“The Parthenon marbles belong in Greece – so why is restitution so hard to swallow?” With this headline, Charlotte Higgins, an award-winning journalist and writer and chief culture writer of the Guardian, once again raises the issue of the return of the Parthenon Sculptures in public debate in Britain.
As she characteristically states in an extensive article in the newspaper’s opinion section: “Those who would see the Parthenon marbles return to Greece sense change in the air”. As she points out, the politics of identity resurge and the legacies of colonialism are scrutinized.
She refers to antiquities that have already been returned to their place of origin, such as the Benin bronzes that were looted by the British in 1897 in a raid on the city of Benin. “Benin bronzes held in Aberdeen and Cambridge have been sent back to Nigeria, those in Glasgow are the subject of a formal request, and those in Germany are to return to,” Charlotte Higgins writes. She also does not fail to recall the recent agreement between the Archaeological Museum of Palermo and the Acropolis Museum.
She likewise notes the radical change of position of the Times, which after 50 years reversed its leader line and now also supports the repatriation of the Parthenon Sculptures. She points out the role played by the Greek Prime Minister, saying that “Kyriakos Mitsotakis made the return of the Parthenon marbles a talking point on a recent visit to London”.
She notes that according to the latest YouGov poll many British people are in favor of restoring the Sculptures to Greece. At the same time, she makes an extensive historical and legal report where she basically points out that “repatriating the spoils of the empire is stuck in all manner of legal and historical impasses that preserve the status quo”.
She concludes by proposing to the British government to set up a group of experts who will set the conditions for the repatriation of antiquities from national museums that will request this. The same “has long been done for artefacts linked to the Holocaust”, she writes characteristically. However, “the Westminster government (…) seems unlikely to be minded to do that. But repatriation is today’s question. And almost certainly tomorrow’s, too”.