In an unexpected turn of events, a diplomatic dispute emerged between the UK and Greece over the Parthenon Sculptures, also known as the Elgin Marbles, during the visit of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to Downing Street.
The controversy began after it was reported that Downing Street believed it had assurances that Prime Minister Mitsotakis would not publicly discuss the Parthenon Sculptures during his visit to the UK. However, Greek sources swiftly denied any such understanding. This follows Mitsotakis' BBC interview where he likened the division of the sculptures between London and Athens to cutting the Mona Lisa in half, emphasizing his desire for their return.
As tensions escalated, 10 Downing Street abruptly cancelled the planned meeting between the UK Prime Minister and his Greek counterpart. The move has been described by the Labour Party as "pathetic," while the Greek government source dismissed any prior assurances and asserted that discussions were smooth until late Monday afternoon.
The Parthenon Sculptures, ancient Greek treasures taken to the UK by Lord Elgin in the 19th century, have been a longstanding point of contention between Greece and the UK. The British Museum has housed these artifacts since 1832, with occasional exceptions such as during World War II and a temporary loan to a Russian museum in 2014.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper expressed regret over the cancelled meeting and emphasized that the UK's position is clear – the Elgin Marbles are part of the permanent collection of the British Museum and should remain there. However, Mitsotakis, expressing disappointment, had called for a constructive dialogue and partnership with the British Museum to appreciate the works "in their original setting."
Critics, including Professor Irene Stamatoudi, have drawn parallels between Rishi Sunak's defence of the marble's place in London and Lord Elgin's actions, accusing the historical figure of smuggling artifacts for personal use.
Despite the cancellation, Mitsotakis continued his UK visit, meeting with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. Greek government spokesperson Pavlos Marinakis criticized Britain's attitude, stating it showed "no respect for the prime minister and our country" but emphasized a desire not to escalate tensions.
The incident adds fuel to the ongoing global debate about the rightful place of historical artifacts in a post-colonial era, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak aligning himself firmly on one side. The fallout from this diplomatic spat is likely to have lasting implications on UK-Greece relations, shedding light on the complexities surrounding cultural heritage and diplomacy in the 21st century.
Image credited : Getty Image
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