London Olympics 2012 and boosting its bid once influenced Tony Blair’s decision to consider a long-term-loan of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece. At this time, Blair was Prime Minister of the UK. Documents recently unearthed from two decades ago reveal contact between Blair and culture policy adviser Sarah Hunter in April 2003. What was the core of these documents?
The London Olympics Boost
Hunter suggested the political figure to “encourage” the British Museum to look for solutions to the contentious ownership dispute. This was for both in private and in public. Former Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis gave Blair a “reunification” strategy suggestion in October of the previous year. The goal of this plan was to assemble the marble figures at the Acropolis, in a specially designed museum in time for the Athens 2004 Olympics.
The UK government has an enduring stance on this matter. The body thinks the British Museum and its trustees are responsible for managing the Parthenon Marbles. However, Greece had just been elected president of the European Council and set to host the Olympics at the time Hunter wrote this. Hunter wrote these were “good reasons to change tack”.
“The Greek case has become more sophisticated – arguing for a loan rather than restitution of ownership – and contrasts with the BM’s blinkered intransigence to consider any compromises”, she wrote in files released by the National Archives on Friday. She also said: “The marbles could be a powerful bargaining chip in IOC [International Olympic Committee] vote building for a 2012 Olympic bid”.
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Filling the Void
“The publicity attached to this move could secure the Greek nomination and help garner a wide range of other IOC votes, although we would have to guard against other nations asking for reciprocal acts”, Hunter also added. In the year of the museum’s 250th celebration, Hunter admitted that attempting to make a loan would “be met with resistance and much broadsheet angst”.
She also enquired of Blair about looking into the possibility of a pooling arrangement. This was idea put out by SDP leader David Owen, a former foreign secretary. The Prime Minister nodded, writing in his handwritten response that Owen should lead the discussions. “It would give it profile, he has clout, and could probably help with the BM whilst distancing it a little from govt”, Blair wrote.
A meeting between Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was cancelled last month. Greece has also recently offered to lend some of its “most important” artifacts to the British Museum to “fill the void” left behind if the London institution returns the Parthenon Marbles to Athens.