Memorandum submitted by Congressman Donald
1. I am Congressman Donald M Payne. I have
represented the Tenth District of New Jersey in the Congress of
the United States since 1988 and serve on the House Committee
on International Relations. This statement will address item four
(IV) in your category "Other return issues and claims for
return of cultural property which were historically removed and
not necessarily acquired as a result of the illicit trade",
on the matter of the Elgin Marbles.
1.1 My interest in the matter of the Parthenon
Marbles is based on extensive research and participation in US
scholarly groups. In the US Congress, we will be considering the
issue of the Parthenon Marbles based on our own interest in the
international symbol of democracy and our own culture. It was
my privilege to discuss the subject in detail with President Clinton
before his trip to Greece last November and I was further encouraged
by the subsequent announcement of support for the return of the
Elgin Marbles by Prince Charles.
1.2 Please accept my personal expression
of appreciation for this inquiry by the Committee on Culture,
Media and Sport, addressing this controversial matter of global
interest and examining all the ramifications of this unique issue
1.3 I am very pleased that the matter of
the Elgin Marbles is to be considered by Parliament, as the only
legally competent body to decide their fate. I offer my own support
to the Committee to contribute all that I can to assist in the
conduct of a thorough, authoritative examination of all aspects
of the issues of return, without dwelling on the unproductive
argument over the issues of removal or personalities. This statement
is offered in support of an impartial proceeding as we continue
to search for consensus on the appropriate stewardship of the
2. The Press Notices of the Committee on
Culture, Media and Sport, as well as media reports, indicate that
Parliament is prepared to take a reasoned, legislative approach
to this matter to reach an equitable and just conclusion. In the
Congress, such a reasoned approach would follow much as in Parliament.
It would begin with a hearing on the meritsthe aspirations
of this Committee today. In the interest of the integrity of the
decision and proceedings, the inquiry would be as inclusive as
possible of all the credible positions, and then a studied report
would be issued. That Report would reflect the judgement of the
members of the Committee in consideration of popular sentiment,
existing public policy, as well as the views of the Administration
on national security and foreign policy.
2.1 How should Parliament, as the sole authority
in this matter, address the issue? Should Parliament believe it
is faced with a dilemma? To properly address the best interests
of the Parthenon Sculptures, it is helpful to keep in mind two
important factors. The first is the intrinsic nature of the art,
that is, that the Sculptures were never intended to be movable,
decorative art but comprised integral portions of a complete artistic
and historic rendering. None is complete without the other parts.
The second is the importance of the Parthenon Temple itself both
as a place of worship and as a world symbol of democracy and culture.
2.2 Last year I wrote a "Letter to
the Editor" of the Washington Post, "Making a Symbol
of Democracy Whole", which was published on 18 December 1999.
A copy of that article is included with this statement (Appendix
3. THE SIGNIFICANCE
3. The Parthenon is the pre-eminent symbol
of art and learning to the world as exemplified by UNESCO, and
the symbol of democracyas demonstrated by its adoption
by design of other government and official buildings, especially
in the United States. Emblems of our culture, in fact, were adopted
from the Parthenon and the democracy and culture it represents,
including the Lincoln Memorial, the Supreme Court, and innumerable
important public buildings and monuments.
3.1 The Parthenon Marbles are the segments
of the Parthenon Temple frieze and sculptures removed by Lord
Elgin from the Parthenon Temple in Athens to London in 1801-1816.
The Parthenon was built nearly 2,500 years ago by the original
Periclean democracy. The Parthenon was dedicated to the Goddess
Athena in 439 AD and ever since then, the Parthenon has always
been a place of worship including three religions: Orthodox Christian,
Catholic and Muslim. The Sculptures are allegorical and sacred.
3.2. The Marbles were removed by Lord Elgin
to London over 2,240 years later, under circumstances of debatable
legality. The British Museum acquired the Marbles by an Act of
Parliament in 1816 and although Lord Elgin incurred enormous expense
to remove them, the Marbles were not legally purchased by Lord
Elgin. Ever since Greek liberation from the Ottoman Empire in
1830, Greeks, Hellenophiles, and the world cultural community
have been striving to secure the return of the Marbles.
