Mitsotakis: Returning Parthenon Marbles to Greece is a matter of principle, as much as it is a political issue

The full spectrum of Greece-United Kingdom relations and ways to deepen these further yet was discussed at the meeting of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street in London on Tuesday, said Greek government sources.

The Greek premier congratulated Johnson on his effective presence at the COP26 climate change summit held in Glasgow, and for his efforts towards a result, in an issue that is both crucial and complex, it was added.

Regarding EU-UK relations, Mitsotakis welcomed the continuation of the dialogue between these two sides on the Northern Ireland Protocol, and he underlined the need for its implementation in the context of the United Kingdom’s commitments under the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement.

Turkey’s destabilising role in the Eastern Meditteranean was another issue mentioned by Mitsotakis, which, as he said, leaves little room for optimism in terms of a dialogue. Greece, he added, always stands ready for said dialogue, in the context of International Law, the Law of the Sea, and in respect for its sovereign rights.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis reiterated to Johnson Greece’s standing demand for the return of the Parthenon Marbles, noting that the time has come to meet Greece’s fair request, and see to the restoration of the monument in its entirety at the Acropolis Museum, sources noted.

Speaking about the issue to Greek journalists in London after his meeting with Johnson, Mitsotakis said that “our request is not a flare. We will insist, methodically, to build the necessary foundations within British public opinion for the need to reunite the Parthenon Marbles with the sculptures of the Acropolis Museum. It is an important issue, one that relates to our bilateral relations,” he underlined.

Moreover, he added, “this is not a legal issue per se, it is, above all, both a matter of principle, as well as a political issue,” and he concluded by saying that “ we will employ all means at our disposal to meet this target of ours.”

The Greek prime minister’s meeting with his British counterpart was attended by New Democracy MP Tassos Chatzivassiliou, Greek Ambassador to the UK Ioannis Raptakis, ambassador Anna-Maria-Eleni Boura of the Prime Minister’s Diplomatic Office, deputy government spokesperson Aristotelia Peloni, and the Director of the Prime Minister’s Economic Office Alexis Patelis.

PM Mitsotakis to Financial Times

Mitsotakis told the Financial Times that the issue of the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece, seized from Athens in the 19th century, was not a mere footnote in his UK visit and his meeting with his British counterpart, but a point of high interest, in an interview with the news outlet on Tuesday.

“There is a rather strong argument for their reunification [with the Acropolis Museum collection],” he noted, and continued: “If I were in the PM’s shoes and I were thinking out of the box in terms of global Britannia, and the idea of Britain really playing a role in the post Brexit world, it would be a fantastic coup for public diplomacy if they were to look at this from a different perspective,” he told FT.

“If you go to visit the new Acropolis museum you will understand what I mean. That’s where you need to see the sculptures,” said Mitsotakis, referring to plaster casts of the sculptures housed in the Acropolis Museum next to original pieces Elgin left behind. He stressed that the “Elgin Marbles” are “a significant monument and not just any artefact.”

The Greek premier said he understood the position of the British Museum that a potential return of the Parthenon Marbles could lead to “everyone asking for everything there is in the museum” but insisted that the Parthenon Marbles were a special case.

Mitsotakis noted that in 1986 Melina Merkouri, the Greek former culture minister and fervent campaigner for the return of the marbles, was invited by Johnson to the Oxford Union to talk on the issue, and at the time he was a passionate supporter of returning the marbles, he stressed.

Mitsotakis underlined that he would continue to interact with both the British government and the British Museum on the issue.