BBC Sunday Morning Live debate November 2nd 2014: Should Britain return its historical treasures?

BBC Sunday Morning Live debate November 2nd 2014: Should Britain return its historical treasures? Presented by Sian Williams

I write to protest at the use of the Parthenon Marbles as the main exemplar for a debate on the general issue of whether cultural property should be returned to its country of origin.

The most cursory investigation would have revealed to your researchers that the campaigners for the reunification (note the word - not "return") of the Parthenon marbles focus specifically and solely on the merits off this particular case.  We do not campaign for "returnism" in general.

Opinion polls about the reunification of the Parthenon marbles always produce a large majority in favour.  The result of your opinion poll looks like an exception.  This is because the Parthenon marbles were presented as an exemplar for a case which we do not make and without the main arguments which we do make.  Furthermore any opinion pollster would tell you that the question "Should Britain return its historical treasures?" Has a built in bias towards a negative response.

The Parthenon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Not any old UNESCO World Heritage site but judged by UNESCO itself to be the most important such site in Europe.  Not only in Europe.  Its global significance is recognised by its adoption by UNESCO as the basis for its own logo.   Its "marbles" are integral, sculpted architectural elements of the monument. These sculpted elements are a single artistic entity with the building.  Over 50% of them were removed, in many cases sawn or hacked off by Elgin's agents and removed to Britain, an action widely criticised both then and now as cultural vandalism.  The rest remain in Athens.  Whilst they are so separated the artistic integrity of the whole is impaired.  The Parthenon is a fixed monument.  It is in Athens.  Thus the only place where the integrity of the whole can be restored is in Athens.  Nor is the Acropolis Museum just "another museum".  Its glass walled upper gallery is aligned with the Parthenon.  In it the sculptures are displayed in correct configuration, with maximum natural light, in direct line of sight with the Parthenon in a single visual and aesthetic experience.   It is impossible to put them back on the Parthenon.  This is the closest possible and it can only happen there.  In short, the ethical and cultural case for the reunification of the Parthenon marbles in Athens is unique and overwhelming.

Eddie O'Hara
Chairman, The British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles

And the results of a more specific poll on should we return the sculptures from the Parthenon resulted in 90% voting YES