Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ speech at UNESCO’s 75th Anniversary celebration in Paris

Monsieur le Président,

Messieurs les Chefs d’Etat et de Gouvernement,

Madame la Directrice Générale,

Mesdames et Messieurs,

C’est un vraiment grand honneur de me trouver parmi vous, ici à Paris, «Ville Lumières», siège de l’UNESCO, pour célébrer son 75ème anniversaire.

Une excellente opportunité pour réaffirmer la souscription de nos pays à l’esprit fondateur de cette Organisation Internationale très importante: construire la paix entre les peuples par l’échange des vertus (comme dirait Aristote), éthiques et intellectuelles.

La Grèce a été parmi les membres fondateurs de l’UNESCO, dès sa création. Ce n’est pas seulement notre confiance au multilatéralisme qui explique notre dévotion ; c’est aussi notre conviction qu’il ne peut y avoir ni paix ni prospérité sans dialogue entre les nations autour de ces trois piliers constitutifs: l’éducation, la science et la culture.

Nous croyons à l’éducation : c’est le seul moyen à saisir le fonctionnement d’un monde de plus en plus complexe.

We also believe, ladies and gentlemen, in the countless possibilities offered by science and technology. Earlier this week, at Olympia, that power of technology was on display with the launch of Ancient Olympia : Commons Grounds, a unique collaboration with Microsoft that is harnessing the power of Artificial Intelligence and opening up a completely new way of expressing what our cultural heritage is all about.

The scale and depth of Olympia’s past can now be experienced on the site itself or remotely anywhere in the world, using cutting edge augmented reality tools.

This is about using innovation to deliver a new frontier in the preservation and public understanding of our cultural heritage – a mission all the more critical given the changing times we face.

Because climate change, pollution and international conflicts affect our present and shape our future. But they also have serious implications on our past.

Our changing environment and extreme weather events pose a direct and growing threat to great monuments of civilization. It is that threat that persuaded us of the need for action, which is why we launched what we considered to be an important initiative called “Addressing climate change impacts on cultural and natural heritage”.

I would like to thank UNESCO for its invaluable support in that initiative. Of course, it is impossible to overstate the importance of, and our commitment to, the third pillar of UNESCO: CULTURE.

There cannot be dialogue between nations, without dialogue amongst cultures. Something which presupposes respect for the history, heritage, and identity of each nation. To my mind that means that emblematic monuments, inherently connected to the very identity of a nation, should be a matter of that nation.

Take the Parthenon Sculptures, which make up a hugely significant piece of the world’s cultural heritage and are perhaps the most important symbolic link between modern Greeks and their ancestors.

Most of that collection can be found on display in the Acropolis museum, a few hundred meters from the Parthenon. That they can be seen in situ, in their birthplace, connected visually to the monument which lends the sculptures their global significance, that really matters.

However, while a part of that collection remains exiled in London that impact can never be fully appreciated. That is why I believe it is essential that the Parthenon marbles in London should be reunited with the majority of the Parthenon Sculptures in Athens.
Last September a pivotal step was taken by UNESCOs Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property

For the first time, it unanimously adopted a decision recognising that “the case has an intergovernmental character and, therefore, the obligation to return the Parthenon Sculptures lies squarely on the UK Government”.

The UK should move to a bona fide dialogue with Greece. And I urge them to do so. After all, this year marks the 200th anniversary of Greece’s War of Independence. There could be no better time than now, in which to reunite the missing section of the Parthenon Sculptures – in their birthplace – in Greece.
Thank you very much for your attention.