George Osborne, chairman of the British Museum, has confirmed that he is continuing negotiations with the Greek government to work out a “hybrid” deal for the return of the Parthenon Marbles.
Osborne said BBC Radio on February 16, he is seeking what he hopes will be a mutually beneficial agreement for the museum and the current Greek government regarding ancient Greek artifacts.
The negotiations, which started in secretare taking place amid sustained calls from opposition Greek politicians to secure the permanent return of the marbles to Athens.
If his proposals are accepted by Greece, Osborne hinted that the marbles would be shared and exhibited in Greece and the United Kingdom. Speaking on the BBC’s Today programme, he said: “It’s a very difficult problem to solve. But I think there is a way forward where the sculptures could be seen in both London and Athens, and that would be a win-win for Greece and for us.
Osborne said a “hybrid” deal was needed to avoid breaking British law, which prohibits the British Museum from returning objects, while respecting Greece’s refusal of a loan deal. “We are talking with the Greek government about a new arrangement,” he said. “What I didn’t want to do was force the Greeks to accept things they find impossible, nor can they impose things on us that we would find impossible.”
The British Museum Act 1963 currently prohibits the full restitution of objects. Subsequent culture secretaries at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have consistently refused to seek to change the law – changing the law “is beyond my authority”, Osborne admitted in the interview.
The loan deal that has been offered in the past demands that Greece recognize legal ownership of the British Museum, which it refuses to do, because it believes the marbles were stolen by Lord Elgin. Osborne and his Greek counterparts are currently exploring possible ways around this problem.
Osborne’s use of the term “hybrid” marks a shift from previous rhetoric on the issue. Last fall, in a speech at the museum’s annual trustees’ dinner, Osborne took a more defiant tone, saying: “We hear the voices calling for restitution. But the creation of this global British Museum has been the dedicated work of several generations. Its dismantling must not become the reckless act of a single generation.”
A change of government in the UK could, however, lead to a different policy. Speaking at relaunch of the new Manchester Museum in Manchester, United Kingdom, February 16, the mayor of the city Former Labor leadership candidate Andy Burnham said: “Yes, George Osborne should return the Elgin Marbles”, when asked about the issue.
In response to Osborne’s statements, Greek commentators have once again expressed doubts whether the “hybrid” deal presented by Osborne will be accepted by the Greek population, ahead of the country’s general elections this summer.
“If this is the supposed deal for a ‘win-win’ solution, then cultural diplomacy will once again find itself at an impasse,” said George Vardas, arts editor of the Timetables of Greek cities newspaper, on Twitter.