Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on January 11 contradicted earlier reports that London’s British Museum and the Acropolis Museum in Athens were close to reaching a deal that would see the UK institution lend the storied Parthenon marbles to the Greek museum on a long-term basis. In a televised interview, Mitsotakis, who is up for a second term at his post, suggested that an agreement regarding the contested objects might be reached after votes are counted. “If the Greek people trust us again, I believe we could achieve this target after the elections.”
Also known as the Elgin marbles, the contested antiquities include a number of metopes and seventeen pedimental figures, as well as a nearly 250-foot section of a frieze portraying a festival procession celebrating the birthday of the Greek goddess Athena. All were removed the Acropolis in 1801 by Lord Elgin, at the time the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, which allegedly gave him permission to do so. Elgin transported the objects out of the country and sold them to trustees of the British Museum, which since 1816 has retained them in its collection. Greece has actively sought their return since 1983, asserting that consent offered by authorities of a no-longer-extent regime is meaningless and that the items were taken without the permission of the Greek people.
Though Mitsotakis’s statement came as a surprise to those who read last week that a deal was near being reached, the Greek culture ministry has long refused to recognize the British Museum’s jurisdiction over the sculptures and therefore does not acknowledge its right to loan them out. UK culture secretary Michelle Donelan on January 11 told BBC Radio 4’s The Media Show that the Parthenon marbles “belong here in the UK.” Donelan additionally asserted that, contrary to previous reports, British Museum chair George Osborne was “not about to send [the marbles] back,” adding, “There’s also been this concept of a hundred-year loan mooted as well, which is certainly not what he’s planning either.”