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World 02-Dec, 2023

Britain's Stance on Cultural Repatriation Sparks International Controversy

By: Manya Upreti

Britain's Stance on Cultural Repatriation Sparks International Controversy

The British Museum has long been a focal point of controversy, with calls for the repatriation of artifacts from various countries, including India. Image Source: BBC

The 2,500-year-old Parthenon Marbles were taken from the Acropolis in Athens by British ambassador Lord Elgin at the beginning of the 19th century, and Greece has long insisted on having them returned.

In a decades-long dispute over the rightful ownership of the Parthenon Marbles, also known as the Elgin Marbles, tensions between Greece and the United Kingdom have reached a new high as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak declined to meet with his Greek counterpart, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, in London. The refusal has triggered a diplomatic row, further exacerbating the strained relations between the two nations.

The 2,500-year-old Parthenon Marbles were taken from the Acropolis in Athens by British ambassador Lord Elgin at the beginning of the 19th century, and Greece has long insisted on having them returned. The British Museum holds these culturally significant items, which the UK has consistently refused to return, despite multiple requests and international pressure.
The recent decision by Prime Minister Sunak to snub a meeting with Prime Minister Mitsotakis has added fuel to the already fiery debate surrounding the rightful ownership of the Parthenon Marbles. To promote a feeling of national identity and historical continuity, Greece argues that the marbles should be returned to their original location as an essential component of its cultural legacy. Greece and the UK are at a diplomatic standoff, which highlights Britain's infamous reputation for harboring cultural treasures that are not theirs. The British Museum has long been a focal point of controversy, with calls for the repatriation of artifacts from various countries, including India.

Among other countries, India has made a strong case for the return of cultural assets that British institutions illegally held. The call for the return of valuables, such as the Koh-I-Noor diamond and other important items, brings attention to the larger problem of cultural appropriation and emphasizes the need for an international conversation about who is legally entitled to hold and preserve historical relics.

The refusal to have talks about the Parthenon Marbles as diplomatic tensions rise speaks volumes about the ethical issues surrounding the preservation of cultural treasures acquired during colonial history, as well as the dispute between Greece and the UK. The debate calls into question the obligations placed on states to protect and honor the cultural legacies of other people as well as the possibility of working together to settle long-standing conflicts.

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