Home U.K Oliver Dowden rejects bid to return Elgin Marbles to Athens – 'impossible...

Oliver Dowden rejects bid to return Elgin Marbles to Athens – 'impossible to go back'

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Brexit: Academic slams EU for Elgin Marbles ‘political trick’

Athens has been campaigning for the return of the iconic statues and earlier this month won the backing of the European Commission. But Boris Johnson has made it clear the marbles are going nowhere and his tough stance has been echoed by Mr Dowden.

Once you start pulling on this thread where do you actually end up?

Oliver Dowden

Mr Dowden told the Times: “Once you start pulling on this thread where do you actually end up?

“Would we insist on having the Bayeux Tapestry back?

“American institutions are packed full of British artefacts. Japan has loads of Chinese and Korean artefacts.

“There is an exceptionally high bar for this because I just don’t see where it ends.

“You go down a rabbit hole and tie up our institutions.

“I think it is just impossible to go back and disentangle all these things.”

Elgin Marbles

The Elgin Marbles are on display in the British Museum (Image: PA)

Mr Dowden also questioned whether the iconic sculptures would still be intact today had they not been brought back to Britain by Lord Elgin in

He said: “Would they have survived the Nazis rampaging through Athens during World War II. It is a slightly trite argument but there is a truth.”

British diplomat Lord Elgin brought the sculptures from the Parthenon temple in Athens in the early 19th century when Greece was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.

The British Museum insists the 2,500-year-old treasures, roughly half of a 525ft frieze that adorned the 5th century BC monument, were acquired by Lord Elgin under a legal contract and are part of everyone’s “shared heritage”.

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Oliver Dowden

Oliver Dowden has reaffirmed Britain’s intention to keep the Elgin Marbles (Image: PA)

Elgin Marbles

The Elgin Marbles were brought back from Athens in the early 19th Century (Image: PA)

Earlier this month Mr Johnson told Greek daily newspaper Ta Nea that the British Museum was the legitimate owner of the marbles.

The Prime Minister, who described himself as “a keen scholar of Greek history” in the Ta Nea interview, said he understood the feelings of many Greeks about the issue but said Britain had a “firm and long-standing” position about the sculptures.

He told the paper: “I understand the strong feelings of the Greek people – and indeed Prime Minister Mitsotakis – on the issue.

“But the UK Government has a firm longstanding position on the sculptures which is that they were legally acquired by Lord Elgin under the appropriate laws of the time and have been legally owned by the British Museum’s Trustees since their acquisition.”

Greece’s conservative government has stepped up pressure for a return of the marbles since it took power in 2019, a campaign it has said would be intensified by Britain’s departure from the European Union.

Culture Minister Lina Mendoni last year branded Elgin a “serial thief” who used illegal tactics to take the marbles.

In 2019, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he would be willing to lend important artefacts to London in return for putting the marbles on display in Athens in 2021, when Greece marks the 200th anniversary of the start of its War of Independence.

Highlighting the importance of the issue for his centre-right government, Mr Mitsotakis said: “I don’t think Britain should be fighting a losing battle.

“Eventually this is going to be a losing battle.

“At the end of the day there is going to be mounting pressure on this issue.”

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Elgin Marbles

Athens has long campaigned for the return of the Elgin Marbles (Image: PA)

An Express.co.uk poll carried out last September found only a third of readers thought the UK should send the sculptures back to Athens.

One reader said: “If the Elgin Marbles are returned then everything in every museum in the world has to be returned to its country of origin – all Egyptian mummies to Egypt, all Greek antiquities to Greece etc.

“That would decimate most museums around the world but it is the only way for things to be fair … either all or none.”

Another said: “The Elgin Marbles are British owned, purchased by the Crown from Lord Elgin in 1816 and presented by parliament to the British Museum. End of.”



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