LAST UPDATE: 18:23
One could say that Boris Johnson is the most “Greek-loving” prime minister in Downing Street —of course, after George Canning and William Ewart Gladstone.
He studied Classical Philology and Philosophy at Oxford, adores the ancient Greek literature, recites (in an Erasmian pronunciation) verses from the Iliad, calls Homer “the greatest author of all time” and his hero is Pericles, whose bustles can be seen in his office from the very first day he took office.
And one more thing: he visits Greece almost every year (before the pandemic), vacationing at his father’s two-storey villa in Horto in Pilion, where he tastes local specialties with a particular preference for kleftiko and tzatziki.
Are these outbursts of “philhellenism” enough for the British prime minister to satisfy the most urgent and constant bilateral request made for the first time in the early 19th century, that is, the return of the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece? No.
In the interview, Boris Johnson left no room for the repatriation of the Parthenon Marbles, which has been requested by the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Specifically, the British prime minister was asked whether there was a possibility for the Sculptures to be returned to Greece after many believe that Britain must return the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece and following a personal appeal by the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, through an interview with The Observer.
“I understand the strong feelings of the Greek people —and these of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis— on this issue. However, the British government has a firm and long-standing position on the Sculptures: they were legally acquired by Lord Elgin in accordance with the laws in force at the time. Their legal owner is the commissioners of the British Museum since the Sculptures came into their possession.” This is the first time Johnson has spoken publicly on the issue since taking office.
The last time was seven years ago, when, as mayor of London, he got involved in a verbal dispute with George Clooney, because the American actor asked for the reunification of the Sculptures that have been exhibited since 1817 in the British Museum.
Greece’s Answer to Boris Johnson’s statement
New historical data about the Parthenon sculptures provide evidence their acquisition by Lord Elgin was not legitimate, and the British Museum is not legally entitled to them, Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said in a statement issued on Friday.
Responding to statements by the UK’s prime minister to the Greek daily Ta Nea, the minister’s full letter says the following:
“Statement by the Minister of Culture and Sports on the issue of the Parthenon Sculptures.
“Upon careful review of the statements made by UK Prime Minister, Mr. Boris Johnson, it is clear that he has not been properly informed by the competent state services of his country of the new historical data regarding Greece’s occupation by the Ottomans that show that there was never a legitimate acquisition of the Parthenon sculptures by Lord Elgin and, therefore, neither has the British Museum ever acquired the Sculptures in a legitimate manner. The Ministry of Culture and Sports can provide the necessary documentary evidence that can inform the British people that the British Museum possesses the sculptures illegally.
“For Greece, the British Museum does not have legitimate ownership or possession of the sculptures. The Parthenon, as a symbol of UNESCO and Western civilization, reflects universal values. We are all obliged to work towards this direction.”