Just over a year ago, in October 2014, the Foundation for Hellenic Studies in SA made its first attempt to raise awareness on the most famous heritage dispute between Greece and the United Kingdom – the return of the Parthenon Marbles to their country of origin, Greece.
The #ReturnTheMarbles campaign was set up on social media and immediately received an overwhelming response.
“Our Facebook page alone reached almost 70,000 supporters within the year,” explains Mr Harry Patsouris, who is one of the directors of the foundation.
“After collaborating with the Greek government in late October 2015 we managed to secure fourteen replica pieces – including one ‘Karyatis’ – to be displayed for 100 days during the Festival of Arts 2015 hosted by the Adelaide Festival Centre, which is South Australia’s principal performing arts venue.”
Created by Greek sculptor Phidias and his assistants over 2000 years ago as part of the Parthenon Temple and other buildings on the Acropolis of Athens, the marbles were illegally transported from Greece to London between 1801 and 1805 by Scottish diplomat Lord Elgin.
According to the British government, Lord Elgin claimed to have obtained in 1801 a ‘controversial’ permit from the Sublime Porte – the central government of the Ottoman Empire – which ruled Greece at the time.
Reading through the 200-year-old debate between Greece and the UK over the ownership and placement of the Parthenon Sculptures, it is evident that several attempts have been made by the country that introduced the idea of democracy to the rest of the world to resolve the issue.
The outcome of all repatriation proposals has sadly not worked in the favour of art, history or civilisation.
To make matters worse, the British Museum has – according to media – been considering the loaning of three marble pieces to other foreign museums, an even more outrageous act for the Greek people.
The Parthenon Marbles have been in the spotlight, hitting headlines many times in the past year when human rights lawyer Amal Clooney joined the Greek government’s legal advisory team in its bid to secure the return of the sculptures from the United Kingdom.
Late actress Melina Mercouri, who served as Greece’s minister of culture during the 1980s and 1990s, campaigned hard for an amicable settlement but no progress was made.
Only a few years ago, in 2000, the Greek government made another failed attempt when George Papandreou, foreign minister at the time, invited the British Museum and consequently the British government to settle the question of ownership and repatriate the remaining sculptures to their place of origin, with the plan to have them permanently displayed in the new Acropolis Museum.
As a sign of ‘good will’, the Greek government pledged to loan to the museum’s purpose-built Duveen Gallery rare and even newly-discovered Greek antiquities (which have never left the Greek borders) for exhibitions.
The proposal was rejected by the British.
Unfortunately, last Tuesday 8 December, current Greek Minister of Culture, Education and Religious Affairs Professor Aristides Baltas announced that Greece acknowledges the efforts made by the international association but the decision has been made to withdraw from the legal battle to obtain the marbles, mainly out of fear of losing the case.
“We now have more allies in the country’s quest to reunite the ancient artefacts.
“This is upping the pressure, but the British Museum is resisting,” announced Professor Baltas.
It is at this point that another Greek word comes to mind.
Most people these days would agree that breaking up a piece of art goes against the grain of artistic and archaeological integrity.
It follows, then, that Greece does not need to elaborate as to why those classical sculptures should return to their country of origin.
“A horseman has his head in Athens and his body in London. The Greek god Poseidon has his torso separated between Greece and the UK,” Amal Clooney explained while making an impassioned plea to Britain to return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece during her three-day visit to Athens last year.
The Parthenon Marbles have tremendous historical significance and have influenced numerous architectural masterpieces around the world.
“Our aim is to promote Hellenism through various cultural events in Australia and we ask you to join us on this odyssey to #ReturnTheMarbles,” concludes Mr Patsouris.