Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg vows to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece if voted into power in today’s general election. As an MEP (Member of the European Parliament) in 2002 Clegg even spearheaded a conference on sending the marbles back to Athens named Marbles in Exile.
Clegg described the marbles being housed in the British Museum (BM) like displaying Big Ben in the Louvre. When Tory MEPRoger Helmer criticised the stance, Clegg wrote to him, “During the opening of the Marbles in Exile exhibition yesterday, I took the opportunity to read out your message. Everyone agreed that you appear to have lost your marbles.”
The BM has long argued that the famous friezes, taken controversially from the Parthenon in 1801 by Lord Elgin while Greece was under Ottoman rule, are better off in London for a number of reasons. These include the argument that they are better understood as part of a world collection such as the BM’s, and that they would have suffered irreparable damage from war and pollution had Elgin not brought them to Britain.
The BM’s position is one of the most controversial in world heritage, not least because Greece claims they were removed illegally. The opening of the New Acropolis Museum in Athens has intensified the debate, with the Greeks claiming they now have a world-class museum in which to house their nation’s most famous ancient treasures.
Britain’s three major parties are divided on European relations on the eve of the general election (not to mention Heritage Key’s own Fantasy Election 2010). Clegg’s Liberal Democrats, who have enjoyed a surge in popularity since recent televised debates, are the most pro-Europe with views to joining the single European currency in the future.
His comments are sure to divide the British public on the issue of repatriation, who are becoming increasingly aware of issues regarding ancient artefacts such as the Rosetta Stone and Benin Bronzes. Egypt has even led the International Cooperation for the Protection and Repatriation of Culture Heritage conference in reaction to a myriad relics stored in foreign museums across the world.