On January 26th, Greek newspaper Tanea published an interview with the Director of the British Museum Hartwig Fischer.
In the interview, Fischer suggested that the 19th century removal of Pantheon marbles from Greece could be seen as “a creative act.” He furthermore denied any possibility of the 2,500-year-old sculptures which Greece and other nations consider as stolen to be returned.
Asked about the argument that it should be seen more as a rejoining of the sculptures than a return, Fischer said the British Museum offered a different way of interacting with the marbles, “posing different questions because the objects are placed in a new context.”
“We should appreciate this opportunity. You could, of course, be saddened by the fact that the original environment has disappeared. When you move a cultural heritage to a museum, you move it outside. However, this shifting is also a creative act.”
The same is not applicable to the Acropolis Museum in Athens, according to Fischer. “Nothing that we admire at the Acropolis Museum was created for the Acropolis Museum. They are close to the original environment, but they have again moved away from it and have been transformed through this act.”
Later in the interview, Fischer mulled a “loan” of statues to Greece, only in the event Athens recognizes the UK as the legitimate owner of the statues.
“The objects in the collection of the British Museum are owned by the museum’s commissioners”, he said.
George Vardas, the secretary of the International Association for Reunification of Parthenon Sculptures tweeted, asking what is creative about the severing the connection between a nation and its ancient history:
According to #BritishMuseum director the “displacement” of #Parthenon Sculptures by Lord Elgin was a “creative act”. Seriously. What was so creative in the destruction of the temple and looting and pillage of a nation’s keys to its ancient history? @elginism @iandritsopoulos pic.twitter.com/YN3MdK8V6O— George Vardas (@VardasGeorge) 26 Ιανουαρίου 2019
He further called the rejection of any possibility of the sculpture being returned an “astonishing historical revisionism and arrogance.”
The imperial condescension of the @britishmuseum knows no bounds. According to its director the “displacement” of the #Parthenon Sculptures, ie their looting by Lord Elgin, was a “creative act”. Astonishing historical revisionism and arrogance. @elginism @myrsinizorba @cultureGR https://t.co/NEmPDfmQn9— George Vardas (@VardasGeorge) 26 Ιανουαρίου 2019
The Guardian cited Myrsini Zorba, the Greek culture minister, who issued a statement on January 26th, condemning Fischer’s “legitimate owner” comments as exhibiting “a narrow and cynical managerial mindset.”
“It is regrettable to hear this by the director of the British Museum and a well-known art historian. His remarks downgrade cultural heritage from an invaluable universal value to a mere exchange sale.”
The British Museum is prohibited by law from returning the marbles. Despite that, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party leader said he would repatriate them if his party were to be elected.
A spokesperson for the British Museum said:
“Hartwig Fischer was stating the longstanding position of the British Museum. We believe there is a great public benefit in being able to see these wonderful objects in the context of a world collection. The museum lends extensively across the world, and some loans are long-term but not indefinite’.”