THE GREEK PRIME minister has hit out at the British Museum’s loan of one of the Elgin Marbles to Russia, calling it an “affront” to the Greek people.
Antonis Samaras said the sculptures had been “looted” from the Parthenon, as he expressed outrage at the decision to loan one of the ancient pieces to the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.
The statue of the river god Ilissos has been lent to the renowned Russian museum for an exhibition until mid-January.
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
It is the first time one of the 2,500-year-old Marbles has been removed from the British Museum – except in wartime – since they were presented to the London institution almost 200 years ago, after being removed from the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis by Lord Elgin.
Greece maintains they were taken illegally during the Turkish occupation and should be returned for display in Athens, which the British Museum and the UK government reject. British Museum director Neil MacGregor indicated that he would be willing to consider a similar loan of a statue to Greece – but only if the authorities there promised to return it to London.
Mr MacGregor said he hoped the Greeks would be “delighted” that the sculpture would be on display to a new audience.
But Mr Samaras said: “The decision by the British Museum to give out on loan one of the Parthenon sculptures is an affront to the Greek people.
“The British argument held until recently, that the Parthenon Marbles cannot be moved, is no longer valid.
“The Parthenon and its marbles have been looted. The sculptures are priceless. We Greeks are one with our history and civilisation, which cannot be broken up, loaned out, or conceded.”
Asked if the sculpture could be loaned to a Greek museum, Mr MacGregor said: “The trustees have always been perfectly clear they are willing to lend anything in the collection, provided it’s fit to travel and there’s a serious reason, to a place where it could be safe and where it would be returned.
“The Greek government has always refused to borrow, to date, but the trustees’ position is very clear that they will consider any request from anyone who is prepared to return the object.”
Explaining the loan to the Hermitage at a time of tension between the West and Russian president Vladimir Putin, Mr MacGregor said in a blog: “The trustees have always believed such loans must continue between museums in spite of political disagreements between governments.”
He said the sculpture was a “stone ambassador of the Greek golden age and European ideals” and added: “It is a message Russia and the whole world need to hear.”
In October, a team of London lawyers, including Amal Clooney, wife of film star George, were involved in talks with Athens about a potential legal bid for the works.
Hollywood actor Clooney said it was “probably a good idea” for the Elgin Marbles to be returned to Greece.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS