Many are curious about the recent discussion over the return of the Parthenon Sculptures. Is it a case of another prime minister using an emotionally charged issue to score points with voters? Basically, why did Kyriakos Mitsotakis suddenly become interested?
One answer may lie in the recent UNESCO decision to go a step further from a recommendation and strongly urge the British government to sit down with the Greeks and negotiate their return. The organization stated that the issue is intergovernmental – as opposed to London’s claim that it is an issue for the British Museum, where the sculptures are housed – and that Greece has a just and legal claim. Perhaps it was this development that prompted the Greek government to bring the issue back into the limelight, via the most official channel.
The British may appear unmoved by UNESCO’s decision – let’s not kid ourselves, these recommendations keep an issue on the agenda but rarely bring practical results – but here in Greece there are a lot of people who are passionate about such national narratives. The Amphipolis tomb affair is a perfect example, causing a complete frenzy when it was erroneously surmised to belong to Alexander the Great. The return of the Parthenon Sculptures, therefore, is the perfect PR issue. And this is especially so after the two big cultural initiatives announced by this government at the start of its term have failed to pan out. The August wildfires in northern Athens pushed the restoration of the former royal estate at Tatoi well into the future, while the expansion of the National Archaeological Museum appears snarled in red tape.
So maybe it was thought that a revival of the issue of the Parthenon Sculptures could not come at a better time. And if this doesn’t pan out either, and things get even trickier, there’s always Alexander the Great.