The excellent podcast, Stuff You Missed in History Class, (hosted by Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey) has a useful overview of the chronology of the taking of the Parthenon Sculptures by Lord Elgin and his agents. It’s a useful overview, and will likely be of particular use for students or newcomers to the long-running dispute. Useful details include Elgin’s bitter divorce, and the reminder that it was never a good thing to draw the ire of Lord Byron.
With 2016 marking the 200th anniversary of the acquisition of the Parthenon sculptures by Parliament from Lord Elgin, there will likely be a lot of attention paid to the long-running dispute. The Guardian reported yesterday on a legal summary authored by Geoffrey Robertson, Norman Palmer, and Amal Clooney. The possibility of bringing a claim before the ICJ, raising public support, and continuing to generate goodwill towards reunification of the monument in Athens are the major themes of the 141 page summary, available via the Guardian. But the major focus of the claim now seems to be a call for justice for the sculptures, an argument I’ve made as well building on the well-established principle of environmental justice.
The reporting by Helena Smith focuses on the work by advocates in Athens:
As campaigners prepare to mark the 200th anniversary of the antiquities’ “captivity” in London, Athens is working at forging alliances that would further empower its longstanding battle to retrieve the sculptures.
“We are trying to develop alliances which we hope would eventually lead to an international body like the United Nations to come with us against the British Museum,” the country’s culture minister, Aristides Baltas, revealed in an interview.
“If the UN represents all nations of the world and all nations of the world say ‘the marbles should be returned’ then we’ll go to court because the British Museum would be against humanity,” he said. “We do not regard the Parthenon as exclusively Greek but rather as a heritage of humanity.”
But the politician admitted there was always the risk of courts issuing a negative verdict that would wreck Athens’ chances of having the artworks reunited with the magnificent monument they once adorned.
“Courts do not by definition regard [any] issue at the level of history or morality or humanity-at-large. They look at the laws,” said Baltas, an academic and philosopher who played a pivotal role in founding Syriza, Greece’s governing leftist party. “As there are no hard and fast rules regarding the issue of returning treasures taken away from various countries, there is no indisputable legal basis.”
Best of luck to the teams competing this weekend at the national cultural heritage moot court competition in Chicago. The competition is run by DePaul’s moot court society and the Lawyer’s Committee for Cultural Heritage Competition.
Given that 2016 marks the 200th anniversary of Parliament’s decision to purchase the sculptures from Lord Elgin, it is apt that this years problems deals with two issues over whether a U.S. Court would have jurisdiction and should hear a suit between the British Museum and the Acropolis Museum.
Co-sponsored by the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, the National Cultural Heritage Law Moot Court Competition is the only moot court competition in the world that focuses exclusively on cultural heritage law issues. The Competition provides students with the opportunity to advocate in the nuanced landscape of cultural heritage, which addresses our past and our identity, and which has frequently become the subject of contentious legal debates and policies. This dynamic and growing legal field deals with the issues that arise as our society comes to appreciate the important symbolic, historical and emotional role that cultural heritage plays in our lives. It encompasses several disparate areas: protection of archaeological sites; preservation of historic structures and the built environment; preservation of and respect for both tangible and intangible indigenous cultural heritage; the international market in art works and antiquities; and recovery of stolen art works.
An Athenian cultural association has brought a claim before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg seeking the return of the Parthenon Sculptures held by the British Museum. This year marks the 200th anniversary of Parliament’s decision to purchase sculptures stripped from the Parthenon from Lord Elgin. At present most of the surviving sculptures rest in London at the British Museum.
Alexander Herman for the Institute of Art & Law blog summarizes the allegations:
The claim is aimed at the United Kingdom and alleges violations of the following rights under the European Convention on Human Rights:
cultural identity as an aspect of «the right to respect for private life» (Article 8 of ECHR);
cultural identity as an aspect of «the freedom of conscience» (Article 9 of ECHR);
the right to access cultural information, as an aspect of «the freedom of expression» (Article 10 of ECHR);
the «right to an effective remedy» (Article 13 of ECHR); and
the right to property, in the sense of integral public access to the monument (Article 1 of the Additional Protocol to ECHR).
The Athenians’ Association, which has existed since 1895, argues in a statement that it hopes to “raise international public awareness and to have justice rendered” and “hopes that the truth will prevail, that the monument will be restored and that history and tradition will shine forth for the good of mankind”.
I’ve laid out my argument as well, that cultural justice demands the reunification of this work of art.
- APPEAL OF THE «ATHENIANS’ ASSOCIATION» BEFORE THE EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS FOR THE ACROPOLIS SCULPTURES, Σύλλογος των Αθηναίων (Feb. 18, 2016), http://www.syllogostonathinaion.gr/prosfigi-gia-ta-glypta-tis-akropoleos/appeal-of-the-athenians-association-before-the-european-court-of-human-rights-for-the-acropolis-sculptures/.