Boris Johnson believed in 2012 that the Parthenon sculptures “should never have been removed from the Acropolis” and admitted that ideally they would continue to be seen in their entirety in Athens, reveals a letter shared with the Guardian.
Writing to a Greek provincial official, the then Mayor of London and future British Prime Minister said: “This is an issue I have reflected on deeply for many years. In an ideal world, it is of course true that the Parthenon marbles would never have been removed from the Acropolis and that it would now be possible to see them in situ.
The letter, which appears on the town hall paper, was written in response to a call from George Hinos, then leader of the New Democracy party in Ilia, the Peloponnese region that is home to ancient Olympia. It was first published in Proini, a local newspaper.
Hinos wrote to the mayor of London on March 28, 2012, less than two months before the Olympic flame was lit in the old sanctuary and handed over to the British delegation ahead of the Olympics.
“In the name of justice and morality, we implore you to initiate the process of returning Greek sculptures,” he wrote, describing the “deep wound” Lord Elgin had caused when he was then Ambassador. from Great Britain to the Ottoman Empire – in circumstances which are still disputed – he had the sculptures of the monument hacked.
Johnson, who was among those who flew into the event, replied that he had concluded that if the logs were removed from the British capital it would amount to “grave and irrecoverable loss”.
The letter ended with: “Although I sympathize with the restitution case in Athens, I think overall I have to defend the interests of London. “
As Prime Minister, however, the Tory position has hardened noticeably.
Last week, in talks with his Greek counterpart, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, he ruled out discussing the issue, saying it was about the British Museum, although Unesco has stipulated that intergovernmental talks should take place. to resolve the long-standing dispute.
Earlier this year, as Mitsotakis made it clear that he would formally raise Athens’ long-standing demand, Johnson insisted that Classical-era antiques had been acquired legally.
Speaking to the Greek newspaper Ta Nea, he said: “The British government has a strong and long-standing position on the sculptures that they were legally acquired by Lord Elgin under the appropriate laws of the time. and were legally owned by the British. museum trustees since their acquisition.
The Greek government is committed to winning the hearts and minds of the British in a new campaign to reunite the missing sculptures with the rest of the monumental frieze in Athens.
Officials have been emboldened by a new YouGov poll released over the weekend showing 56% of people in the UK are in favor of repatriation and the marbles on display at the Acropolis museum at the foot of Pericles’ masterpiece .
Asked for comment, a spokesperson for No 10 said: “As the Prime Minister told the Prime Minister of Greece last week, all decisions regarding the Parthenon sculptures are up to the British Museum.
“It is the long-held position of the Prime Minister and the British government that the Parthenon sculptures were acquired legally according to the law of the time.”
Additional reports by Peter Walker