Over the past two years, the Greek government has been in delicate negotiations with the British Museum over the future of the Parthenon Marbles, the ancient Greek relics brought to Britain by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century.
Now, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak appears to be throwing cold water on those discussions.
On Monday evening, Mr Sunak abruptly canceled a planned large-scale meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, which had been scheduled to take place on Tuesday. According to To the BBCThe decision was made after Mitsotakis, who appeared on British television on Sunday, called for the marble, which includes statues of Greek gods and carved frieze panels that once adorned the Parthenon, to be returned to Athens.
Mr. Mitsotakis He said on a BBC TV programme That the statues had been stolen and needed to be reunited in Athens. “Where can you better appreciate what is essentially one monument?” He said. He added that the current situation, where the sculptures are largely divided between the British Museum in London and the Acropolis Museum in Athens, is unsatisfactory, comparing this to cutting the Mona Lisa into two halves and dividing it between two museums.
Mr Mitsotakis has made similar comments throughout his time in office, and Mr Sunak has repeatedly stated that he would not change British law to allow the sculptures, sometimes known as the Elgin Marbles, to leave the British Museum permanently.
Mr Mitsotakis said in a statement that he was dismayed that the meeting had been cancelled. He said: “Greece’s positions on the issue of the Parthenon sculptures are well known.” In the press release. “I was hoping to have the opportunity to discuss them with my British counterpart as well, along with the main challenges of the international moment: Gaza, Ukraine, the climate crisis, and migration.”
Asked about the reasons for canceling the meeting, a spokeswoman for Mr. Sunak’s office sent a statement saying the deputy prime minister was available to meet Mr. Mitsotakis.
A spokeswoman for the British Museum said in an interview that the museum had no comment on Mr Sunak’s decision, but that constructive conversations were continuing.
For Mr Sunak, the diplomatic spat with Greece is an unwelcome distraction at a time when he is dealing with a sluggish economy and a row in the Conservative Party over immigration policy.
He has generally forged friendlier relations with other European leaders since becoming prime minister last year. In February, he managed to resolve the crisis with the European Union over Northern Ireland’s trade status after its exit from the European Union.
But conservative politicians have long argued that the Parthenon sculptures are part of the British Museum’s permanent collection and cannot simply be returned to Greece, whatever their provenance.
On Monday evening, Giorgos Gerapetritis, Greece’s foreign minister, said during a lecture at the London School of Economics that he did not believe the dispute over the future of the sculptures was a “legitimate” reason to cancel a high-level meeting.
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