Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address the General Assembly, in order to express the sincere thanks and gratitude of my Government for the unanimous adoption of the draft Resolution on the “Return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin”.
The adoption by consensus, and the co-sponsorship of this draft resolution by a great number of delegations, clearly manifests its importance to the international community and the clear intentions of all of us to promote bilateral and multilateral cooperation for resolving all outstanding issues.
At the core of the efforts towards the protection of cultural heritage, lies the consistent and hard work of UNESCO. I would like to express the appreciation of my Government to the Director – General of UNESCO, Mr. Koichiro Matsuura.
Illegal trading in antiquities falls into the same category as illegal arms trading, drugs and human trafficking. It constitutes a form of organized crime, directly associated with money laundering and corruption. It is a crime committed against every one of us. It is not only directed against those nations whose cultural heritage is looted, but against the sum total of mankind.
With the destruction of monuments vital information is lost, artworks are deprived of their natural historical context. They are reduced to simple objects of ornament, neutralized. They cease to exist as integral elements of a cultural unity. They no longer testify as to our origins and identities.
Man deprived of his cultural identity is destitute, cut off his natural cultural habitat, he is unable to understand phenomena relating to his progressive development.
Yet, over recent years, a new wind of optimism has appeared on the horizon. Increasingly, museums recognize the moral obligation to conform with ethical codes in their acquisition policies. In the international scientific community, including archaeologists, voices are being raised for the protection of cultural heritage globally. Demands have been expressed that the looting of archaeological sites and the illicit trafficking in antiquities must stop. New strict laws are being passed. Recently Switzerland and Great Britain are moving in this direction. Finally, international public opinion and public sentiment have alerted the Press, especially after the destruction of monuments and archaeological sites in Afganistan and Iraq.
This necessity is reflected and embodied in today’s resolution.
Greece took the initiative for the proposal of this Resolution, in an effort to signify the important need for the protection of cultural heritage. It reflects initiatives set forth on an international level through treaties, conventions and the policies of Unesco.
It promotes cooperation between nations in the U.N. and UNESCO, aiming to preserve the cultural heritage of mankind and the timeless humanitarian values it represents. It provides for the return and restitution of cultural treasures, illegally removed from their place of origin.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In this era of globalization, it is important for nations to be able to preserve their historical and cultural identity, while interacting and cooperating to overcome past limitations. It is self - evident this cooperation and cultural exchange, should be based upon moral principle and ethical codes of conduct.
Greece in cooperation with other nations and institutions, so far this year has been successful in retrieving a number of antiquities exiled abroad. Two important antiquities from the J.P. Getty Museum in L.A., have been repatriated, while negotiations for the return of two more items from the same museum are making progress. Also, two important fragments from the Acropolis, one from the Parthenon frieze, have been returned. One fragment came from Heidelberg University. The other presented as a private donation from a collection in Sweden. These achievements confirm the necessity for the preservation of this monument, which although situated in Greece belongs to the whole world.
Yet, the Parthenon Sculptures remain dislodged and divided. The uniqueness of the Parthenon, as monumental symbol of Western Civilization, is the critical argument, and the demand for their return is ecumenical. Especially now, that the construction of the New Acropolis Museum is nearing completion. It is our ambition that the new museum will shelter all extant parts of the Parthenon, and is expected to include the disputed Sculptures we claim must be returned by the British Museum.
The reunification and restitution of antiquities serves to complete a cultural mosaic, which has been disturbed and lies today in disarrangement. It presents a disrupted image, which exactly due to the plundering of some integral parts becomes distorted, misleading and traumatic. When we are capable of tracing the cultural outline of each nation, through the repatriation of antiquities unlawfully removed, we provide for solid foundations not just for the present, but also for posterity and future generations.
The cultural heritage of each nation is the cultural heritage of the sum total of humanity. All mankind must respond to its responsibility to protect this legacy!
Thank you Madame President