In the early 1800s, agents working for Thomas Bruce of Scotland, the 7th Earl of Elgin, conveniently "removed" about half of the remaining marble statues from the Parthenon, as well as a few other Greek sculptures, and brought them back to Britain in the name of art history cultural preservation colonialism. Bruce claimed to have permission from the Ottoman Empire to borrow these artifacts, but others have insisted that this is total bullshit. This has — understandably! — resulted in some strained tensions between the British Empire and the modern Greek government (post-Ottoman Empire) that's gone on for about two centuries.
A draft negotiating mandate circulated among European governments in Brussels today hardened EU demands in key traditional trade areas, particularly fishing, but also included the unexpected "return and restitution" line.
"The parties should address issues relating to the return or restitution of unlawfully removed cultural objects to their country of origin," said a newly drafted text that will be signed off by EU governments next week.
The Greek government has said that Brexit will shift the political balance within the EU to force Britain to return the fifth century BC marbles.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the British government is thus far refusing to cooperate. They seem to be under the impression that the marbles were legally acquired. I suppose this makes sense, on the grounds that the British government makes the laws by which the country abides, and thus, according to their own laws, they have acted in accordance with the law (that they made) in their decision to steal cultural artifacts from half the god damn world in the name of Imperialism.
Let this be a lesson to any future would-be global conquerers: you should probably think through the consequences of your actions before you throw a political tantrum over all the things you brought on to yourself.
Greece demands Elgin Marbles for EU trade [Bruno Waterfield / The Times]
Image: Adam Carr / Wikimedia Commons (CC 3.0)