Among the signatories of this unprecedented statement are the directors of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Louvre in Paris, the Prado in Madrid, the Hermitage in St Petersburg and the Berlin Museum all of whom have recently experienced pressure for the return of some of their most important treasures. The strongest case for their retention is that in leading museums they can be seen in the context of other civilizations, but it is easy to understand that the countries from which they were removed believe they should be available for their own people to see as evidence of their own early civilizations. Twenty years ago the actress Melina Mercouri, then minister of culture in the Greek government, called the removal of the Elgin Marbles an act of barbarism. Today's Greek government speaks more softly but still wants them back for a new museum being built for the 2004 Olympics.
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