The return of ‘Elgin Marbles’ will strengthen Britain’s global role, says the Greek Prime Minister

The Greek Prime Minister has called on Boris Johnson to return invaluable antique sculptures to Greece during his official visit to Britain, saying the move would strengthen Britain’s global status after Brexit.

“It’s a topic I really care about and not just a footnote to my visit to the UK,” Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in an interview with the Financial Times on Tuesday, referring to “Elgin Marbles” taken from the Parthenon in Athens early. 19th Century. “There is a very strong reunification argument that I consider particularly important.”

“If I was in the Prime Minister’s shoes and I thought out of the box in relation to global Britannia, and the idea that Britain really does play a role in the post-Brexit world, [it] would be a great coup for public diplomacy if they were to look at this from a different perspective, ”he said.

The return of Elgin Marbles has been the subject of controversial debate for more than 200 years, with Greece repeatedly calling for their repatriation.

Seventeen figures and almost half of the frieze that adorned the fifth century BC. The Parthenon, was removed by Lord Thomas Elgin, a British diplomat and art collector, when Greece was under Ottoman rule, who then sold them to the British Museum.

On Tuesday, the Greek leader met with Johnson to discuss a number of foreign policy issues, including the repatriation of the historic items.

Johnson has previously rejected calls to return the bullets to Greece, insisting they were “legally acquired”. Talk to the Greek daily Ta Nea earlier this year he said: “The British Government has a firm, long-standing attitude towards the sculptures, which is that they were legally acquired by Lord Elgin under the relevant laws of the time and have been legally owned by the British Museums trustees since their acquisition.”

According to Mitsotakis, Melina Mercouri, the Greek Minister of Culture and ardent advocate for the return of the bullets, was invited by Johnson to the Oxford Union in 1986 to talk about the issue, and at the time he was a passionate supporter of returning the bullets.

Melina Mercouri Talks to Boris Johnson in 1986 © Brian Smith / Reuters

For years, the main argument against the return of the sculptures was Greece’s lack of a suitable place for their exhibition, but in 2009 Greece inaugurated a state-of-the-art museum at the foot of the Acropolis.

“If you visit the new Acropolis Museum, you will understand what I mean. That’s where you’re going to see the sculptures,” Mitsotakis said, referring to the plaster casts of the sculptures placed in London next to original pieces, which Elgin left, emphasizing that Elgin Marbles is a significant monument and not just any artifact.

The Greek leader said he understood the British Museum’s position that a possible return of the statue could lead to “everyone asking for everything in the museum”, but insisted that Elgin Marbles was a “special case” .

In return for the return, Mitsotakis said he was very open to offering the British Museum access to antiques and treasures that have never before left Greece as part of a rotating exhibition in the future.

The Parthenon Balls at the British Museum © Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

Athens Acropolis Museum © Milos Bicanski / Getty Images

Prior to the meeting on Tuesday, Johnson said the possession of the bullets was a matter for the museum and not the British government.

“Any decision regarding the collections is made by the museum’s representatives, and any question about the location of the Parthenon sculptures is a matter for them,” Downing Street said.

But Mitsotakis insisted he would continue to engage both the government and the museum on the issue.

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