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Culture Minister admits Greece has no legal case for the Return of the Parthenon Marbles

Greek Culture Minister Aristidis Baltas made a shocking revelation: that Greece will not claim back the Parthenon Marbles from United Kingdom because the government believed that it had no chance to win the legal battle.  Speaking at the Parliament on Tuesday Baltas replied to a question about the Ministry’s moves for the return of the stolen Marbles with

“The tendency is to not move towards legal claims mainly because we risk losing in the relevant court.”

It is the first time that a Greek Minister of Culture openly admits that a court decision on the Return of the Parthenon Marbles would be in favor of the Britons. Interesting enough, Baltas made the statement during a meeting of the Cultural and Education Affairs Parliamentary Committee preparing a bill related to the Return of Cultural Goods unlawfully removed from the soil of a state- EU member country.

According to Greek media, the legal claim of the Parthenon Marbles has already being abandoned by the first Syriza-ANEL government, but that then Minister Nikos Xidakis was more cautious in making statements regarding the position of Greece on the issue.

In October 2014, then Greek Culture Minister Kostas Tasoulas (New Democracy) has assigned a big law firm in London to assist Greece in the issue. Attorney at the law firm, Amal Alamuddin, the faboulous wife of George Clooney had visited Athens and cheered everyone with her charm and fine style.


The cost for the law firm expenses, 200,000 British Pounds was reportedly contributed by a rich diaspora Greek.

Tasoulas commented angrily on Baltas’ statement saying that what Baltas said was “unheard and unacceptable” not only because in enhances the unsupported arguments of the Britons but also because it presupposes something for which Greece has a lot of arguments in favor of its position.

But apparently, it does not.

I don’t know exactly what was the legal advise of the London firm but the involvement of  Alamuddin gave certainly a great publicity. Also George Clooney spoke openly in favor of the Return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece and joined the campaign.

The Parthenon Marbles – or the Elgin Marbles– are a collection of Classical Greek marble sculptures (made mostly by Greek sculptor Phidias and his assistants), inscriptions and architectural pieces that were originally part of the temple of the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis of Athens. Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin claimed to obtain in 1801 a controversial permit from the Ottoman Sultan who ruled Greece at that time. The collection of the stolen Marbles is exhibited in the British Museum.

I assume, the case is legally “dead and buried.”

PS As George Clooney used to say in that Campari Ad: ‘No Alamoudin, No party.’ And No return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece.

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  1. Giaourti Giaourtaki

    Throw all British government officials out of Greece and send submarines to bring the shit back or twitter Erdogun to declare that the sultan was an idiot

  2. I really do not know which court would be competent to hear the case. If it went to a UK court, they do not recognise the existence of international law unless it is part of UK law. Therefore, there would be no point either in taking it to a UK court or to pay for legal advice from a UK law firm.

    Of course, it is pretty clear (and the House of Commons was scathing about Elgin in the debates of the early 19th C) that Elgin had no copy of the Ottoman firman, and the informal (= not legal) Italian translation did not permit him to saw things off the Parthenon. As a matter of international law, Elgin had not a leg to stand on. Whether it’s worth arguing about all this now is another matter.

  3. The words “no legal case” are emotive ones, especially in Greece, but on what legal basis could Greece sue for the return of the marbles? The Ottoman Empire, which certainly granted Elgin some permissions on the site, no longer exists. Lord Elgin was acting for himself, not the British government when he exceeded the permissions he had and removed far more from the site than he should have. The British government that bought the marbles from Elgin also no longer exists, Britain is a far different place today than it was then. As a Briton living in Greece I’m happy if Greece has decided to drop the legal claim, but only because it would have cost Greece a fortune, taken decades to resolve, and probably had a disappointing outcome for Greece. Greece clearly has a moral case for the return of the marbles, the old British case that they were safer in London no longer holds water, the more recent case that more people can see them in London is also no longer true. On the other hand, Greece needs to understand the fear of the British Museum, and the British public, that returning the marbles would open the floodgates. Britain would probably find herself fighting off claims from other countries for the return of their artefacts, countries who do not have a modern purpose-built museum in which to display and protect them. I truly believe that most clear-thinking Britons understand that it is now time for the marbles to go back to Greece, but Britons never give in to bullying. Greece would do much better were they to drop the legal claim, drop the strident rhetoric, and stop talking about the marbles being stolen. A more reasoned approach focussing on the benefit to mankind of the marbles being back where they belong, an approach that allows Britain to at least appear to give the marbles back voluntarily, and one where both countries are seen to be working hand-in-hand for the good of the marbles themselves. You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar….

    • Giaourti Giaourtaki

      So all the shit the Nazis have stolen away was also a legal purchase too. When do the victims have to return their stuff to the murderers?

    • Your comment is full of legal and historical errors. Some of them are dealt with in my post above. On the matter of the continuity of governments, it is a clear fact of international law that governments are responsible for the actions of prior governments: this is the continuity of the State, and has nothing to do with the short-lived governments of the day. Secondly, the government of the time placed the Marbles in the British Museum, which has since been privatised. Does that entitle the perpetuation of a criminal act of theft? I hardly think so: if it were merely under domestic law, there would be no question of returning property to the lawful owner. No, the UK is protecting its acquired looting, lodged in national museums — as are all developed countries with former empires and power.

      As for a more reasoned approach: I doubt that reason has anything to do with it. The biggest problem is that the Elgin Marbles have become a massive political issue of cultural ownership: any voluntary return of them would be seen as suicidal by west European museums, in terms of setting a major precedent that would lead to massive depletion of their dubiously acquired assets. The big question for all of us is if it would be in the interests of the world to start looting the great museums and art galleries of the relevant countries. I have serious doubts about it.

  4. They don’t want an independent, self-sufficient, capable, working Greece. That will be too much to take for them. Really shameful act of the British government.