3.3. Although the Marbles were removed from
the Parthenon under questionable circumstances, the Marbles should
be replaced at the Parthenon on the merits, that is, based of
the essence of the Parthenon.
4. FRAMING THE
4. The most widely accepted argument against
reunification of the Parthenon Marbles has been the false alarm
that a precedent would be established which would reverberate
throughout the museums of the world which would be emptied in
rapid succession. The issue of the Parthenon Marbles is unique
and their reunification would not create a precedent for other
museums. Likewise, reunification of the Parthenon Marbles neither
establishes a "principle" for American museums nor poses
a threat to our own cultural heritage.
4.1. Even if there were any reason to believe
that reunification of the Parthenon Marbles would create a legal
precedent under the laws of the United Kingdom, Parliament could
avert that by including language stating the interpretation and
intent of Parliament that return of the Marbles shall not establish
a legal precedent under the British legal system.
4.2. Fundamentally, the approach which is
the most opportune for resolution of the legally complex, politically
sensitive matter of the Parthenon Marbles is twofold: one, to
set aside examinations of the issues of removal (which have not
proven to enhance resolution of this matter) and two; to design
a framework for diplomatic and professional discussions of all
potential arrangements which can be considered which will both
satisfy the global support for return of the Marbles and the recognised
interests of the United Kingdom.
4.3. Further, in order to set legal precedent,
for those in common law legal systems (as the United Kingdom and
the United States), there must be a predicate legal decision,
ie a ruling by a legal court and only thereafter could the decision
present a legal precedent to the extent that future courts might
admit. For the simple fact that the matter of the Parthenon Marbles,
with the facts as are known to date, does not comprise a legal
claim which can be presented in a court of law, it necessarily
follows that any settlement of the claim on a non-adjudicatory
basis cannot create a legal precedent.
4.4. The matter of the Parthenon Marbles
is important on many levels including artistic merit, historic
authenticity, international goodwill and respect for traditional
places of worship. But it is not a matter which lends itself to
adjudication by a court of law, state or international. The record
of the consideration of this matter by the House of Commons in
1816 and the subsequent Report reflect intense inquiry and investigation
into the legal aspects of the removal of the Marbles by Lord Elgin
and under the pertinent legal principles of the time. After lengthy
deliberations, no legal action was initiated against Lord Elgin
even though he won no accolades from this purchase.
4.5. A reading of the historical record
of the vote in the House of Commons in 1816 reveals a House strongly
supporting the purchase of the Elgin Collectionbut philosophically
divided. The pivotal factor which tipped the scale toward purchase,
for many of those who had no respect for the removal by Lord Elgin,
was the belief that purchase was the only way to protect the Marbles
into the future.
5. PUBLIC POLICYINTERNATIONAL
5. Within the international community, the
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
(UNESCO) and the European Parliament have issued declarations
urging the return of the Marbles.
5.1. The matter of the Parthenon Sculptures
is not a Greek-British issue but a question of moment to the United
Nations, the United States, and all the world's cultures. Since
the European Renaissance, the Parthenon, including its marble
sculptures, have become the international symbol for enlightened
cultures and of democracy itself. From the major government buildings
of all Western democracies to the emblem of UNESCO, the Parthenon
is the recognised symbol of democracy and freedom. The international
and US cultural community strongly supports the return of the
Marbles by Great Britain to Greece.
6. THE EUROPEAN
6. Last year the European Parliament issued
a declaration, urging the return of the Parthenon Marbles. When
London MEP Alf Lomas, presented the petition for signature it
was signed by 35 per cent of the British Delegation to the European
Parliament. Those results could be added to numerous other reports
of support among the British people for return of the Marbles.
7. PUBLIC POLICYUNITED
7. The results of a BBC phone-in poll in
1996, after a documentary on the Marbles, were 92.5 per cent of
the 99,340 people who called in said they supported return of
the Marbles to Greece. The results of a later MORI poll in September
1998 were 39 per cent pro-return and 15 per cent opposed while
28 per cent were undecided. The most interesting finding from
that poll was that only 15 per cent of the British adult population
recalled having seen the Parthenon Marbles at the British Museum.
