Brexit Meets Looted Art – The Elgin Marbles And Beyond

Elgin marblesEarlier this month, we reviewed the draft directive for the EU Commission’s Brexit negotiations with the United Kingdom for matters relevant to this blog. Today, the European Commission’s negotiation mandate was confirmed. Comparing the draft version with the final mandate approved by the 27 EU member states today, there is one noticeable change.

Following an initiative of Greece, supported by Italy and Cyprus,  a new section 33 has been inserted into the final mandate, which reads as follows:

“The Parties should, consistently with Union rules, address issues relating to the return or restitution of unlawfully removed cultural objects to their countries of origin.” 

The Elgin marbles are of course the most obvious and highly symbolic item that comes to mind if one thinks about repatriating cultural objects from the United Kingdom to Greece: Between 1801 and 1812, the Earl of Elgin had about half of the surviving sculptures of the Parthenon in Athens removed and shipped to London, where he sold them to the British government. They are on display in the British Museum.

In the English press, this development has been reported upon fairly widely and framed as “Will Britain lose the Elgin marbles?”  Here’s further from The Economist:

“The Greeks insist piously that this refers solely to the fight against trade in stolen artefacts, since London is a centre for antique dealing. But Eu diplomats note that the Greek government thinks that the Parthenon marbles in the British Museum were stolen by Lord Elgin in the early 1800s. And Greece’s culture minister has said that Brexit increases European support for their return.

The photo shows a metope from the Elgin marbles depicting a Centaur and a Lapith fighting. 

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