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Legal prospects for reunification are seen by the British commission for the Parthenon Sculptures


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Bruce Clarke, member of the British Commission for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures.

London Thanasis Gavos

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Bruce Clarke, a member of the British Commission for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures, values ​​the secret meetings of the Greek side with the chairman of the British Museum’s commissioners, George Osborne, which were recently revealed, as a really positive development.

Speaking to SKAI, the well-known Philhellenic journalist and writer pointed out at the same time that if there is the will for reunification even legal obstacles can be overcome, referring to a new British law with potential application in the case of the Parthenon Sculptures.

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“I think it is probably a very positive development, it shows a mobility, it shows a will on both sides to consider some new solutions, to show imagination. It is in every way a positive development, I think”, said, speaking in Greek, the long-time editor-in-chief of the Economist, referring to the contacts that have started.

However, how could he imagine the solution that would emerge to permanently reunite the Sculptures in Athens since most agree that there are two major obstacles: the issue of ownership (with the Greek side rejecting a priori a case of borrowing) and of the British Museum Act 1963 (which prohibits the institution from removing objects from its collection).

“For ownership, for ownership, there might be an ‘agreement to disagree’, as we say in English. There is a reunification of the Marbles in practice, the Greek side will always insist that they own the Marbles but the British Museum could also say that they are their property – but nothing changes. The point is to reunite the Marbles in practice. Until now, it was the museum that set as a condition for the Greek side to accept that the Marbles belong to London. I think that is starting to change and so we have some movement at this point.”

But also for the legal ban, Mr. Clark believes that it can be circumvented, either with a different assessment of its provisions, or with the full implementation of a new law that has come into force gradually since the autumn, but for the time being has been frozen, of Law on Non-Profit Organizations of 2022.

“Let’s look at the 1963 law first. And things are not perfect there, i.e. this law also allows the museum in certain circumstances to get rid of objects that are for some reason unsuitable, ‘unsuitable’, for the collection. So even in this law there is a legal window if we want to use it. And there’s a new law, the Charities Act, which looks set to make things easier by giving museums more freedom to get rid of certain things on ethical grounds. Consequently, I think there is mobility in the law if they want to use it.”

Mr Clarke also believes that if an agreement is reached with the management of the British Museum, despite what Downing Street and British ministers are still saying, the government in Westminster will not oppose the reunion.

“Until now, the government has always said and still says that first it is a matter concerning the Museum and not our matter. Secondly, they say that whatever is done will be done within the existing law. If the commissioners of the museum change their mind, I think this is a big step and seriously speaking, once we have a solution accepted by the commissioners of the museum, I think the government will not object, a way will be found to close the case”.

Although one of the most recent members of the British Commission for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, Bruce Clarke has been involved with the case for a long time and has referred to the Parthenon in his new book Athens: City of Wisdom ).

So what is his personal assessment of where we are on this case?

“I think it’s definitely going in the right, desired direction. Of course, there is always the problem of ownership, and the devil is in the details, as we say. But I am optimistic, I think there is a spirit of positive cooperation, a spirit that is looking for beneficial solutions for both sides, and probably the climate has changed for the better.”

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