British Museum in Secret Talks with Greece over Repatriation of Elgin Marbles

British Museum chair George Osborne last week met in London with Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis for the sole purpose of discussing the repatriation of the so-called Elgin marbles to Greece. Following their meeting, the pair delivered an address at the London School of Economics, in which Mitsotakis acknowledged that a return of the 2,500-year-old marble sculptures was “possible.”

“A win-win solution can be found that will result in the reunification of the Parthenon sculptures in Greece, while at the same time taking into account concerns that the British Museum may have,” Mitsotakis told the assembled listeners at the school.

Also known as the Parthenon marbles, the contested objects date to between 447 BCE and 432 BCE, and were taken from the Acropolis in 1801 by Lord Elgin, then the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. Allegedly having secured permission from Ottoman authorities to do so, he took the marbles out of the country and sold them to trustees of the British Museum, in whose collection they have resided since 1816. Greece since 1983 has actively sought their return, on the grounds that the consent of a no-longer-extent regime is invalid and that the items were taken without the consent of the Greek people.

One possible solution is the “Palermo model,” in accordance with which the Parthenon marbles would be temporarily “deposited” in the Acropolis Museum in Athens. After a yet-to-be-determined span of time, the two countries’ governments would announce the museum as the artifacts’ permanent home without explicitly assigning ownership of the objects to either nation.

An anonymous source close to the talks told Athens daily Ta Nea that “an agreement is 90 percent possible,” noting that “significant progress has been made.” If a deal is reached, the marbles could arrive in Greece early next year.

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