Europe

Greek newspaper mocks Boris Johnson over Elgin Marbles row PM’s OWN words from Oxford

Ann Widdecombe discusses returning Elgin Marbles

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Brexitcast creator Dino Sofos tweeted that it was awkward for the Prime Minister who “refuses to engage with Greece over the return of the Parthenon friezes”. Greek daily newspaper Ta Nea uncovered the piece which was reportedly penned by the PM while he was a student before the Mediterranean country’s then Minister of Culture Melina Mercouri was due to deliver a speech at the Oxford Union on returning the classical sculptures.

Mr Johnson wrote: “The Elgin Marbles should leave this northern whisky drinking guilt-culture, and be displayed where they belong: in a country of bright sunlight and the landscape of Achilles, ‘the shadowy mountains and the echoing sea.

“They will be housed in a new museum a few hundred yards from the Acropolis. They will be meticulously cared for”.

He goes on to contrast the care the marbles would receive in Athens to the severe damage caused by “manic” British Museum washerwomen who in 1938, he writes, scrubbed the artefacts with copper brushes.

The article contrasts with the Prime Minister’s statement in November that the future of the marbles was up to the trustees of the British Museum where they are held.

Mr Johnson said he understood the strength of feeling of the Greek people after Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis raised the issue during talks last month.

The 17 figures and part of a frieze that decorated the Acropolis were taken by the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Lord Elgin.

Britain insists Elgin legally obtained the sculptures in 1816.

In his article, Mr Johnson observes that Elgin did humanity a service by “bagging” the marbles before they could be quarried to build Turkish hovels.

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He notes: “He lost a fortune on the enterprise, and his wife, who probably found them too cold and immodest, was not happy with them either.

“In 1816 he sold them to the British Government for £35,000. Therefore it would require an Act of Parliament to hand them back.

“This, needless to say, seems to be more or less an insuperable brake on the process of return – yet it could be passed in an afternoon.

“The reasons for taking the marbles were good. The reasons for handing them back are better still”.

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In November, Mr Mitsotakis told Good Morning Britain they are in the UK because they were stolen by Elgin.

He said: “At the end of the day, this is not a legal argument, and I don’t like to talk about the return of the marbles.

“I like to talk about the reunification of the marbles.”

The trustees of the British Museum argue that there is a public benefit to having the marbles split between two museums with the Acropolis Museum in Athens allowing them to be seen against the backdrop of Athenian history and the remainder viewed in the context of world history.

They deny the work was stolen, but say they will consider lending the collection on condition the British Museum is acknowledged as the owner.

Earlier this month actor Stephen Fry called for the marbles to be returned to Greece and replaced at the British Museum with a virtual reality experience.

He claimed returning the marbles is what the country needs, saying: “There would be a hand-shake ceremony and suddenly people would for once look at Britain and say that was a classy act.

“It would be a classy thing and Britain hasn’t done a classy thing for some time.”

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