN GREECE AND THE GREEK AUTHORITIES CANNOT LOOK AFTER THEM”
They don’t now, but they used to, until both claims were demonstrated to be unsustainable.
THE DIVISION OF THE PARTHENON MARBLES IS A UNIQUE CASE. THE SCULPTURES CAN ONLY BE APPRECIATED AS A COMPLETE SET.
We accept that many cultural objects....from one “location” have been divided and dispersed. The trustees cite anonymous altar pieces. However they fail to cite anything remotely comparable with the Parthenon, a fixed monument acknowledged by UNESCO itself to be the most important UNESCO World Heritage Site in Europe. We continue to argue that its case is incomparable and unique. We accept that it is not possible to bring together 100% of the original sculptures. However since when has is not been acceptable to recreate works of art to less than 100% of their original form? The British Museum exhibits many piece displayed in this state, not least their own collection of Parthenon sculptures.
THE SCULPTURES COULD NOT BE REUNITED ON THE PARTHENON
We do not advocate this. We accept that for reasons of conservation it is no longer possible. However it is common practice now for sites of fixed monuments to have museum annexes which display perishable parts removed for protection. The Parthenon is arguably better served in this way than any other monument. The whole area of the Acropolis and its environs is a pedestrianised archaeological park. It is possible to visit the Parthenon in its full context and in the same visit go the Acropolis Museum to view the sculptures in full context and correct configuration, in a glass walled roof gallery in full simultaneous view of the Parthenon itself.
THE MATTER COULD BE SOLVED BY THE BRITISH MUSEUM SETTING UP AN OUTPOST IN ATHENS
This is not a misconception. We firmly believe it is possible. It is rejected on the ground that the Parthenon sculptures “need” to continue to be seen within the context of the world collection of the British Museum in order to deepen our understanding of their significance within world history. Elsewhere in the statement this is described as “vital”. Not so. Of course the role they play is important. How could such magnificent works of art not be important to any collection? But in the end their role is contingent on the fact that, by an accident of history, viz the divorce of Lord Elgin and his consequent bankruptcy, they have ended up in the British Museum. If they weren’t there the British Museum surely has adequate alternate exemplars in its collection to make the same point in their world narrative. And if not, the Greek Government has a standing offer of a rolling programme of alternative exemplars to do the job.
In the end, we can accept that these sculptures play an important but not an indispensable role in the British Museum’s world narrative. However the price of this is the compromise of the integrity of a pre-eminent work of art (pace now sadly incomplete), the monument to which they belong, and the museum to whose narrative they ARE INDISPENSABLE as long as they exist.
Surely given the possibilities of modern technology, the establishment of an outpost in Athens is not only possible but a small price to escape the status quo, in which public opinion increasingly sees the stance of the British Museum as a vanity project and the Parthenon marbles as trophies in it.