“Part of my mission as Prime Minister is about ensuring the return of Greek artefacts to Greece. But it also means that I have a duty to ensure that in doing that, these collections are also available to as wide an audience as possible,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in his message for the inauguration of the exhibition “ Cycladic Art: The Leonard N. Stern Collection on Loan from the Hellenic Republic” held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
The full speech follows:
“Good evening, I am so sorry not to be able to be with you tonight at the MET, one of the great museums of the world.
It had been my intention to be there to share in what is a hugely important moment not just for the MET and for the Museum of Cycladic Art, but for the Greek diaspora in the United States, for the Greek people and for the partnership between our two countries.
I am not there only because I am still fighting off a fever and, while I am feeling better, I have been advised not to travel. But I am, I can assure you, ‘with you in spirit’, even if the ‘with you in body’ bit is proving a little bit more challenging.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me begin by saying thank you to Leonard Stern for bringing this extraordinary collection together. Leonard, your passion and generosity has made this partnership possible.
Dear friends, as Greeks we are surrounded by history and as Greeks we are acutely aware of the importance of that history, which is why evenings like this matter. Because as custodians of Greece’s ancient history, the preservation, protection, and promotion of Greek antiquity isn’t just important, it is inviolable, a duty and a commitment never to be broken.
Yes, that means that part of my mission as Prime Minister is about ensuring the return of Greek artefacts to Greece. But it also means that I have a duty to ensure that in doing that, these collections are also available to as wide an audience as possible.
This isn’t of course necessarily straightforward. The debate over return, repatriation, ownership, and public accessibility has sometimes proven too divisive and the discussions often overly contentious or unpleasant.
What we are celebrating today is very different. The outcome of more than two years of work, we have produced an agreement ratified by the Greek Parliament that changes the whole debate for the better.
This agreement signals the beginning of a 50-year partnership that recognises Greece’s ownership of the display, without recourse to the courts. And it ensures that the words “ Loan from the Hellenic Republic – Ministry of Culture” are adopted as part of such an agreement for the first time internationally. But just as importantly, it unveils a realm of new possibilities around how we perceive antiquity.
For the first time this collection will be seen in New York, after part of it was displayed in Greece, its homeland. Indeed, of the 161 pieces on display, 15 of the most important have already spent the last year on display at the Museum of Cycladic Art, in a world premiere entitled “ Homecoming. Cycladic treasures on their return journey”.
But partnership isn’t just a one-way street. Artefacts from the permanent collection at the Museum of Cycladic Art will over time move the other way by leaving Greece for your shores for the very first time.
The opening of this exhibition proves that the promotion of antiquity through partnership – between museums and between nations – can actually work.
Ladies and gentlemen, these artefacts provide a unique insight into the culture of the Cycladic civilization – a period that began more than five thousand years ago.
Which is why I say to Max and his team, to curator Sean Hemingway, to the Museum of Cycladic Art, and to Lina Mendoni and her team at the Greek Ministry of Culture: thank you for making this possible.
Dear friends, this cooperation is setting new standards in the wider debate over how we address the question of repatriation of our antiquities.
So, in that spirit let me end with this thought: as we consider the future of antiquities across the globe, we should always recognise that every case is different. Each has its own unique characteristics and its own base of supporting evidence.
Given that the evidentiary procedures for any judicial claim around cultural property is in most cases very difficult, expensive, and cumbersome, a more pragmatic approach is often the more practical approach.
Today’s partnership is the culmination of that pragmatism. That matters because others are watching and wondering what else is possible.
I speak, of course, of the Parthenon Sculptures. The most iconic, the most important exhibit of Classical Greece at its apogee, currently not in their entirety in Greece.
For two years now, we have enjoyed positive discussions with the Chair of the British Museum on a possible new partnership that brings the two parts of the sculptures together, as one, in Athens.
Let me be clear, we will insist on their reunification for many reasons, but one, in my mind, is the most important. Because only by being seen together, in situ, in the shadow of the Acropolis, can we truly appreciate their immense cultural importance for Western civilization.
I believe both parties understand that. And I believe both parties have the vision to see beyond past division to embrace a new win-win era of partnership.
Thank you very much, I wish you all a very enjoyable evening.”