Greece protests Elgin Marbles sculpture loan to Russia
Greece on Friday blasted the British Museum's unprecedented loan of one of the Elgin Marbles -- Greek sculptures also known as the Parthenon Marbles that Athens wants returned to Greece -- to a Russian museum.
"The British Museum's decision constitutes an affront to the Greek people," Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said in a statement.
The London museum said it had loaned one of the statues -- taken from the Parthenon temple in Athens by British diplomat Lord Elgin in 1803 -- to Russia's State Hermitage Museum.
It is the first time one of the sculptures has left their controversial British home and the deal is all the more striking because Britain has joined tough EU economic sanctions against Russia over Moscow's role in the war in Ukraine.
Samaras said the loan showed inconsistency in the British Museum's long-held policy of not allowing the sculptures to be moved.
The sculpture of the Greek river god Ilissos, a headless, reclining male figure, will be displayed in Saint Petersburg from Saturday until January 18.
Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky hailed the loan, which celebrates the Russian museum's 250th anniversary.
This is a "gesture of great trust between our museums, it is a very important and emotional gesture," Piotrovsky told journalists in Saint Petersburg.
The chairman of the British Museum's trustees, Richard Lambert, said it was the institution's "duty" to allow people "in as many countries as possible to share in their common inheritance".
"The trustees are delighted that this beautiful object will be enjoyed by the people of Russia," he said.
For three decades Greece has demanded the return of the sculptures, which decorated the Acropolis of Athens for over 2,000 years before their removal.
At the time, Elgin said he had permission to take the works from the Ottoman Empire, which ruled Greece. But modern-day Athens regards their removal as theft.
As culture minister a decade ago, Samaras inaugurated the Acropolis Museum which holds the main collection of friezes from the Parthenon, a Classical Greek temple dedicated to the goddess Athena.
Greece's campaign has the support of lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney, the wife of actor George Clooney. As part of their publicity campaign, the government last month began polling passengers at Athens airport on whether the marbles should be returned.
Greece says it is awaiting the outcome of possible talks between UNESCO and Britain on the dispute, after the UN's cultural agency offered to act as a mediator.
© 2014 AFP