March 1, 2024

Lukmaan IAS

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THE PARTHENON SCULPTURES

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TAG: GS 1: ART AND CULTURE

THE CONTEXT: Over the years, Greece has repeatedly asked for the sculptures’ permanent return to Athens, but Britain and the British Museum have refused to do so. A diplomatic row sparked between Greece and the UK recently after British Prime Minister cancelled a meeting with his Greek counterpart over the status of the Parthenon Sculptures housed at the British Museum.

Background and Historical Significance

  • The Parthenon Sculptures is also known as the Elgin Marbles.
  • It represents a collection of over 30 ancient stone sculptures from Greece, dating back more than 2,000 years.
  • Originating from the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis hill in Athens, built around 432 BC to honor the goddess Athena, these sculptures symbolize the pinnacle of Athens’ Golden Age.

Controversy Surrounding Removal and Ownership

  • The dispute stems from the sculptures’ removal in the early 19th century by Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, during his tenure as the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.
  • Transported to Britain, the sculptures were later acquired by the British Museum in 1816.
  • Greece has persistently sought their permanent return to Athens since gaining independence in the 1830s.
  • However, the British Museum maintains ownership, asserting that Elgin obtained them legally through a contract with the Ottoman Empire.
  • Nevertheless, the validity of the permission granted to Elgin remains contentious due to the absence of original documentation.

Evolution of the Conflict and Conflicting Positions

  • The controversy has seen periodic escalations, notably highlighted during the 1980s when Greek actress championed the cause for repatriation during her tenure as Greece’s culture minister.
  • Despite Greece’s consistent demands, the British Museum staunchly refuses to return the sculptures, citing legal acquisition.
  • British Museum proposed that the sculptures remain divided between museums due to losses and potential safety concerns associated with reunification.

Recent Developments and Diplomatic Strains

  • Recent events, including the cancellation of a meeting between British Prime Minister and Greek Prime Minister, have heightened tensions.
  • Greece vows to continue discussions with the British Museum regarding the sculptures’ return.
  • Speculation arises that the Labour Party, expected to win upcoming national elections, might consider a loan agreement between the British Museum and the Greek government, potentially signaling a policy shift regarding ownership and repatriation of the Parthenon Sculptures.

Ongoing Diplomatic Implications

  • The unresolved dispute remains a focal point in diplomatic relations between Greece and the UK, revolving around the cultural heritage and rightful ownership of these ancient artifacts.
  • The debate underscores the complexities of cultural diplomacy and the ongoing global discourse surrounding the repatriation of historically significant artifacts.

SOURCE: https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-culture/parthenon-sculptures-britain-greece-9046166/

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