ATHENS – A peeved Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said that the British Museum’s loaning of a Parthenon Marble statue to a Russian museum was”a provocation to the Greek people.”
“The British dogma according to which the Parthenon Marbles are immovable is no longer applicable,” Samaras said, mocking the museum officials who said the stolen goods would never be lent out.
The British Museum has refused to return the marbles stolen more than 200 years ago by a British diplomat, Lord Elgin, and had for years stated it was because there was no suitable venue in Greece to show the Greek treasures, even after the opening of the new Acropolis Museum several years ago that was designed to showcase them.
Taking an undiplomatic swing, Samaras said that, “The Parthenon and its sculptures were looted” and that the sculptures’ value was “inestimable,” although his government hasn’t pressed for their return.
The sculpture of the Greek river god Ilissos, a reclining male figure, is to be displayed in Russia’s State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg from Dec. 6-Jan. 18 to celebrate the museum’s 250th anniversary.
“The duty of the trustees is to allow citizens in as many countries as possible to share in their common inheritance,” said the Chairman of the Trustees Richard Lambert, contradicting the museum’s policy and without indicating that Greece – from where they were stolen – would be a country to which they could be loaned.
“The trustees are delighted that this beautiful object will be enjoyed by the people of Russia,” he said.
While Elgin said he had permission to take the works from the Ottoman Empire, which ruled Greece at the time, Athens regards their removal as theft but the British museum and government said the Greek marbles now belong to them.
Greece’s campaign has the support of lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney, who is married to the actor George Clooney, and the government last month began polling passengers at Athens airport on whether the marbles should be returned.
But Greece has said it will await the outcome of possible talks between UNESCO and Britain on the dispute, after the UN’s cultural and scientific body offered to act as a mediator.
Samaras’ government has tip-toed around the issue until now and said it wouldn’t be more aggressive in trying to get the marbles returned.