The Rt Hon Gerald Kaufman MP
Culture, Media and Sports Committee
House of Commons
Dear Mr Kaufman,
Please find attached the Memorandum of the Greek government on the issue of the Parthenon marbles, submitted by my collegue, Elissavet Papazoï MP. Minister of Culture, in written evidence for the Select Committee’s enquiry on "Cultural Property : Return and Illicit Trade". You may also note that, as we already informed you through the diplomatic channel, the Greek government would be pleased to provide oral evidence to the Committee at an appropriate time.
The issue of the Parthenon marbles presents an important opportunity for Greek-British relations. Our nations have been faithful allies in the struggle for freedom and democracy, and heirs of common intellectual traditions and values. Today, the United Kingdom attracts a large number of Greek students pursuing academic studies, second only to the number of students enrolled in Greek Universities; many Greek shipping companies and ship-owners have made the City of London their home; on the other hand, the number of British visitors to Greece exceeds that of any other group of foreign nationals. We enjoy very good economic relations, and a strong willingness to expand and strengthen our cultural exchanges. This fact is demonstrated by the success of the "Greece in Britain" cycle of events in London, and of the extensive programme of the British Council in Athens. The British School of Archaeology at Athens remains a major centre of archaeological scholarship, and its history is linked with important archaeological discoveries since the 19th century; the School currently engages in a very promising development programme, preparing for the challenges of the new millennium. All the above is evidence of a flourishing relationship between our two nations.
The attached Memorandum presents the historical and technical evidence on the issue of the Parthenon marbles. It is our view that contemporary notions of historic preservation, interpretation and safeguarding of cultural property are best served by the reunification of the Parthenon sculptures in their original topographic, historical and cultural context, in the new Acropolis Museum being specially built for this purpose. The United Kingdom and British institutions of learning, could play a major role in this process. Indeed, the Parthenon marbles present us with a historic opportunity to create a strong partnership between Greece and the United Kingdom in the domain of cultural relations, which could only have a positive broader effect.
The protection of cultural heritage is a high priority of Greek national policy. For the last quarter of a century, Greek archaeologists, architects and conservators have been engaging in an internationally acclaimed restoration and conservation programme of the Acropolis monuments. A major urban rehabilitation project is now underway, with a view to unifying all archaeological sites of central Athens for the benefit of the general public. Furthermore, significant progress has already been demonstrated in controlling air pollution, a major problem that has haunted Athens for decades. The completion of a new metropolitan subway system and the construction of major highways is expected to further alleviate traffic and make Athenian archaeological heritage more accessible to visitors. A new airport, which will be operational by 2002, will no doubt multiply the number of national and international visitors to Athens. The facilities infrastructure for the 2004 Summer Olympic Games is being put into place as well as a Cultural Olympiad for the period leading to the 2004 Games, consisting of a vibrant programme of multi-cultural events in Athens and elsewhere. Finally, the excavation phase for the construction of the new Acropolis Museum, where the full Parthenon sculptures can be exhibited, is nearing completion; a modified architectural brief has been prepared on the basis of important archaeological discoveries at the Museum site; and, a closed international competition is being launched for the architectural plans of the Museum building.
The removal of the marbles in 1801 and their acquisition by the British Museum belong to an era when notions of heritage, cultural appropriation, and power were very different to our own today. The Parthenon itself is a unique monument, by virtue of its universal cultural value as a symbol of Greek civilisation, the complexity of its sculptural repertoire (a large part of which is now in London), and its interrelation with the place, light and history of the city of Athens. As we approach the bicentenary of Lord Elgin’s operation in Athens, a reexamination of the issue of the Parthenon marbles by your Committee will give a strong signal supporting a new ethics for safeguarding the world’s cultural heritage, and will provide fresh opportunities for Greece and the United Kingdom to develop a strong partnership, based on a wide-ranging framework of bilateral cultural relations.
In sum, I strongly believe that the United Kingdom could, and should, be a partner to our initiative for the reunification of the Parthenon marbles in Athens. The Summer Olympic Games of 2004 provide a symbolic milestone for establishing such a partnership. The modern Olympic Games will be returning to Athens for the first time since the first Olympic Games in 1896. In the 2004 games, Greece has pledged to cooperate with the IOC and the international community in order to make the ancient tradition of Olympic Truce a reality, and to enhance the cultural dimension of the Games by organizing a strong and truly international Cultural Olympiad. By pledging its willingness to become Greece’s partner for the reunification of the Parthenon marbles in Athens, in the context of the 2004 Games, the United Kingdom will demonstrate leadership and vision not just in the field of cultural heritage protection and management, but in the broader domain on international cultural relations and cultural diplomacy.
Please allow me to take this opportunity to offer my best wishes to your Committee, and to yourself personally, for a positive conclusion of this important inquiry.
George A. Papandreou
8 mars 2000 Minister of Foreign Affairs
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