As we approach the 10th anniversary of the opening of the new Acropolis Museum, it is an appropriate time to review how far we have come in campaigning for the return of the Parthenon Marbles.
When I established the International Organising Committee-Australia-for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles (IOC-A-RPM) in 1981, it was the first group outside Greece to campaign for their return. Back then, the British argued that there was no place to display all of the Parthenon Marbles in Athens. This is an argument they can no longer use.
I remember the Greek Minister for Culture, Melina Mercouri, very well. She helped begin the modern movement for the return of the marbles. I met with her when she came to Australia in March 1983, and she encouraged me to do whatever I could to support the new British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles. She really raised the profile of this campaign and I will never forget her. We can never thank her enough.
Over the last 43 years I’ve carried out an on-going program of talks and lectures all over the world, for community groups, schools, universities, conferences and many more.
Some of the work has involved writing books and pamphlets. In the digital era, we maintain an active presence on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and through the IOC-A-RPM website
IOC-A-RPM has directly organised, and helped organise, three international conferences on the Parthenon Marbles in the last seven years (2012, 2013 and 2015). In April of this year we were in Athens for the International Conference on the Parthenon Sculptures, by invitation of Greek President Prokopios Pavlopoulos.
It was a great honour, not only to speak at this conference, but also to be elected as the Vice Chair of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures, (IARPS) following the conference.
There is still much work ahead of us, and there is no single or simple strategy for securing return of the Parthenon Marbles.
Sometimes people suggest the way forward is taking the United Kingdom government to court. Our view is that this is a dead end, with slim chances of success. Litigation has also been rejected by Greek governments of all political persuasion.
I have spoken with three Greek Ministers for Culture, from three different political parties. They all gave me the same answer, Greece is not interested in going to court but only in seeking for the return diplomatically, politically and through UNESCO. We support Greece’s position. If the strategy changes, we will continue to support them.
Greece has already achieved much diplomatically. Every three years the UN General Assembly adopts a Resolution entitled ‘Return or Restitution of Cultural Property to the countries of origin’. It was introduced by Greece and is an important tool in Greece’s Cultural Diplomacy. The Resolution encompasses restitution of the Parthenon Sculptures. It was last adopted on 13 December, 2018.
UNESCO is another important area of Greece’s cultural diplomacy. Parthenon Sculptures are an important focus of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation (ICPRCP). In May 2018, the ICPRCP called upon Greece and the UK to reach a settlement of this long-standing issue, taking into account its historical, cultural, legal and ethical dimensions, while recalling that the Acropolis of Athens is an emblematic monument of outstanding universal value, inscribed in the World Heritage List.
When we consider the diplomatic and political possibilities, there are many. Educating public opinion is the key. Knowledge of the issue has already led to a huge shift in world opinion and now sees a majority of people in many countries, including the UK, favouring repatriation.
Support for return is most obvious amongst the so called millennials.
One man Petros Papadopoulos has been addressing crowds and calling for return of the Parthenon Marbles, inside the British Museum.
On 20 June singer song writer Héllena Micy will be releasing the song ‘The Parthenon Marbles’ (bring them back), to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the opening of the new Acropolis Museum.
There is great scope for creative use of the arts in the campaign as Héllena’s work reveals.
* Emanuel Comino AM, founder and chair of the International Organising Committee – Australia – for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles Inc., was elected Vice-Chair of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures