Jeremy Corbyn has promised to return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece if he is elected prime minister. The Labour leader made his position on the disputed sculptures clear in an interview with the Greek newspaper Ta Nea, saying: “It is very clear to me that the Parthenon sculptures belong to Greece.”
Corbyn indicated that he would take the same position on other colonial era artefacts. He told the newspaper: “As with anything stolen or taken from occupied or colonial possession – including artefacts looted from other countries in the past – we should be engaged in constructive talks with the Greek government about returning the sculptures.”
Currently on permanent display at the British Museum, the marbles are a significant source of contention between Greece and the UK. Since the fall of the country’s military dictatorship in 1974, the Greek government has made several formal requests for their return. The Acropolis Museum, which opened in Athens in 2009, contains a purpose-built gallery to house the sculptures.
The works were taken from the temple of the Parthenon in Athens and shipped to the UK between 1799 and 1810 after the Earl of Elgin obtained a decree from the ruling Ottoman Empire. The Greek government’s position is that, as a foreign force, the Ottoman ruler had no right to authorise their removal.
The Greek government has explored various legal avenues to force the return of the objects, but the country’s culture minister said in 2015 that the “road to reclaiming the return of the sculptures is diplomatic and political”.
Current UK government policy is that the issue is a matter for the trustees of the British Museum and that the “government would not seek to have the sculptures sent to Greece”.
The British Museum states on its website: "The sculptures, and by extension the building itself, have over the last 200 years acquired a worldwide significance. This is now an essential element in their appreciation which is best ensured by the continued sharing of the Parthenon sculptures between museums in several different European countries."
A YouGov poll conducted this week showed that 56% of the British public believe the marbles belong in Greece. Just a fifth of respondents said they belong Britain, and 24% said they didn’t know.
Corbyn's comments come amid a growing debate about the repatriation of artefacts and the decolonisation of museum collections.
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