Greece has offered to lend some of its “most important” artifacts to the British Museum to “fill the void” left behind if the London institution returns the Parthenon Marbles to Athens.
In an interview with the Guardian, Greek culture minister Lina Mendoni promised a trade agreement that would ensure treasures from Greek antiquities are always displayed at the London institution.
“Our position is clear,” she said. “Should the sculptures be reunited in Athens, Greece is prepared to organize rotating exhibitions of important antiquities that would fill the void.” Asked to elaborate on which treasures would be exchanged, Mendoni said that ongoing discussions had not reached such specifics.
“[The works] would fill the void, maintain, and constantly renew, international visitor interest in the Greek galleries of the British Museum,” Mendoni added. However, she clarified that “any agreement and all its particulars, would have to be in accordance with the Greek law on cultural heritage.”
Mendoni’s statements suggest a magnanimous turn in relations between Greece and the British Museum, capping a year of sputtered negotiations and public rebukes. The centuries-old dispute over whether the Parthenon Marbles belong in England, where they currently reside, or in Greece, from which they originate, continued in 2023, with both sides speaking of “a partnership” that could bring a “win-win” solution.
Whether 2024 will finally bring the long-running dispute to a close remains uncertain. This past January, the British Museum, which has held the sculptures since 1832, confirmed that it had been meeting with Greece over a potential loan agreement, only for Medoni to announce days later that there was no possibility of a deal affirming the United Kingdom’s ownership claim of the sculptures.
“We repeat, once again, our country’s firm position that it does not recognize the British Museum’s jurisdiction, possession and ownership of the Sculptures, as they are the product of theft,” her statement read.
And in November, tensions again rose after British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak publicly accused Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of “grandstanding” over the contested artworks. Sunak later called off a meeting with Mitsotakis hours before it was set to start. Mitsotakis, for his part, told the Associated Press that, “There was a positive side to the cancellation of this meeting, that it gained even more publicity … [for] the fair request of Greece for the reunification of the sculptures of the Parthenon.”