LBC 14 May 2023 – India to help Greece and fellow ‘victims of colonial appropriation’ to push UK to give back Elgin Marbles. See the full article HERE

The Elgin Marbles have been a bone of contention between Greece and the UK as far back as I can remember. That particular dispute has returned to the fore in light of the recent Coronation when the ownership of the Marbles and numerous other artifacts has become the subject of frenzied conversation. Those who liberally sprinkle their conversation with words like “colonialism’ and ‘oppression’ chose to highlight the much-disputed Koh-i-Noor diamond.

The numerous ‘talking heads’ recruited by the mainstream media to comment on the state occasion delighted in dampening down the wonder of the occasion by constantly highlighting the question of the ownership of the Koh-i-Noor diamond that sits at the front of Crown of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. The stone’s removal from the crown for the occasion did not deter them. The colonialism references continued but only when they weren’t bemoaning the apparently surprising ‘whiteness’ of a family that lives in and presides over a predominately white country.

History of the Koh-I-Noor

For those that are interested, the diamond was taken or gifted (depending on who you ask) from a 10 year old Punjabi Sikh prince as part of the 1849 treaty signed after the second Anglo-Sikh war. The east India Company then gave it to Queen Victoria. However, despite the claims made by India, the precious stone has allegedly changed hands many times and has also been claimed by Pakistan, Iran, Bangladesh and even the Taliban.

And to return to the other dispute:

History of the Elgin Marbles

The Elgin Marbles are statues that formed part of the Parthenon in ancient Greece. The whole building had been damaged by a series of earthquakes and later by a Venetian salvo. The 7th Earl of Elgin, who initially wanted to take casts of the statues, alleged he was given permission to remove them by the then Ottoman ruler but this is disputed by the Greeks and no records of the permission exist. However, it cannot be denied that the items were removed under Ottoman, not Greek, rule.. Having spent £74,000 of his own money in 1812 to excavate and remove the statues, Elgin then sold them to Britain for £34,000 making a significant loss.

Is it just a British issue?

The arguments about returning the Koh-i-Noor, along with the Elgin Marbles and other artifacts, to their previous owners cause much consternation on all sides. Throughout history, millions of items, people and several countries have changed hands in a ever changing global landscape. Even tribes in the remotest jungles have taken prisoners, land and other items from rival groups.

Those do not seem to trouble anyone though. It seems to be only the victims of the British that must be made whole. The Portuguese and Spanish conquistadors (conquerors) who brought much of the Americas under their dominion and colonised Asia, Africa and others seem to avoid any disapproval at all. I haven’t heard anyone asking them to return anything.

So, should these artifacts be returned?

Despite the years of arguments, I have been able to come up with a deceptively simple common sense solution. The British should go ahead and give all these contentious artifacts to their previous owners. There, I’ve said it. For those that disagree, I say this. What does it matter? If a few statues and baubles are given away, does it change history? Does it change what happened? Does it change anything?

Essentially its just stuff. Historical stuff I grant you. Stuff that tells a story of a period in British and world history. But for the people that want these things, it obviously means much more. So what harm can it do to give them to them? Maybe it would assuage some deeply embedded sense of injustice and surely that would be a good thing. And for the British, why not call it a ‘goodwill gesture’ rather than a ‘return’ if that sits easier.

But even if this gesture was decided upon, how to establish who to return these items to?

The Elgin Marbles Court Case

Famously, a legal bid was launched in 2016 to have the Marbles returned to Greece. The European Court of Human Rights threw the case out. They determined that because the alleged theft took place 150 years before the UK signed up to the Human Rights Convention, it did not have the power to consider the lawsuit. Interestingly, the Greek government chose not to sue and the case was actually brought by a cultural organisation. Attempts by UNESCO to mediate were turned down by the UK who insisted the items were obtained legally.

Greece has demanded the return of the Elgin Marbles (pictured here)
Sculptures forming part of the Elgin Marbles

Court Challenge for the Koh-i-Noor

The Koh-i-Noor has also been subject of legal challenge. In 2017, the Supreme Court in New Delhi ruled in a case brought by an NGO and others, saying it could not ask a foreign government to return the item and that no case was made out to do so. This decision was reviewed and upheld in 2019.

