Greece’s government and opposition parties expressed their dismay on Tuesday over British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s decision to cancel a scheduled meeting with his Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis over a long-standing row regarding the Parthenon sculptures.
Mitsotakis was on an unofficial visit to the United Kingdom, which was to end with a meeting with Sunak on Tuesday. While in London, the Greek delegation was notified that the meeting would be canceled, Greek national news agency AMNA reported.
In an interview with British news outlet BBC a few hours earlier, Mitsotakis had reiterated Greece’s request for the repatriation of all sculptures to the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple on the Acropolis.
The Greek sculptures have been the subject of a dispute between Athens and London for decades. Several of the sculptures are currently exhibited at the British Museum in London, which is like “cutting Mona Lisa in half,” Mitsotakis said.
In the early 19th century, while Greece was still under Ottoman Empire rule, half of the Parthenon sculptures were removed by the UK diplomat Lord Elgin.
For decades, Greeks have repeatedly asked for them to be returned.
“I was hoping to have the opportunity to discuss it with my British counterpart, along with current challenges, like Gaza, Ukraine, the climate crisis and migration. Anyone who believes his stance is right and fair is never afraid of debating,” Mitsotakis commented after the cancelation in an e-mailed press statement.
Sunak’s stance was “unprecedented and disrespectful to the Greek premier and the Greek people,” Pavlos Marinakis, Greek government spokesperson, told local SKAI television.
Greece’s main opposition SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance party leader Stefanos Kasselakis also said that Sunak’s action was “unacceptable” in a post on X social media platform. “It is a national affair that concerns the history of an entire people. And it is a moral issue concerning the shameless theft of cultural wealth from its natural space,” he commented.
The socialist PASOK-KINAL party also sided with the Greek government, blasting the action as “contrary to every precept of diplomacy.”