in News | 05 JUN 18

UK Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn Promises to Return Parthenon Marbles to Greece if Elected PM

Corbyn says that the sculptures ‘belong to Greece’, and supports return of all colonial loot in British museums

in News | 05 JUN 18

Jeremy Corbyn campaigning in West Kirby, Merseyside. Courtesy: Flickr, Creative Commons; photograph: Andy Mia

UK Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn has vowed to return the set of Parthenon sculptures, ‘the Elgin Marbles’, to Greece if he is elected Prime Minister. He told the Greek left-leaning newspaper Ta Nea that the sculptures, currently housed at the British Museum, ‘belong to Greece.’

Corbyn commented: ‘As with everything stolen or removed from a country that was in the possession or colony – including objects looted from other countries in the past – we should also begin constructive talks with the Greek government on the return of the sculptures.’

It’s not a new position for the Labour leader. Corbyn has previously advocated for the return of the artefacts while serving as a backbench MP, describing them in 2014 as ‘stolen’. The sculptures were brought over to the UK at the end of the 18th century by Lord Elgin, after being removed from the Parthenon with the permission of the Ottoman Empire, which occupied Greece at the time. They have been at the British Museum since 1816. The Greek government has pressed for their return.

An open letter in support of Corbyn’s comments signed by several classicists including renowned historian Paul Cartledge has been published. ‘It’s about time that a leading politician addressed a subject that troubles the Greek government hugely, but is viewed with a certain smug disdain by those who still believe in possessors keepers; a tired colonialist relic of an attitude,’ it reads.

Last week, BBC historian David Olusoga suggested that UK museums should return colonial loot to improve trade relations in the post-Brexit era. Speaking at the Hay literary festival, Olusoga cited a friend’s solution: an edition of Supermarket Sweep in which each country is handed a shopping trolley and given two minutes in the British Museum.