MELINA MERCOURI FOUNDATION
When in 1982 Melina Mercouri, announced that Greece was to seek the return to Athens of the sculptures which Lord Elgin had torn from the Parthenon at the beginning of the l9th century, a small group of British friends of Greece founded the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles. From the beginning, we were convinced of two things.
The first was that the way to success was not to try to set up a mass organization, but rather to establish the widest contact with politicians, journalists, academics, writers, lawyers and others who could influence public opinion, and above all, the opinion of Parliament; for only Parliament could return the Marbles to Greece.
The second was that our most urgent task was to dispel the cloud of confusion, irrelevance and falsehood which had grown up around the Marbles in the course of two centuries. We have by now, I trust, refuted such hoary lies as that, that Lord Elgin bought the Marbles, or that he had authority from the Ottoman Government to tear down from the Parthenon what the hand of Pheidias had placed there, under the eye of Pericles, and by the order of the Athenian people. We have demonstrated the falsity of such arguments as that if the Marbles are returned, all the great museums of the world will be emptied of their treasures, or that the Marbles are more accessible in London than in Athens - accessible to whom? - or that the Greek nation is incapable of taking care of its artistic heritage. We have drawn attention to the efforts of our predecessors who sought to have the Marbles returned, such as Thomas Hardy, Frederic Harrison, Harold Nicolson, and those Parliamentarians who in 1941 urged that they should be restored to Greece after the war as a token of our gratitude for Greece's contribution to the common struggle against Nazi, aggression.
With Melina's inspired and untiring leadership and encouragement, we have over the years succeeded in bringing the issue to public notice through a multitude of channels: from a debate in the Oxford Union, to an editorial in The Times, from public Lectures, to radio and TV interviews and programmes. The British public and its parliamentary representatives are better informed today on the historical, Legal, moral and aesthetic grounds for the restoration of the Marbles than they have ever been before.
We concentrate now on proclaiming and explaining why we believe that the time has come for the Marbles to be returned. The argument is a simple one. First of all, the Parthenon is a great work of art, indeed, one of the greatest in the world, and it is absurd that its constituent parts should be kept 1,500 miles apart. Secondly, it is not only a symbol for the Greek people of its historical continuity, but it has also become a symbol for the whole world of civilization and culture. That is why UNESCO chose as its logo the facade of the Parthenon, albeit with too few columns. Thirdly, the decision has now been taken by the Greek government to build a new museum at the foot of Acropolis, to hold all the incomparable material found on that venerable site - sculptures, inscriptions, architectural fragments, portable antiquities, etc. In the New Museum of the Acropolis, which will have all that modern technology can provide for their conservation, display and study, there will be a great hall prepared to house the Parthenon sculptures, with a glass roof through which the visitor can look up to the temple on the rock directly above him. In co-operation with our many friends in the UK, Greece and elsewhere throughout the world, we will continue our campaign, with a new sense of urgency, for the realization of this aim.
+ Prof. Robert Browning
Emeritus Professor of Classics of the University of London