Letters to Boris, No 1 - Let's Shake Hands on the Parthenon

November 3rd, 2019

To the Rt. Hon Boris Johnson,

House of Commons,

boris.johnson.mp@parliament.uk

Proposal - Let’s shake hands on the Parthenon - (Letter 1 of 5)

Subject - 10 Arguments for the Sculptures Not to be Returned

 

Dear Boris

(Please do not take this form of address as a sign of disrespect. I will explain why in a later letter).

I am writing to request your support after our exchange of letters ten years ago when you politely responded that your position “as Mayor of London and after careful consideration” was against the restitution of the lifted by Lord Elgin Parthenon Sculptures.

Ten years later much has changed, this is a different Europe, Britain is trying to leave her former partners in the EU, you are Prime Minister, effectively the ex- officio Governor of Great Britain, and public opinion in Great Britain is in harmony with the Pan-European decolonisation of national museum looted collections.

But there ARE arguments against the Return –

1. The Parthenon Sculptures were legally obtained by Lord Elgin.

ANSWER – After 200 years of this claim being put forward extensive searches in national archives by Turkish officials and by international archaeologists have found no firman (Order of the Sultan) to prove this.

2. The local authority of the time, the Ottoman Empire government, did not object to the removal -

ANSWER – Greece was under occupation by the Ottoman Empire at the time of Elgin’s plundering the historic monument. This means that there would be no more legitimacy if a foreign collector had bought and removed Rembrandt paintings from Nazi-occupied Holland than there was for Elgin to remove the Sculptures from occupied Athens.

3. Greece has nowhere suitable to display the Sculptures –

ANSWER - Since 2009 the New Acropolis Museum in Athens, a state of the art modern museum with controlled microclimate interiors puts the simply lit, damp, leaking, pre-Victorian era Room of Hall 18 to shame.

4. Athens has polluted air

ANSWER Attica’s famous brilliant blue luminous sky is Athens's answer to the notorious “Pea Souper”, opaque green acid corrosive fogs of London up until the early Nineteen Seventies.

5. The Parthenon Sculptures are a world heritage collection and do not belong to Greece –

ANSWER - Wrong, the Parthenon Sculptures are indeed "world heritage", as is the Greek language, the Greek concept of Democracy, but the PHYSICAL components of the unified Parthenon Temple belong only to Greece.

I will not tire you, Boris, Brexit and the election hassle is demanding your time. More in ‘Letter 2’ tomorrow.

Sincerely,

Alexis Mantheakis

Chairman of IPSACI

 

Letter No 2 - The Game

Copy of a letter (2 of 5) sent to the RT Hon. Boris Johnson

November 4th, 2019

Proposal -

Let’s Shake Hands on the Parthenon

Dear Boris,

(Cont.) I promised yesterday to explain that my reference to you by your first name was not disrespectful, on the contrary. I am not writing to you as my superior, that is as my prime minister, because I am not a British subject, but a citizen (the distinction is important) of Hellas, nor am I a smooth Greek diplomat harnessed by protocol that dictates how we should communicate.

We are both products of British schools belonging to the Headmasters' Conference; boarding schools with their prefects, fagging, rugger, cultivation of House Spirit, Oxbridge beaks to teach us, our school architecture created by eminent British architects, a surfeit of playing fields to build character and team spirit. I was your senior at school, in a different location of course , indeed we did not at the Prince of Wales School in colonial Kenya wear fancy waistcoats, too soppy, but I was privileged in my last term to be able to walk on the lawns of the Main Quadrangle.

I could draw on having been an upperclassman and senior to your much later entry as a junior boy into the same system and stand on that seniority, but will not do so. And I will not, out of respect, address you by your surname as public school seniority would dictate, but by your first name, in democratic fashion, as equals. (My Greek conscience prefers it that way.)

And so, with true respect I am writing these five letters to request that you, as an agile and consumately intelligent politician, famously known and acknowledged to be able to spin on a farthing, or a Euro now, when there is advantage to be gained for your country (or for yourself), to explain that if Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, let us invent a new game where there are no losers: Let's call it "Parthenon Return", a new game after the endless Parthenon Marbles ones in which many players have engaged, and lost, on both sides.

I am, as a private Greek citizen, requesting that you take advantage of the majority wish of British and world public opinion and return the looted-for-a-mansion magnificent Parthenon Sculptures, torn violently from a temple that is the permanent symbol of the very democracy that has allowed you to become top dog in Blighty.

The Return by you, Boris, will please the majority, and displease only that small cabal of UK taxpayer funded trustees of the depository of colonial-era booty that calls itself the British Museum. It is stocked with collections of blood-soaked artefacts, mostly stolen, taken by force, or lifted from weak nations under occupation; it is not a museum in the conventional sense, nor does it conform to today's norms of ethical curating. It is sadly a beyond its sell-by date version of Ali Baba's Cave, and reflects foreign glory only. There is no honour in pilferage.

The Sculptures and other siezed collections, laundered by slave and opium trading-era laws, are a blight in the manner they are held and displayed by a proud and historic nation with magnificent traditions that have been the framework of a Just Society that prides itself on its traditions of fair play, on the field and in society. Your national, personal, and yes, your electoral popularity, will benefit as kudos are showered on the UK by a grateful Greece and by the rest of the world.

Little boys in Hellas will carry the name of Boris, streets too, and even possibly a city suburb, as you no doubt know of Vironas (Byron's suburb), in Athens that is the mark of a grateful nation to a man who respected our culkture.

