British Prime Minister Boris Johnson once ardently supported the Parthenon Marbles repatriation to Athens in letters to the Greek culture minister that detailed why the British government should give the ancient sculptures back.
Greek daily newspaper Ta Nea has reported on previously unseen and unpublished letters, written in 1986, when Johnson was an undergraduate at Oxford University and Oxford Union president.
“I think the majority of students agree with me when I say that there is absolutely no reason why the Elgin Marbles, superlatively the most important and beautiful treasures left to us by the ancient world, should not be returned immediately from the British Museum to their rightful home in Athens,” Johnson wrote.
Johnson, then 21, denounced the British government’s policy on the Parthenon Marbles as “unacceptable to cultured people,” further suggesting a “scandalous” handling of the issue.
Before his current position as prime minister, the classics student wrote two letters to the then Greek minister for culture, late actor Melina Mercouri, siding with the Greek government's stance that the marbles should be returned. Noting that Lord Elgin removed the sculptures from the Parthenon in the early 19th century without securing legal permission to do so, during the Ottoman rule of Greece, Johnson argued this provenance made British claim to the marbles “even shakier.”
Since his student days, Johnson has reversed his opinion, saying in an exclusive interview with Ta Nea published in March 2021, that the Parthenon Sculptures “were legally acquired by Lord Elgin under the appropriate laws of the time.”
Johnson's letters were found in an Oxford library, according to Ta Nea, and authenticated by an Oxford source and a former Greek state official.
Since Johnson's student days, Athens now offers a modern repository for the sculptures in the shadow of the Parthenon. The 13-year-old Acropolis Museum retains more than 4,250 objects from the archaeological site of the Acropolis. Plaster stand-ins are exhibited in place of the missing sculptures housed at the British Museum.