Greece says Marbles talks alive

Brushing aside denials from London, Greece insisted yesterday that it was involved in discussions with the British Museum over the return of the Elgin Collection of sculptures from the Parthenon. Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos said that since last November, when he met his British counterpart on the possible repatriation of the fifth-century BC works, «there has been a dialogue directly concerning the matter, both with the British Museum and with the British government.» In an interview with Alpha radio, Venizelos implied that although the museum still tenaciously refuses to send the works to Athens – even as a loan while retaining ownership of the sculptures – the government might be persuaded to agree. «The matter is really political,» he said. «At the end of the day, the (British) prime minister’s role is always decisive.» Renewed interest in the Marbles followed a story in this week’s Sunday Times newspaper that claimed the Bloomsbury museum had entered «secret talks» with Greek officials on a possible loan. Athens has proposed either «borrowing» the sculptures for a long time – while offering the British Museum a reciprocal loan – or creating a department of the British Museum within the planned new Acropolis Museum in Makriyianni, under the ancient citadel, where the pieces will be displayed. Unfortunately, there is very little likelihood of the museum being ready by 2004, when Greece would like to display the collection. The museum flatly denied the story, saying the talks concerned a joint exhibition of other Greek antiquities in Athens, and not the Marbles. Venizelos, however, differed. «There is a dialogue on cultural cooperation in general, but also on that specific matter (of the Marbles).»