Elgin Marbles must be returned to Greece, say MPs

The Parthenon Marbles, a collection of stone objects, inscriptions and sculptures, also known as the Elgin Marbles, are displayed at the British Museum in London. © Dylan Martinez
A group of British legislators have unveiled a bill seeking the return of the Elgin Marbles to Greece exactly 200 years since the British Parliament approved the purchase of the ancient sculptures.

The sculpted frieze and 17 life-sized marble figures were removed from the Parthenon temple by Lord Elgin during his time as ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. Following a parliamentary inquiry into the legality of Elgin’s acquisition, the government bought the ancient relics, currently on display in London’s British Museum.

Over the centuries, the Greeks have maintained the 2,500-year-old sculptures were taken illegally during the Turkish occupation and demanded they be sent back to Athens.

The bill on the reunification of the marbles will be presented by Liberal Democrat Mark Williams, with the support of Conservative Jeremy Lefroy and 10 MPs from Labour, the Scottish National Party (SNP) and Welsh nationalists Plaid Cymru, the Independent reports.

“If there had been a justification for taking these sculptures into safekeeping in the UK in the early 1800s that moment has now long passed. These magnificent artifacts were improperly dragged and sawn off the remains of the Parthenon,” Williams said.

“Indeed they have hardly been in safekeeping. Nearly lost altogether on their journey back and damaged by inept management whilst in the British Museum.

“It’s time we engaged in a gracious act. To put right a 200-year wrong.”

The legislation is backed by the British Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures.

Recent polls have indicated an overwhelming majority of Britons support the restitution of the Greek Marbles. One survey Ipsos MORI found, 69 percent of those familiar with the issue are in favor of returning the sculptures, compared with just 13 percent against.

Under Prime Minister David Cameron, the government has remained opposed to returning the marbles. The PM joked in 2011 that Britain was not going to “lose its marbles.”

Chair of the British Association for the Renunciation of the Parthenon Sculptures Andrew George argued that returning the sculptures would help the UK secure a better deal in the face looming withdrawal from the European Union.

“If we are about the negotiate a decent trade deal with our European friends, the last thing we want to do is to show the kind of raspberries and two-fingers that Farage was displaying in the European Parliament the other day,” he said.

“And there could be no better demonstration of that generosity and graciousness than to do what would be the right thing by the Greeks,” George said.

Last year, the Greek government abandoned a bid to take the British government to court after Amal Clooney, who had been hired for the case, said there was only a 15 percent chance of success.

The Greeks have indicated they are now petitioning the United Nations to forge diplomatic pathways to restore the marbles to Athens.