Stephen Fry's Parthenon Marbles plea backed in debate vote

 
Parthenon Gallery at Athens' new Acropolis museum The Parthenon Gallery at Athens' new museum is designed to take all the Parthenon sculptures

A call backed by actor Stephen Fry for the return to Greece of the British Museum's Parthenon Marbles has come out on top in a debate held in London.

Fry said it would be a "classy" move to restore the sculptures brought to the UK by Lord Elgin in the 19th Century.

The debate, hosted by Intelligence Squared, ended with a majority for the motion of 384 to 125.

Opposing the motion, Tristram Hunt MP said the British Museum played a key role in cosmopolitan culture.

The Greeks were a proud people suffering terribly, Stephen Fry told the audience in London's Cadogan Hall, but "no matter how much the sovereign debt crisis means they owe us, we will never repay the debt that we owe Greece."

He said he revered the British Museum as "one of the great flowerings of the Enlightenment" but that returning the Marbles to Greece would be an act of "grace and decency".

He said it would be "classy" if future visitors to the British Museum could see a "Parthenon experience" including a film showing how Britain had curated the marbles "beautifully" for 200 years and then handed them over to Athens' Acropolis Museum.

Mr Hunt supported the argument advanced by the British Museum, which says there is a need for collections like its own which allows many different cultures to be compared.

The museum says the division of the sculptures between London and Athens "allows different and complementary stories to be told about the surviving sculptures, highlighting their significance within world culture and affirming the place of Ancient Greece among the great cultures of the world."

Stephen Fry Stephen Fry said he wanted Britain to show "grace and decency"

It should be a source of pride to the Greeks that the sculptures, as a symbol of Greek culture, were such an important part of the British Museum's collection where it could be compared with exhibits from other civilisations, said Mr Hunt.

He feared that restoring the Marbles could lead to a "purge" of museums in which "tit-for-tat recoveries" of objects by their countries of origin would lead to a "global loss of appreciation and understanding".

He said the Marbles had been legally acquired with a permit from the Ottoman empire and the Greek government had never challenged their ownership in an international court.

But Stephen Fry said the argument did not apply because Greece was an occupied country at the time.

Proposing the motion to send the sculptures back, Andrew George MP said it may be that Elgin helped preserve the sculptures, but that job was done now.

He said he was "appealing to Britain's better instincts" and that restoring the sculptures willingly now would be better than a "cringing climb-down" some time in the future.

The debate comes a week before an "International Colloquy" in London on the Parthenon sculptures in London, organised by the British, US and Australian committees calling for their return to Greece. Those attending will hold a "planned organized attendance" at the British Museum on 20 June.

Recordings of the debate will be broadcast on BBC World News at 09:10 and 21:10 on 23 June, and 02:10 and 15:10 on 24 June. All times GMT.

 

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Parthenon Marbles

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 154.

    The Elgin Marbles were purchased from the Turks in occupation, not the Greeks, and were privately bought by Lord Elgin to be preserved after the Parthenon was used as a gunpowder store which blew up. Bearing in mind the state of Greece ATM, offering a return of the Marbles could act as a unifying factor in a nation close to civil war. I say, give them back.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 153.

    I agree with Steven Fry on this one. As a former resident of Scotland's fifth city, I too believe we should have the Elgin marbles returned to Elgin!!!!
    And beofer the humourless jump on me, please note this comment is made with tongue firmly in cheek!

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 152.

    Debate all you like they are our property, going nowhere. The Greeks lost them tough. There is nothing to debate.

    In fact they would do better to sell us anything they connect to, may help them out of their financial debt!

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 151.

    I have a great Idea, lets sell ALL the Domestic National Treasures from our art galleries and museums, then in a couple of years we could bleat about the return of our national heritage. Not only could we raise billions, but we could have them back again. That is how it works, is it not?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 150.

    Cant we make replicas and send them to Greece ?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 149.

    Even if we kept copies of the marbles, and return the originals to Greece, I can see no problem with this. Purely to 'have' the originals In the British Museum, seems to be rather pointless as far as Britain is concerned. Nobody would be any the wiser, if the Crown Jewell's on display were paste, the same would go for the Elgin marbles! I am 100% with Stephen Fry.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 148.

    This is an incredibly difficult one. On one hand there is the moral duty to return such treasures to their country of origin regardless of how or when they were obtained; on the other hand we have a moral duty to ensure such treasures are kept safe.
    Greece cannot keep them safe as it currently is.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 147.

    They sold these such along time ago and yes it would be lovely for them to repurchase them. But as someone else has previously stated we would have to return everything back. Where would it end and how would the next generation be able to see and experience the real thing.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 146.

    shakespeare17 suggests we buy Greece's Parthenon. Have you any sense of morality, decency or respect towards other cultures?! Or do you still live in an Imperial time warp where you think we Brits are somehow superior and "own" the rest of the world?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 145.

    They should be returned to where they belong, simple, end of

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 144.

    Tanglesoft: so the British Museum is supposed to be a record of British History? I wonder if you have ever been there. It is in fact a Museum of World History and Archaeology and the Parthenon sculptures are displayed as part of that celebration and understanding of World Culture. I would not object to some being returned but let us be allowed to keep a representative group for us to enjoy.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 143.

    I'm getting a little tired of hearing how proud the greek people are. Their actions seem to be in direct contradiction, whether it's running their finances or taking care of their heritage.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 142.

    Is it me or do we in the UK spend the whole time having to apologise to the world for our history? The Italians (Romans) dont. The USA and their countless invasions dont. Russia and its invasion of eastern Europe. France..Spain..Portugal..Holland, Germany, Greece, even Scotland! the list is a long one, but apparently the UK was the worst and only offender??? hypocracy at its finest as usual.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 141.

    They belong to UK , bought and paid for ..... + the Greeks would have to sell them again to pay there rather large BILLS to the EU + Banks.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 140.

    The difficulty is that the Greek Government has repeatedly accused the British Museum of "stealing" the marbles (which is not true) and "demanding" their return. The Greeks are totally uncompromising about it. They will not meet the British even part way, by dropping the accusation and accepting that the return of the marbles would be an act of generosity. The need to recant, to get them back.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 139.

    We give them back to Greece. Then they sell them back to us. The they campaign for us to give them back to them again. That's what would happen.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 138.

    This is hard. We Brits have no concept of our ancient treasures being kept by other countries because we never had anything comparable for others to steal. However many treasures are relatively 'safe' in the West-we only have to think of Iraq and Afghanistan where war has meant ancient treasures have been destroyed or looted from museums to be sold on the black market, never to be seen again.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 137.

    Great idea. Then the Greeks can send them on to Germany to pay off some of the money they 'acquired'.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 136.

    We should send them back, but only after Banksy has painted them.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 135.

    Why the marbles can't go back MK2:
    a. The Greeks would definitely sell them
    b. They would all be pinched
    c. We would have to give back everything we stole in the past
    d. It would “make us look weak and foolish a bit like when Scotland decided to release Al Megahri on compasionate grounds” (priceless!)
    e. “They were created by the city state of Athens with money obtained by fraud.”

 

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