To The Rt. Honorable Mr. David Cameron
Dear Prime Minister,
My country, Greece is currently suffering from one of the worst upheavals in its history, with its institutions and economy hanging in the balance and its people being subjected to unprecedented peacetime suffering and tensions for reasons every Greek citizen and politician knows. In the past we, of Greece, a small but inordinately proud nation, stood virtually alone at your side when Europe collapsed during the Second World War. Despite the terrible cost we would have to pay in lives and property we did not, as your allies, hesitate for a moment to stand up to the vastly numerically superior forces of Hitler and Mussolini, turning the tide of the war long enough to delay the deployment of German forces to attack on the Eastern front. The result was, as your eminent predecessor Sir Winston Churchill declared “If there had not been the virtue and courage of the Greeks, we do not know which the outcome of World War II would have been.”
In our present “darkest hour” it is our turn to ask for your support in a matter of prime historical, cultural and national importance for us - the unconditional return of the Parthenon Sculptures from the British Museum to their historic home in Athens.
Stephen Fry, your compatriot, recently wrote “The Hellenic Republic today is in heart-rending turmoil, a humiliating sovereign debt crisis has brought Greece to the brink of absolute ruin. This proud, beautiful nation for which Byron laid down his life is in a condition much like the one for which he mourned when they were under the Ottoman yoke in the early nineteenth century”
Prime Minister, history and future generations will honour you, as will Greece, if you take that one small - for Britain - but monumental, for Greece, step of amending the 1933 Museums Act to allow for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures.
The Olympic Games and the Parthenon Sculptures
The Parthenon Sculptures issue and the increasing and widespread dissatisfaction over Britain’s refusal to return the Sculptures will come to the forefront of media and public attention the closer we get to the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, another Greek institution, in London this summer. The May 10th millennia-old ceremony of the lighting of the Olympic Flame at Ancient Olympia, initiating the torch’s journey to London, is already the subject of controversy because of the continuing possession of the Parthenon Sculptures by the BritishMuseumand Britain’s obstinate, to date, refusal to return them to Greece. Thousands of supporters of social media sites are urging, among other actions, a “No Marbles, No Flame” activist stance. The Olympics, from Ancient times, have been a time of truce, not conflict. It is in the hands of all of us to continue this tradition by respecting each other's cultures.
The repatriation cause is widely accepted as a culturally and academically noble one concerning a UNESCO-protected cultural monument. 220,000 of our members, part of an ocean of citizens supported by prominent officials, parliamentarians, heads of state and church, by eminent academics and prominent journalists, plus the majority of UK citizens and the European Parliament (in a motion passed with the support of your governing coalition partner Mr. Nick Clegg) request that honourable men and women in Britain do the honourable thing and return the mutilated statues and frieze sections of the Parthenon to their historic national home in Athens where they came from.
This plea would be of less value if I did not point out some fallacies that have helped keep the Parthenon Sculptures in The British Museum. Past British governments stated, erroneously, that their hands were tied since the British Museum was an independent body and that it is for their board of trustees to decide.The British Museum, irrespective of its status, has no legal power to “deaccession” antiquities removed from foreign countries. It has no gate receipt revenue and is dependent for its running and survival on your own Ministry of Culture and Sport funding. Its trustees are government appointees, or elected by trustees previously appointed by the PM or the Minister of Culture. One only is appointed by the Queen.
The reality -The British Museum is a totally government funded institution run by a government-appointed and controlled board of trustees.As such, and without any legal capacity whatsoever to return items in its care, the Parthenon issue can only be settled by a revision of the Museums Act by your government.
Even in it’s partially damaged present state the Parthenon is still an object of haunting beauty, a symbol of the birthplace of Democracy and an age of supreme freedom of thought, science, philosophy, art and civic organisation – the Golden Age of Greece. It is the defining symbol of western civilisation and has been the central symbol of the national, cultural and historical identity of Greeks for the last 2,500 years. Nobody except Greece and its citizens can claim to have the legal or cultural right to possess parts of the looted monument
Possession of the Parthenon Sculptures by the British Museum is a throwback to an era of Victorian military annexations, officially sanctioned archaeological looting, legal opium trading and the institutionalised capture, transport and trade of human beings. Men of conscience and parliamentarians in Great Britain brought about legislation that introduced a new morality to end these abuses. By their actions they acted honourably, in the true interests of Britain, its people and of the world. The retention of the Parthenon Sculptures in Russel Square today is a cultural and moral anomaly: a historical throwback that brings no credit to Britain or to the British Museum, and we ask you to end it. The Olympic Games Opening Ceremony with its symbolism will be a fitting time to do this.
Stephen Fry wrote “How can we British be proud until we sit down with Greek politicians and arrange for the return of their treasure? It would be a dignified, but a thrilling celebration if the Prime Minister or his Deputy had the grace and guts to make this gesture, perhaps at the opening of London 2012 and then following it up in Athens with a full reinstallation, it will achieve many things.
What greater gesture could be made to Greece in its time of appalling financial distress? An act of friendship, atonement and an expression of faith in the future of the cradle of democracy would be so, well just so damned classy.”
Repatriation now will right a historical wrong and will honour those hundreds of thousands of my fellow countrymen who selflessly gave up their families and lives to be at your side when the Axis military tide was against you. We paid in blood to support Britain and its citizens, Prime Minister: for our country we now ask for a signature by you and your cabinet to return the Parthenon Sculptures to Athens where they belong.
If Britain could give back India, then surely the emptying of one room of a London museum is a small price to pay to right a historical wrong. It would also be a way to say thank you to those hundreds of thousands of Greeks who willingly traded their families and future for a simple cross in a dusty cemetery in order to stand by you in your own darkest hour.
Chairman of the International Parthenon Sculptures Action Committee Inc (NZ)