From left, Paul T. Boghosian, Victoria O’Malley, Michael Dukakis,

Greeks Win First North American Debate on Parthenon Marbles, Defeating British Point of View at Boston Athenaeum

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BOSTON – On October 7, the first North American debate on the controversies surrounding the Elgin/Parthenon Marbles took place at the Athenaeum of Boston.

Those controversies concern the 19th century acquisition by the British Museum of the Elgin/Parthenon Marbles, which the Greek government and the Greek diaspora are demanding to be returned to Athens for their placement in the New Acropolis Museum. In 1801, Thomas Bruce, better known as Lord Elgin, removed half the Parthenon’s carvings and statuary and brought them home to England, where they have stayed ever since. More than two hundred years later, the dispute around his actions remains one of the world’s great controversies in the field of Western heritage and culture.

Today the United Kingdom still backs up Elgin’s claim to the Marbles. “The UK government has a firm longstanding position on the sculptures, which is that they were legally acquired by Lord Elgin under the appropriate laws of the time and have been legally owned by the British Museum’s trustees since their acquisition,” said Prime Minister Boris Johnson. But some of his countrymen disagree. In an open letter, comedian and actor Stephen Fry beseeched England to return the Marbles, arguing that “If Britain could give back India, then surely the emptying of one room in the British Museum is a small price to pay to right a historic wrong.”

Former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis led the panel representing the Greek perspective, opposite respected Boston attorney and President of the Churchillians of New England Joseph Hern, whose panel represented the British point of view.

After the debate, both participants and audience members expressed their pleasure at the evening’s success. “The forum offered an excellent opportunity to consider what this decades-long controversy looks like today, when public discussions about museum ethics, restitution, and colonial collections are in the news almost daily,” said Elizabeth Marlowe, Professor of Art History at Colgate University, and one of the expert panelists for the English perspective.

Attendees at the forum shared Marlowe’s enthusiasm. “The debate on the Elgin – or Parthenon – Marbles was fascinating and insightful,” said audience member Stephen Kane. “All debaters, from Governor Dukakis’ opening speech advocating for the return of the Marbles to Greece to the closing speech defending the British Museum’s protection and display of the Marbles, were thought-provoking. In today’s political and social environment, it was great to see that two sides can vehemently disagree without being at all disagreeable. The advocates’ arguments pitted legal rights vs. the moral ‘right thing to do.’ All in all, a must-see event.”

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Alexander Mouzas, a Maine businessman and prominent member of New England’s Greek-American community agreed, saying, “I was incredibly fortunate to see this debate. For too long in this country, the Parthenon Marbles issue has been completely ignored, but now, because of the terrific work of Governor Dukakis and his team, that’s changed tonight. I’m delighted with this evening’s outcome and by the fact that so many people got a chance to hear about the controversy and the theft of the Marbles, and I hope they’ll go away wanting to learn more about the Parthenon and all the many other wonders of Hellenic culture.”

The organizers of the debate were equally pleased with the evening. “I couldn’t be happier with how our forum went,” said Paul T. Boghosian, President of the English-Speaking Union of Boston. “We’ve been working with the Athenaeum on this event for the past two years, and thanks to their commitment and hard work, and all-inclusive, captivating performances of our panelists on both sides of the issue, we’ve delivered the first debate of its kind in North America, and I think that’s introduced so many people to one of the biggest cultural and historical controversies in the world today.”

Victoria O’Malley, Director of Events at the Athenaeum, agreed, adding, “We’re so glad that the Athenaeum was able to host this debate, and that it turned out to be such a success. There was something inspiring about seeing so many of our members learn about the Elgin or Parthenon Marbles controversy for the first time through such engaging and insightful presentations.”

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