Legal Issues

So, where to now with the establishment of ownership? For any case of theft, there are several points to prove including ‘dishonesty’, ‘appropriate’, ‘(property) belonging to another’. Could these points ever be evidenced?

As mentioned in the brief history, the Parthenon had been devastated by earthquakes and by war. The British say the statues were legally obtained from the Ottomans who are now the modern-day Turks. Perhaps, Britain should return them to those from whom they were obtained and let them fight it out with the Greeks.

You’re not going to like this bit….

The question also needs to be raised as to whether the Marbles would even exist today without Elgin’s intervention When he found them, they were lying in so many pieces on the ground. No efforts had been made to recover or repair them. If he hadn’t spent all his money saving them, they surely would have disappeared altogether. Which begs the question, if the Marbles go back to whence they came and no theft can be evidenced, should the Elgin family have their £74,000 refunded? That’s £6m in today’s money.

Where there are several claims of ownership, two routes could be offered. Either all parties can continue fighting the question of ownership out in court and the winner is given the artifact. Good luck with that. I think these matters would be tied up for years.

Or the artifact can be broken up into the requisite number of pieces according to the claims and a portion given to each country. This is obviously self-defeating but it would be for the claimants to decide what is more important – the artifact itself or the win.

What happens then?

When all the items have been distributed or broken up in such a manner, then the British should choose one of the following options:

Option 1

The first option would be to demand that, in return and in the spirit of returning each country to its original circumstances, all the infrastructure and systems put in place in each country by the British at the time of the alleged theft be dismantled. By this I mean bridges, roads, judicial systems, government systems, housing, means of food, water and energy production.

Put simply, if it was implemented or invented by the British, it comes out. If people no longer want the stain of Empire, then this is the only true, fair and even way to remove the British impact. Quite rightly, this is an option I presume nobody wants.

Or the second option…

To hand the items over and just say, “Now what do you want?”

Because I can guarantee it would not stop there. Where would be the end point to this? Does anyone know? Do the aggrieved even know?

If the return of these items is what is needed to right some wrong, then is it just a ‘feeling’ that is sought? A feeling of being whole, of receiving closure or recompense or justice. What happens if having the Elgin Marbles in Athens, or the Koh-i-Noor in New Delhi,does not bring the required ‘warm and fuzzy feeling’? What then?

How does it end?

At some point, a line must be drawn in the sand. History must be accepted and left behind. If giving these artifacts to those who demand them is that line, the guaranteed line, then maybe it should be considered.

But if the line is constantly shifting and the demands ever growing, then handing the items over serves no purpose. It will not give the claimants what they seek. It will not encourage those involved to start looking forward instead of back. And I guarantee, it will make not an iota of difference to the disenfranchised or poverty-stricken in any of these countries claiming the items are needed to restore their nation.

The Solution

So, give it away I say. Give it to whoever claims it. But make it clear there will be no more and let’s be done with this nonsense. Let’s park this idea of those who were never oppressors giving to those who were never oppressed. Instead we should concentrate on the modern-day victims of slavery. Spend the money there, making a real difference to the downtrodden. There are more people in slavery right now than there have ever been.

And let’s be clear, those who live in glass houses should maybe keep their stones to themselves. Have you ever had your car cleaned by a group of Albanian men in the cheap local car wash? Had your nails done by a succession of silent Chinese women in a High Street salon? Smoked cannabis trafficked to you by small children (and it was, whether you like to admit it or not)? Then you are part of the problem – you are oppressing!. You now have no right to demand any reparations for anything. Clean your own house first.

And once all the hand-wringing and virtue-signalling about these precious artifacts is done and they have been handed over, maybe someone should go and ask the little boy who works as a house slave for a wealthy Qatari family how the return of the Elgin Marbles has changed his life.

The intention of this article is to spark debate. Let me know your thoughts on this issue by commenting below or sending me a message through the Contact Me page. I’d love to hear from you.


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