Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis expressed his “dissatisfaction” on Monday, November 27, after the decision of his British counterpart Rishi Sunak to cancel the meeting during which they were to discuss the already long-standing dispute around the Parthenon friezes.
“I express my dissatisfaction with the cancellation by the British Prime Minister of our meeting just a few hours before it was to take place,” said the head of the Greek government in a brief statement, while Rishi Sunak's services did not wish to make comment. The two leaders were due to meet midday on Tuesday in London where Kyriakos Mitsotakis has been visiting since Sunday.
“Greece's positions on the issue of the Parthenon friezes are well known. I was hoping to have the opportunity to discuss it with my British counterpart,” he lamented. “He who believes in the correctness and merits of his positions is never afraid to confront arguments,” added the Greek Prime Minister. According to the Greek news agency ANA, citing sources within the Greek government, the British prime minister was apparently upset by comments made by his Greek counterpart to the BBC on Sunday.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis, an ardent supporter of a return to Athens of the famous ancient marbles, estimated that keeping part of the Parthenon friezes outside Greece amounted to “cutting Mona Lisa (the Mona Lisa) in two”. “It is not a question of ownership for me but it is a question of reunification” of friezes scattered in particular between the Acropolis Museum and the British Museum in London, he added.
Earlier on Monday, Rishi Sunak's spokesperson said he had "no intention" of facilitating the return of the marbles to Athens. Greece has been asking for decades, notably under the leadership of the former Minister of Culture, the singer and actress Melina Mercouri, for the return of these precious friezes. Greek authorities maintain that they were subject to “looting” while the country was under Ottoman occupation. London claims the sculptures were “legally acquired” in 1802 by British diplomat Lord Elgin, who sold them to the British Museum.
Rishi Sunak believes that the Parthenon marbles are “an important asset” for the United Kingdom, which has “safeguarded” this heritage “for generations”, underlined his spokesperson. At the top of the Acropolis, the Parthenon is a temple built in the 5th century BC in homage to the goddess Athena.