Jonathan Williams, deputy director of London’s British Museum, has suggested a plan for repatriating the Parthenon marbles to Greece, according to The Guardian. Loosely termed the “Parthenon partnership,” the scheme calls for Greek authorities and British Museum officials to agree to a program of lending and borrowing the objects—fifteen metopes, seventeen figural sculptures, and a portion of a frieze that graced the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple on the Acropolis before being removed to the UK by Lord Elgin, then the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, early in the nineteenth century.
The repatriation of the marbles has been actively sought by Greece since 1983. The UK has for decades dragged its heels in returning the items, citing the so-called Bloomsbury defense in its effort to retain possession of the sculptures, claiming that the items are owned by the British Museum and thus not subject to government oversight. Museum authorities have maintained that the marbles were legally acquired at a time when Greece was under Ottoman rule. In May, the governments of the two countries agreed to hold formal talks regarding the repatriation.
“What we are calling for is an active ‘Parthenon partnership’ with our friends and colleagues in Greece,” Williams told the Sunday Times Culture magazine. “I firmly believe there is space for a really dynamic and positive conversation within which new ways of working together can be found.”
Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who has publicly called for the repatriation of the marbles on numerous occasions, had previously suggested the program of borrowing and lending between the UK and Greece. Noting that the British Museum “hoped to change the temperature of the debate,” which has at times been quite heated, Williams expressed amenability to the possibility. “There are many wonderful things we’d be delighted to borrow and lend,” he said. “It is what we do.”
Nikolaos Stampolidis, the Acropolis Museum’s director, suggested the plan could be a “basis for constructive talks,” adding, “In the difficult days we are living in, returning them would be an act of history. It would be as if the British were restoring democracy itself.”