Legality of the Sculptures - To H.E. the Ambassador of the UK to Greece
To His Excellency the Ambassador of the United Kingdom
Dear Mr. Ambassador,
I would like to thank you for kindly receiving the petition on Thursday morning, via Mr Christos Psaltis, from the pupils of the 3rd grade primary class of the Karavana School of Larisa. I undertook to act as petition bearer with a great sense of responsibility and to deliver the document containing the children’s signatures and those of citizens of Larisa as well as of tourists who were present at the ancient city theatre where the class put on a costume event followed by the signature collection. I am grateful also to Mr Psaltis for meeting with the IPSACI support delegation members who accompanied me. IPSACI, and its board, are aware that you know of this issue in depth, and of course we understand that as ambassador of the UK government you are obliged to implement official British government policy regarding the Parthenon Sculptures’ status concerning the British Museum. This is why we do not expect a specific response to this letter which is essentially an update on the issue for your consideration, for the advantage of both Greece and Britain, when reporting to Whitehall on the evolvement of current Greek political issues and attitudes.
At the same time, we are aware that governments rely to a great degree in the formulation of policy regarding specific countries and issues related to them on feedback they receive from their overseas ambassadors and their local embassy political councellors. I therefore will impose on your patience to bring one or two matters to your attention in the hope that these may help in entering the equation concerning the solution of a problem that has been a thorn in the side of Anglo-Hellenic relations for two centuries and has created a wound that continues to fester.
It would be a misinterpretation of the future of the issue, we feel, to rely on the passivity of Greeks based upon past goodwill and optimism that discussions will bring about an equitable solution. All attempts by Greek governments and the public as well as the numerous organizations like our own have resulted in support from the majority of citizens around the world, and in Britain too, but a total refusal to implement good will discussions to lead to the Reunification of this iconic monument’s transported religious items.
A recent UK prime ministerial declaration was that the Greek marbles in the BM were “legally acquired and belong to Britain”. Nothing more, nothing less.
Clearly the time for discussion, if we are to be realists, is over. Britain is our ally and longtime friend, and Greece spilled an ocean of blood when it stood alone by your side at the darkest moment of WW2, knowing the devastation it would live through, but stand Greece did, despite the cost. Hellas has been paid back with a poisoned chalice.
Politically it will demonstrate a lack of judgement if we ignore the historic fact that at the time the Parthenon was looted of its best metopes and friezes by, sadly, a British diplomat, to decorate his personal residence, at a time when Greeks were under the yoke of the Porte, the Hellenes were unable to object to the dismantling of their most famous historic monument, one that neither Turk, nor Vandal, nor the Hun, as your PM described the Nazis, thought of desecrating.
The Parthenon acquisitions, to call them that, were legal by British law, which also allowed the acquisition and seizure of entire countries by force of arms and subjugation of a host of peoples. The guiding principle of Manifest Destiny that allowed Parliament to legislate for the colonization of foreign countries that became thus legal possessions was the same one, and the same parliament that declared that the possession, transportation, and sale of millions of men, women and children from Africa, was legal, as the PM said of the Parthenon Scultpures acquisition.
The Parthenon items were just one acquisition of the Victorian age with its concept of legality and licence to take whatever was desired from other, weaker, nations, whether this was a statue, an entire temple of worship, citizens, or the whole country itself. Men of conscience in Britain and around the world brought about a change in attitudes, and in official Westminster policy, regarding the legality of selling humans, trading in opium, occupying and possessing foreign countries.
The fact is that the colonies were not returned by dialogue, but by intense pressure, political, civil, economic, and at times by force of arms and insurrection against the Union Jack.
My own experience in Kenya where we would regularly see open lorries with wire mesh cages containing dozens of Africans being taken to the gallows for Wednesday and Friday executions in nearby prisons for the crime of trying to free their country of occupation is branded into my memory.
Those designated as terrorists were exterminated, while their leader, Jomo Kenyatta entertained Prince Philip at the Independence Celebrations at Government House, and Prince Philip danced with the wife of arch-terrorist Kenyatta at the Independence Ball. Such is politics.
Cyprus, Burma, India, Pakistan, Rhodesia, Israel, all reflect the tragedy of wasted lives, many of them British, and misery brought about by intransigence and a refusal to return what did not rightfully belong to Britain which stood on its own law and its own concept of legal possession, as with the Parthenon Sculptures.
Our British Museum sculptures Mr Ambassador is an issue that will not go away; the proof of this is the symbolic action by the 8 and 9 year old schoolchildren of the Greek provincial city of Larisa and the immediate support of its citizens.
Britain, with its clear statement regarding a refusal to discuss the Reunification, will see more reaction and a much more widely nationall-conscious generation looking for ways to act as disappointment turns to bitterness.
Generally the wrongs of the Victorian era have been righted, mostly by legislation, following an evolution of acceptable civil norms.
The Parthenon Sculptures possession by the British Museum, as is the possession of the Benin Bronzes (this is worth looking at too regarding the method of acquisition), cannot by today’s ethics and concepts of a civilized society be justified or continue. The Parthenon Sculptures are, for the British Museum, mere, albeit illustrious, exhibits: but they are items which are rooted so deeply in the Greek psyche, history and identity that every new generation in Greece, has demanded, and will continue to demand their return to their original home from where Lord Elgin removed them 200 years ago. For the British Museum they are sculptures, for the little schoolchildren of Standard 3 in Larisa of the Karavana School, and for other Greeks like myself, the sculptures are who we are. To take from another nation the very symbol of their identity is a cultural crime of such magnitude that no nation should be a party to it, and we are deeply moved to see that the majority of Britons today support the Return. It is therefore with a feeling of awe inspired by these creations of our Greek forefathers and the symbolism of the Parthenon Sculptures, that I ask you to please inform your government of the intense feeling of deprivation and injury that Greece and its citizens feel, wherever they live. The Karavana School children requested the Return of their heritage, Greece demands it, and we at IPSACI are dedicated to help bring about an honorouble end to this festering wound that has stood between our two nations for two centuries. Your Excellency, Mr. Ambassador, IPSACI, our volunteer organisation established 6 years ago to help Greece regain her lost Sculptures requests that Britain change the Museum Law and instruct the entirely government-supported and British tax-payer maintained institution that is the British Museum to return the Sculptures. It will be an act of magnanimity that will forever cement the relationship between our two countries.
If Britain could give back India then she can surely empty one room of a London Museum!
Chairman and co-founder of the International Parthenon Sculptures Action Committee Inc (NZ)