Geoffrey Robertson’s new book “Who Owns History? Elgin’s Loot and the Case for Returning Plundered Treasure” has just come out following years of research, ekathimerini.com reports.
Robertson gained recognition in Greece during a trip to Athens in 2014 with fellow barrister Amal Clooney and the late Professor Norman Palmer to deliver their legal opinion on the position of the Parthenon Marbles in international and British law to the government. Kathimerini spoke to Robertson to learn more about the book, which commences with stories from that “emotionally charged trip.” After analyzing the findings of his research, he concludes that the Marbles can and should be returned to Greece.
Robertson’s involvement in the matter started in 2011, when Greece’s then deputy minister for foreign affairs Dimitris Dollis came to his London office to ask him a question that had previously never crossed his mind, but which immediately caught his attention: “Might international human rights law help to retrieve the Parthenon Marbles?” At once, he rang Norman Palmer – whom he had previously collaborated with on a case of artifact repatriation from London to Australia – and Amal Alamuddin (as she was known before her marriage to Hollywood actor George Clooney), and together they began discussing Greece’s options in case they decided to file a lawsuit against the British Museum for the repatriation of the Marbles.
“Our opinion found favor with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, who even set aside a budget for legal action, even though his government fell shortly after and the project stalled,” he writes. Fortunately, the next prime minister was interested in the case as well. According to Robertson, Samaras “was a leader who could talk about legal action to get back the Marbles while calling the IMF to cadge loans to prevent his country from sinking into bankruptcy.” Eventually, Samaras found a Greek shipowner willing to fund the case, and the three lawyers got to work.
Robertson was in charge of examining the archives to evaluate the legitimacy of Elgin’s “move” and the British Museum’s legal obligation. After closely inspecting the data, it became evident to him that the removal of the Marbles did not comply with the authorization that Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, had received in 1801; Elgin had lied to the British Parliament, assuring he had rescued the Marbles from the Turks. In his book, the Australian lawyer refers to specific documents that discredit the claims made by Elgin and the British Museum, and he accuses the latter of telling “a string of carefully constructed lies and half-truths.”
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