Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Congressman Donald M Payne


  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 anew.

  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 Marbles.


  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 merits—the 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 A[46]).


  3.  The Parthenon is the pre-eminent symbol of art and learning to the world as exemplified by UNESCO, and the symbol of democracy—as 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.  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 Collection—but 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.  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.  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.  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.  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 London—among 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[47]). 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 Marbles.


  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 world—to reunify the international symbol of culture and democracy—and, 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.

March 2000

46   Not printed. Back

47   Not printed. Back

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