Jonathan Manthorpe on Angkor Wat, the Elgin Marbles, and repatriation

The main complex of Angkor Wat. Photo by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen via Wikipedia, Creative Commons

The main complex of Angkor Wat. Photo by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen via Wikipedia, Creative Commons

Should the the British Museum or the Louvre in Paris retain collections gathered from all corners of the world, in order to display the entire sweep of human cultural history? Should the great works of humanity be repatriated? International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe examines the question via cases in Cambodia, Greece, and Canada.

Jonathan Manthorpe

Jonathan Manthorpe

An excerpt of his new column, Mrs. Clooney rushes to the rescue of Greek culture:

It had been a tough day interviewing victims of Khmer Rouge atrocities, and it was with great relief that I slumped down in a chair in the hotel bar in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, and ordered a beer.

Through the window I could see the sun shimmering red as it sank through the torpid, tropical air hanging over the Tonle Sap tributary of the Mekong River. I was the only non-Asian in the bar, which was humming with the chatter of rich locals and visiting businessmen from other parts of the region, who had come to see what spoils there were to be harvested in a country just emerging from decades of war … 

I was reminded of that evening in Phnom Penh by the recent news that the new wife of actor George Clooney, the human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin, has been hired by the Greek government to advise on how to force the British Museum to return the Elgin Marbles. Alamuddin, who says she wants to be known as Amal Clooney, has been described as “the world’s most photographed barrister.” She joins a list of equally frequently photographed women who have lobbied in vain for return of the marble frieze, which was removed from the Parthenon in Athens in 1817 by Thomas Bruce, the seventh Earl of Elgin, and later sold by him to the British Museum. Actress Melina Mercouri, singer Nana Mouskouri as well as less photogenic male Greek/Egyptian singer Demis Roussos, have all lent their celebrity to the Greek campaign to have the marbles returned, but so far without success. ….. log in to read more (paywall*)

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