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Speech by IPSACI Chairman, Alexis Mantheakis, at the Acropolis Museum in Athens, December 2010. 

“I would like to thank the organizers for the opportunity they have given me to be here and to speak on behalf of the International Parthenon Sculptures Action committee which I am representing.

IPSACI is a cultural activist non-profit organisation with 192,153 registered members worldwide supporting the cause of the Restitution. We are the biggest international Parthenon sculptures organisation in the world. We have only been established for two years but our message for the immediate return of the Sculptures has been received with an enthusiasm which has moved us. We chose to establish IPSACI in New Zealand because it is a country which has been very supportive politically to the reunification cause. In fact, not long ago New Zealand's parliament passed a unanimous motion calling on Britainto return Parthenon Sculptures to Greece, and we have to thank Emanuel Comino, of the Australian Committee, who is here with us today, for his efforts in bringing this about.

 

IPSACI’s board is divided equally at the Greek and non-Greek members.

We have two inviolable principles-

  1. The Parthenon Sculptures belong to Greece, and, 2. No form of a loan is acceptable since, as any lawyer knows a loan means that the borrower accepts that ownership of the item borrowed remains with the lender.

In fact we started our campaign because we become very fearful that the Greek side was tiring with the centuries old battle and was losing its will when official Greek voices were heard proposing that a loan agreement be accepted by the British Museum. This was something the likes of which had never been proposed in the 2500 years since Pericles had built the Parthenon.

We have spoken to members of Parliament in the House of Commons, organised our members to protest peacefully with large banners and placards in the front court of the British Museum, distributed pamphlets and made videos inside the museum itself, given pamphlets in the Underground in London, put up posters in the UK and Athens, organised a street happening below the Acropolis to protest at the continuing possession of the Parthenon looted Greek masterpieces by the British Museum and called meetings in Athens and Auckland. We have spoken to the international and Greek media and our positions have been reported on and broadcast by CNN and BBC, German television, the New York Times, the Guardian, and other media. But these actions are only a part of a strategy which has been arrived at after careful analysis of the character and the historical behaviour of official Britainregarding objects it possessed that did not belong to her, whether these were colonies or looted cultural goods. Our studies have also focused on the legal and political framework governing the British Museum.

After the multi-pronged campaign of Melina Mercuri who spoke to the House of Lords, at the British Museum, to members of Parliament in England, to international organisations, to the media and to others, the British government started redirecting those interested in the return of the Parthenon Sculptures to the British Museum, saying that the museum was an independent entity and that the government had no say in the Sculptures matter or in the running of the museum.

Is this the truth though? Let us look at the facts.

The British Museum has a Board of Trustees made up of 25 members

15 are appointed by the Prime Minister

4 are appointed by the Secretary of State (Minister of the Interior)

5 are appointed by the Board of Trustees, who themselves have been appointed by the ministers mentioned above

1 trustee is appointed by the Queen

 

Let us look now at the funding of the British Museum.

The museum is supported financially almost entirely by the British Ministry of Culture and Sport.

From the above it is clear that the British Museum is totally dependent economically and administratively on successive governments of Britain.

For several decades well-meaning Greeks, ministers, archaeologists, Members of Parliament, members of committees, people of the arts and academics from Greecehave visited the directors of the British Museum in the hope that they would agree to return the Parthenon Sculptures to Athens.

The problem is that we were speaking for more than 40 years to the wrong entity, because the Museum Law of Britain of 1963 expressly forbids the British Museum from returning cultural items such as the Sculptures. Even if they wanted to, the director and Trustees of the British Museum have no authority to do so! The role of the British Museum is that of a custodian.

Without the passing of a new law restitution of the looted sculptures to Greece is not possible. Only the British government can do this. This is the key to the solution, and it is on this that we must concentrate.

We therefore propose that there be an immediate cessation of contact with the British Museum regarding the question of the Parthenon Sculptures because the museum has no legal authority on this matter. Contacts regarding other cultural matters should of course continue.

Why do we think that the time for a solution is now? 

Historically the idea of restitution is ripe - however it would be naive as to believe that Britainwill be moved by our pleas and give them back in a crisis of conscience. It is a fact that historically Britain has never returned anything unless pressured to do so.

A practical solution.

In 18 months the Olympic Games will take place in London. It is the right time and a unique opportunity for the Greek government and for all of us around the world who are demanding the Return to get results. Any country which hosts the Olympic Games is particularly "sensitive" -- let us put it that way -- to economic and political pressure. We ourselves experience this in 2004 when we became the object of extreme interest by Britain and the United States… these though are matters for governments and for high diplomacy. But we must not miss this once in a lifetime opportunity because after the Olympic Games the whole question of the reunion of the Parthenon Sculptures is in danger of disappearing from the forefront of public interest.

We therefore propose a political solution, it cannot be otherwise.  A solution must be given by an Act of Parliament – by the enactment of a new law. NOW.

Without this the Parthenon Sculptures can never be returned.

The time has come. Britain has given back much larger items in the recent past.

Our message to the British government therefore is -

“Gentlemen, if you could give back India you can surely empty one room in the British Museum.

Thank You"

   ***

 


THE PARTHENON SCULPTURES BELONG TO GREECE!