The ongoing debate over the rightful possession and display of the sculptures Lord Elgin removed from the Acropolis 200 years ago dates back to 1983, when Greece submitted its first official request for their return.
By George Kourmouzis
The debate has picked up steam again recently, with politicians, intellectuals, celebrities and legal experts stepping onto the stage. The world's media responded to the public interest, bringing the moral issue of ownership to the forefront.
As a Greek, I find that there is a lot of value in having the ancient Greek part of the World's Heritage displayed around the world. It enhances Greece's global brand and brings tourists to Greece to view their place of origin and history. However, I get my back up when told that what was taken from me without my consent is no longer mine.
So, let's sidestep the Legal issue of Ownership and Display. Both parties are reluctant to entrust its resolution to a Court of Law (UK, Greek, Turkish o International?). Tweak the issue to Ownership vs. Display and pursue a resolution based on Moral Justice!
I suggest a compromise resolution to this conflict based on the following principles:
- Greece disputes the legitimacy of the Marbles' transfer to the UK and the rights of their ownership by the British Museum, but appreciates whatever positive impact towards their preservation Lord Elgin's initiative might have had.
- The British Museum has benefited from 170 years of displaying these foreign (not fenced) cultural monuments for a very small price. Consider what has transpired so far a fair trade.
- Both parties forget Legality, seek a solution based on Morality and transact accordingly:
- The British Museum ceremoniously transfers legal ownership of whatever Elgin sold them from his Acropolis purchase (not loot) to the Greek State.
- The Greek State ceremoniously thanks the British Museum for restoring, preserving and displaying part of the world's cultural heritage to their public.
- Agree to lease the same pieces to the Museum for the next 20 – 30 years for a fee commensurate to their relative importance of the Museum's displays. Proceeds from the lease will be dedicated to the ongoing restoration effort on the Acropolis.
- Defer a decision of bringing some or all of the Museum's Acropolis holdings back to Greece once the lease is over, to future leaders and initiatives under the 1970 UNESCO Convention.
Let the debate then deal with the merits and demerits of displaying world heritage pieces at their origin or spread out around the world.