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Zero tolerance for destroying cultural heritage

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The ongoing ‘golden passports’ saga this week and demolition of preserved buildings declared national heritage sites to make way for another concrete monstrosity in the heart of the capital, showed once again the leaders of this nation lack honesty and integrity.

The President’s unconvincing testimony and mild cross-examination was yet another episode in a familiar tragi-comedy series.

The country’s chief executive was not aware of what was going on during his eight-year administration, either at his office or at home.

A similar excuse was given by the Archbishop when half a street in the old part of Nicosia was bulldozed to ensure the new cathedral sat in better-looking surroundings.

Interestingly, the old sandstone houses, bequeathed to the Church, overlooked the historic site where President Makarios’ helicopter was attacked in 1970 with the pilot barely managing to land it.

There is no reference to this historic event, either on a plaque or signpost.

Building an enormous church was more important than preserving the seven chapels and historic churches in the vicinity of a sparsely populated area where public access is difficult as finding a car park is like discovering Blackbeard’s treasure chest.

Leader of the Church of Cyprus said he had no idea what was going on and that he would rebuild the demolished building, half turned to rubble.

Of course, the blame will go to the civil engineer and contractor they, in turn, will attribute this to a lack of communication.

Was the Nicosia municipal council, which has already tolerated tiresome delays in delivering the revamped Eleftheria Square, also not aware of what was going on?

The mayor’s response that the demolished buildings could be reconstructed to their original form, could also be regarded as a compromise deal and guidance to the Archbishop.

The official position is that construction of the cathedral should halt as preserving the demolished buildings was conditional on granting the building permit for the grandiose church.

We all know how this will pan out.

Reconstruction work will get underway faster than the blink of an eye, maintaining only the façade of the old homes.

The Archbishopric and its contractors will get away with a slap on the wrist.

Had it been any other property, the entire prosecution service would hunt you down, make sure you paid an enormous fine or put you in jail.

The dilemma is simple. If you can get away with such blatant violations of the law, who is held accountable?

The Archbishop and his contractors? The mayor and his council members?

Let’s not forget the generosity of these councillors who bailed out a gallery owner using taxpayers’ money to purchase the premises, offering it as a lease-back in the name of promoting culture.

If we do not protect our national heritage, what is the purpose of issuing preservation orders?

In the words of the refugee mayor of Kythrea, the illegal and despicable act of demolishing old buildings undermines efforts to save and protect national treasures in the Turkish occupied north, where churches, graveyards and historic buildings are vandalised with ease.

There is no price tag for obliterating our cultural heritage. It is a crime that should be punished.