Supplementary memorandum submitted by
the International Organising CommitteeNew Zealandfor
the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles
1.1 The International Organising CommitteeNew
Zealandfor the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles welcomes
the proposed enquiry by the British House of Commons Culture Media
& Sport Committee into cultural property. We regard the whole
issue of cultural property and the illicit trade as being of great
importance to the cultural heritage of the world.
1.2 Cultural property includes property
of artistic interest which is both an expression of and testimony
to human creativity. Such cultural property embraces works of
outstanding monumental sculpture and includes most significantly
the Parthenon Marbles now housed in the British Museum.
1.3 Our organisation has only recently been
formalised, although for many years Philhellenes in New Zealand
have been very concerned about the continued presence of the Parthenon
Marbles in the British Museum. The membership of our own organisation
is growing rapidly.
1.4 We have read the submission made by
the Australian Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon
Marbles and we fully endorse that submission and the recommendations
1.5 For our part we wish to make the following
submission in the context of this House of Commons Committee's
consideration of claims for the return of items of cultural property
which were historically removed and not necessarily acquired as
a result of illicit trade.
2. THE PARTHENON
2.1 The history and circumstances as to
how the pedimental sculptures, metopes and a large part of the
frieze were physically removed from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin's
workers have been widely documented and publicised over the years.
It is not our intention to go into detail in this submission.
2.2 The sculptures were taken at a time
when Greece was under Ottoman rule. The Greek people did not and
would never have given permission for the sculptures to be removed
from what is arguably a unique national masterpiece of art and
2.3 The Parthenon has been described as
a marble beacon from the past and the monument of monuments. When
you stand in front of the Parthenon and take in the magnificence
of its architectural and sculptural detail, you cannot help but
be overcome by the inspiration and genius of those who created
it. When you view the magnificent sculptures in the British Museum,
particularly the incomparable frieze, it is obvious that these
brilliant works were designed for a specific place on a particular
building. Any appreciation of the Parthenon and its surrounds
is limited by the inability to view the sculptures in their entirety,
within view of the Parthenon and set out in the harmony and order
that was the case where they stood on the temple for over 2000
2.4 The sculptures were not free-standing
artefacts but physically and integrally a part of the Parthenon.
The Parthenon Marbles do not merely belong to it, they are the
3. MUSEUMS AND
3.1 The guidelines published by the British
Museum and Galleries Commission ought to be adopted by all museums
in Great Britain.
3.2 The American Association of Museums
has recently published a statement on cultural property and the
illicit trade in which the following proposition is made:
"Stewardship of collections entails the
highest public trust and carried with it the presumption of rightful
ownership, permanence, care, documentation, accessibility and
responsible disposal. The public has the right to expect that
professional standards and practices inform and guide museum operations".
3.3 This admirable statement of principle
also applies to the Parthenon Marbles and their stewardship and
custodianship by the British Museum.
3.4 As we enter the 21st century, there
is a discernible movement towards a properly reasoned and considered
approach to requests for restitution or repatriation of items
of cultural property, including indigenous remains, objects of
significant cultural heritage and so on. Increasingly, museums
around the world are adopting specific policies in order to consider
requests for return of cultural property. It is time that the
British Museum Act is amended to ensure that the Museum adopts
proper de-accessioning policies and procedures and that mechanisms
are put in place to oversee their implementation in practice.
3.5 This is even more compelling in the
case of the British Museum given that its stewardship of the Marbles
has been seriously questioned by the revelations as to the damage
caused during the earlier cleaning of the Marbles and the persistent
attempts by the Trustees of the British Museum to withhold information
from the public regarding that episode. The Trustees of the British
Museum have breached that public trust and their duty to act in
4. REBUTTAL OF
4.1 The standard defence of the British
Museum and the civil service has been that to return the Parthenon
Marbles would create a dangerous precedent which would result
in the great museums of the world losing their collections.
4.2 In the Parliamentary debate on 1 June
1998 in the House of Commons the Minister for Culture, Media &
Sport, Mr Chris Smith, stated that a "host of other questions
about the location of works of art throughout the world would
arise" and that no one would want such questions to be reopened
if the Marbles were to be returned. On 4 February 1999 during
a House of Lords debate on the question, Lord McIntosh of Haringey
expressed concern that the return of the Parthenon Sculptures
to Greece would "raise the issue of a worldwide return of
works of art to their places of origin".
4.3 The standard response by the British
Museum is that the return of the Parthenon Sculptures would involve
"disbursing most of the world's great collections" and
lead to the "piecemeal dismemberment of the collections which
recognise no arbitrary boundaries of time or place".
4.4 Leaving aside the historic irony of
this last comment (for in the case of the Parthenon Marbles there
was nothing arbitrary about where they stood for over 2,000 years)
there is simply no evidence to support this cultural domino theory.
Jeanette Greenfield in her seminal work, Return of Cultural
Treasures, has instanced numerous examples of cultural artefacts
that have been returned and yet the collections of the world's
museums have not been sacked.
4.5 This Committee should reject the arguments
of the British Museum and other perennial retentionists.
5.1 The time has come for negotiation and
dialogue to strive for what one commentator has described as the
re-sharing of one of the universal symbols of mankind's excellence
which were arrogantly removed and which should now be returned
(Thomas Hovig, Newsweek, 28 September 1993).
5.2 It is significant that during the 1999
House of Lords debate, Lord McIntosh also stated that the Culture
Minister had been in correspondence with his Greek counterpart
and that, in terms of the United Nations recommendations as to
the return of cultural property, the British Government was prepared
to accept the resolution regarding the promotion of bilateral
negotiations and has "always been willing to take part in
such bilateral negotiations".
5.3 Despite this claim, the British Government
continues to refuse to be a signatory to the UNIDROIT Convention
which calls for bilateral negotiations between countries over
the return of works of art.
5.4 We therefore submit this Committee should
recommend that the British Government commence and pursue meaningful
negotiations with the Government of Greece with a view to developing
a constructive dialogue as to the return of the Parthenon Marbles
upon the conditions specified by the Greek President, namely:
(a) That a new Acropolis Museum be constructed
to house the Parthenon Sculptures.
(b) That all costs for the return of the
Marbles and the cost of a complete set of copies to remain in
London be met by Greece.
(c) That Greece makes no other claims for
the return of cultural property in the museums or collection of
6.1 The New Zealand Committee supports and
endorses the recommendations of the Australian Committee.
6.2 Great Britain has always been a world
leader in matters of law and order and more importantly in natural
justice. The injustice committed by Lord Elgin and his workers
in damaging the Parthenon and in removing the valuable Marbles
should be redressed and as a world leader Britain is well placed
to make a magnificent gesture for the return of one of the world's
most priceless cultural treasures.