The fight to have the Parthenon Marbles returned to their homeland is being taken up by an increasing number of Australians, according to archaeologists and activists.

Now, a high level meeting of international campaigners from Australia and around the world will be held in Greece in September, Central News has learnt.

Protests around the world have intensified recently for their return, putting pressure on the British Museum, which has housed the marbles for the past 221 years. About 50 per cent of  the original marbles were taken by Lord Elgin in 1816 and the British Museum has refused to return them, claiming they are too important to the collection.

The Australian Committee of the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles says the campaign has spread beyond Greece and Britain, and increasingly involves Australians, both of Greek heritage and non, who are concerned about the archaeological integrity of the marbles being ensured. 

The refusal not to return the Parthenon Marbles is the greatest act of cultural vandalism, outside of the Taliban blowing up the Bamiyam Buddhas.

The Committee’s International liaison officer, Theodora Minas Gianniotis, said that while this debate is generations old, there has never been so much support for the movement.

“The issue of the Parthenon Marbles is one of the most significant dispute issues the world has ever known,” she said. “What has changed is the momentum of public opinion, this is not just a Greek issue, this is a heritage issue… we have plenty of non-Greeks on the committee.

“The refusal not to return the Parthenon Marbles is the greatest act of cultural vandalism, outside of the Taliban blowing up the Bamiyam Buddhas (in Afghanistan).”

British Museum Marbles

Some of the Marbles in the British Museum. Photo: Chris Devers/Flickr

Greek-Australian financial institution Delphi Bank has also joined the fight, launching a petition for their customers to sign and show their support.

The Australian Committee was the first international delegation dedicated to the Marbles restitution and has made leaps and bounds from when it started in 1981.

Along with education programs, the committee runs fundraisers such as trivia nights to help raise funds and awareness for the campaign. 

Gianniotis said the education programs helped rally people from all backgrounds to support the movement. 

The Parthenon was meant to be read as a whole, these are not separate pieces of art from which we are still learning.

“I am 100 per cent confident that it will happen in my lifetime, maybe even before that. There’s so much momentum now, the pressure on the British Museum is huge,” she said, adding that the Australian committee in combination with their international colleagues will not stop fighting until the Marbles are reunited.

“The Parthenon was meant to be read as a whole, these are not separate pieces of art from which we are still learning, and until it is returned as a whole, the world will never fully understand its secrets,” she said. 

In recent weeks protesters took to the streets of London in protest, hoping to apply pressure on the British government and the British Museum.

Along with the protests in England, activists from all backgrounds who believe in the movement have been sharing tweets with hashtags like #ParthenonMarbles, #ParthenonSculptures and #Bringthemback. There has also been support from British members of Parliament, with Labour politician Shami Chakrabarti telling the Greek newspaper Ta Nea that “there could not be a better moment (referring to the protests and the 13th Anniversary of the Museum of Athens) for the Parthenon Marbles to be reunited in their Athenian home”.

british museum

The Parthenon Marbles have been housed in a special wing of the British Museum since 1816. Photo: Chris Devers/Flickr

Added pressure has come from UNESCO after their Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property agreed to back the movement and help reunite the Marbles. 

At the beginning of 2022, Italy announced it would return a piece of the Marbles that it had housed in the Antonino Salinas Regional Archaeological Museum in Palermo, Sicily. This was a win for the activists protesting their return, hopeful that the move would apply pressure on the British government to return the Marbles. 

The issue has got more complex with recent protests following the refusal by the British Museum to allow imaging of the marbles, which could create realistic copies and help satisfy both sides of the debate. Despite this, the British Museum released a survey which revealed only 33 per cent of people who visit the museum enter the Greek Collection room.

“Why aren’t people visiting it? It’s a lack of context, they know the history and are questioning the story behind it. They aren’t supposed to be there,” Says Gianniotis. 

Just last November British Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused to return the Marbles after the Prime Minister of Greece Kyriakos Mitsotakis asked for their reunification during a meeting. Johnson claimed the decision was up to the British Museum, not the government. 

Despite recent setbacks from the British Government, the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles International Organising Committee is confident that they will achieve reunification.

Main photo by Mary Harrsch/Flickr.