That result would appear to contradict assertions of the British
Museum that the Parthenon Marbles (after 197 years in London out
of their 2,430-year history) have come to be regarded as an integral
part of the British culture.
7.1 On 19 January 1999, 112 Members of the
House of Commons offered a position on the issue of the Parthenon
Sculptures in an Early Day Motion (No. 212). The Motion suggests
that any possible precedential effect could be averted if the
Marbles were returned as a "gesture of goodwill" [that
is, as a matter of public policy rather than law] and calls for
the entry into "Discussions with Greece on the restitution
of the Parthenon Sculptures."
7.2. On 18 March 2000, the Economist
Magazine published the results of its own poll of Members
of Parliament as part of a lengthy report on the issue. In the
House of Commons, the results indicated support for return of
the Marbles by a vote of 66 to 34. In the House of Lords, the
results were 41 supporting and 59 opposed to reunification of
the Parthenon Marbles.
8. THE UNITED
8. In Greece last autumn, President Clinton
stated his unequivocal support for the reunification of the Parthenon
Marbles, and endorsed the international and US view that the Marbles
should be reunited with the Parthenon Temple. Shortly thereafter,
a similar announcement was made by Prince Charles. The support
of Prince Charles for the cause of the Parthenon Marbles is consistent
with his well-recognised interest in protecting the architectural
cultural heritage of Londonamong similar programmes. It
appears that President Clinton's declaration has begun a new global
momentum on behalf of the Parthenon.
8.1. It was disappointing to learn of a
shocking and incorrect account of those events included in a briefing
memorandum issued by the British Ministry of Culture (attached
to this statement as Appendix B).
Paragraph 18 of the memorandum alleges that [the British] "Embassy
in Athens was informed by the US Ambassador to Greece that the
tour of the Parthenon by President Clinton and his daughter Chelsea,
was intended to be a private affair. The Greek Minister of Culture
just appeared out of the blue, gave the usual incorrect Greek
version of events and bounced him with an unexpected question.
Any views expressed by the President were personal and not the
US Government line".
8.2. As I have stated, it was my privilege
to personally advise the President in more than one meeting, on
the matter of the Parthenon and the Marbles. It is therefore inappropriate
and incorrect to suggest that the President of the United States
was "bounced" by an unexpected question.
8.3. President Clinton's recent comments
in Athens and to British Prime Minister Tony Blair have advanced
the debate. It is our hope that this will promote a dialogue between
the Greek and British Governments which may lead to the reunification
of the Marbles to their original home on the Acropolis, in time
for the celebration of the Olympics in 2004.
8.4. In the United States, The Committee
on the Parthenon has served as the primary catalyst in building
public awareness and governmental support for the restitution
of the Marbles and for acquainting Members with the pertinent
issues of interest to the United States. The Committee on the
Parthenon has also submitted a statement for this inquiry, which
is the product of an extensive and thorough examination of all
the pertinent legal and policy issues on the matter of the Parthenon
9. UNITED STATES
9. I have prepared legislation to convey
to the British Parliament, Congressional interest in the reunification
of the Parthenon Marbles, ideally in time for the 2004 Olympics.
9.1. The Parthenon Marbles Reunification
Act is a Resolution commending Parliament for taking up the issue
of the Parthenon Sculptures and urging the British Parliament
to enter into a dialogue on the matter of the reunification of
the Parthenon Marbles in time for the Athens Olympics in 2004.
This Resolution by the Congress of the United States is in recognition
of the importance of the Parthenon to the cultural heritage of
the United States and to the international community as the world's
symbol of culture and democracy.
10. It would be a gesture of great international
moment for the United Kingdom to facilitate such a gift to the
worldto reunify the international symbol of culture and
democracyand, as a United States Congressman, I appreciate
this opportunity to present my interest in doing everything possible
to help make this ideal a reality.
10.1. It is a widely accepted view in the
United States that when the world observes the return of the Olympics
to Greece in 2004, so should the world be able to witness the
Marbles restored to the Parthenon.
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