CAN HISTORY BE unbiassed?

How one of Cyprus museums has managed not to turn art into a hostage in international conflict

Cultural heritage is dynamic, contradictory and always provokes passionate discussions. Debates may arise in any place, however for some reason they occur in museums most frequently. Museums are institutions intended to preserve and to protect artefacts, stories, and reminders of the past, meaning they can never be politically and ideologically neutral. Museums store not only cultural heritage, but also interpret and communicate it to people, and so they are often used as a tool to form public awareness in the context of a certain political discourse. 

Such a situation is clearly demonstrated by the history of Cyprus, the country split by political conflict, with a rich history and diverse cultural influences, where rapid economic and social changes are currently taking place. Cyprus museums are exactly the ones that can demonstrate what kind of potential museums possess for creating social dialogue in an environment of xenophobia and nationalistic movements. 

In the southern part of the country, people are accustomed to revering the classic Greek past of the island. In the north, people honour the later medieval and Ottoman past. How should museums display such cultural heritage? Which country does this heritage belong to? What should a museum do in such a situation? A museum may communicate politically advantageous messages, manipulating the past, or it can do what has been done by the Leventis Municipal Museum of Nicosia that has consolidated the entire Cyprus history under its roof. On three museum floors, there are seven galleries which narrate the island history in chronological order, and there is enough room for both the Greek and Turkish past. The expositions end with a modest display that is nonetheless very significant for the city: a piece of the Berlin Wall. Museum employees believe that someday their city will also become a single unit in a united and strong country. Perhaps, it’s exactly such love and faith that helped the museum develop its work so successfully: in 1991, the Leventis Municipal Museum of Nicosia was named European Museum of the Year by the Council of Europe.

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