The Return of the Parthenon Sculptures will be a huge international event, and after returning India and Hong Kong, Britain will hardly feel the loss of emptying just one room in a London museum, a museum that has to entice visitors to visit its vast collections by offering free of charge entry.

I have rambled, but needed to do so to explain the parameters of this win-win game for and us. A ground-breaking perhaps concept, of all being winners, in a cultural conflict that has simmered and flared up for 200 years of needless rancour, steeped in conflict, acrimony, and locked in a stalemate. Let's play "Parthenon Return" then Boris, and when the object of the game is achieved for both parties, let us conclude by Shaking Hands on the Parthenon! Without protocol, without the trappings of seniority or political office. Just one Greek citizen with a British counterpart, both brought up to understand the universal truth for civilised men and women, that it is never wrong to do right.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely, Alexis M.

(Part 3 will follow tomorrow)

Letter no 3 to Boris

Proposal - Let’s shake hands on the Parthenon - (Letter 3 of 5)

Subject - 10 Arguments for the Sculptures Not to be Returned

Dear Boris,

 All recent surveys have shown majority support for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures among British subjects. Attitudes have changed from Empire days.

Looking at this it is clear to even the most biased observer that the will of Britons today is for restitution of these iconic Greek artefacts, looted by a Scots noble with no greater ambition than to decorate his family residence somewhere in the Highlands. The return would make you many friends in Greece and in the UK too, as well as your becoming a front-line hero for dozens of former colonies that saw their heritage uprooted and shipped to Russell Square by rapacious British collectors in the Victorian era. The return would be a pretty cool move politically also for someone seeking votes to ensure a re-election now or in the future. What a happy circumstance it is for political men to take actions that are morally right and effective politically. The Parthenon sculptures offer such an opportunity.

In 2016 I was invited to be the introductory speaker at the Oxford Union for a debate on the return of colonial-era lifted artefacts. The majority of the students, tomorrow’s leaders, voted overwhelmingly in favour of the return. And this at your Alma Mater, Boris, not at the Athens or Benin Polytechnic. Give them back please, Boris, and be a hero, something no trade agreement or Brexit deal will do for you.

Now let's look at the other side, to continue with 5 more reasons for Britain NOT to return the sculptures. We have examined some in my first letter and here we have the other five. And our answers.

1. The Greek state has shown little or no interest in their return.

ANSWER - True, but prime ministers in Greece often are out of synch with the will of the people, and the people want our sculptures back to see them reunited in Athens. Times are changing politically in Greece, and last year our PM visited Mrs. May in Downing Street to officially request the return, as did our Minister of Culture who met her British counterpart with supporting teams of experts. A special three-member government committee has been established to discuss the issue with UNESCO and has presented expert legal arguments for the Restitution. The President of Greece too has repeatedly in the last two years asked for the return, sometimes with uncharacteristically undiplomatic direct language. Our politicians are slowly feeling the pulse of the nation and are acting accordingly.

2. Greek parliament has not proposed or passed a motion for their return.

ANSWER - True – we are ashamed about this when the EU, Australia, New Zealand and other countries have passed parliamentary motions for the restitution. We hope that they will start showing interest in non-economic issues soon and fully engage in demanding back what was taken from us.

3. There has not been any request for the Parthenon Sculptures from the Greek government since 1981 when Melina Mercouri began her campaign with Emanuel Comino of Australia who established the first Parthenon Committees.

ANSWER – see our earlier answer above in 2.

4. The Greek Ministry of Culture has little sustained interest in getting back the Sculptures, and not responding to internationally active groups like ours when informed of honours by UNESCO CLUBS, Stanford University’s projection of our Parthenon campaign and successes, and have ignored our success at the Oxford Union in promoting Greek demands, as well as ignoring emails informing the Ministry's General Secretary of international promotions of IPSACI activities reported on by major international media.

ANSWER - We continue to work for the Greek people and to discharge our obligations to our ancestors to preserve what they bequeathed to us. Micro-politics may disappoint at times, and inactive organisations, some which appear only at tax-payer funded Greek government-sponsored dinners and conferences in Athens every two years or so- that is campaign committees with little or no activity in their majority that are listed on the Ministry site, but these are private organisations and not state players, with each being judged on their track record and extent and diversity of activities supporting the Greek cause. We are all judged by results, not by dinners attended at sponsors' cost.

5. Most of Greece’s interest is expressed by a small number of foreign campaign groups, no more than four, and those have recently supported the demand for a loan of the Marbles to Greece, not restitution.

ANSWER – these committees requested restitution in the past and only recently supported the declaration of the new chair of the International Association for the Restitution of the Parthenon Sculptures, supported by all the campaign groups in the IARPS, for a loan. We and the majority of Greeks and several former Greek ministers of culture are dead set against any loan, which legally means recognising British ownership of our Sculptures. (Note - the IARPS chairwoman does not recognise the looted Parthenon complex Caryatid in the BM as a Parthenon Sculptures as does not the chair of the Swiss Committee and former IARPS chairman, Prof Sadjanski).

6. The Parthenon Sculptures are displayed in the British Museum as shared world heritage. They don’t belong to Greece anymore.

ANSWER – Boris, if I came with a team of workmen to Oxford, your Alma Mater, and started ripping medieval and grand master’s murals and architectural components off the Trinity College Chapel or at Balliol in order to display them in Greece in my house as “shared heritage” what would your position be?

I appreciate your interest in the Parthenon issue and as a Greek to a fellow European with shared democratic values I will be delighted to have your support for our cause.

Sincerely, Alexis M.