The Lithuanian museum of pharmacy tales from behind the iron curtain

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(                                                           Christmas miscellany

The Lithuanian museum of pharmacy:
tales from behind the iron curtain
It is not only the artefacts in museums that have interesting histories. Museums themselves — especially those that have survived wars and
major regime changes — have tales to tell. In this article, Anatolijus Kostiukevicius and Tauras Mekas describe events that have affected the
Museum of the History of Lithuanian Medicine and Pharmacy in Kaunas, Lithuania

       any westerners are likely to be unfa-

M      miliar with the problems of former
       Soviet countries and the mentality of
their residents might appear strange to them.
Occupation and the failed social experiment
of communism in Lithuania changed the lives
of many people but they also affected the
history and direction of its museum of
pharmacy. . .

The beginning
The Lithuanian pharmacy museum began in
1936, when the Association of Lithuanian
Pharmacists launched its idea and requested
pharmacists to contribute to its creation. In
1937, premises were rented in Kaunas, at that
time the capital city and where the associa-
tion was based, and used to receive and
chronicle objects. However, although the
premises were established and the artefacts
gathered, the museum never officially opened
because there was no one available to look
after it.
    In 1940 when Lithuania was occupied by
the Soviets, the Association of Lithuanian
Pharmacists, together with many other
organisations, was dissolved. Its premises,
including the “museum” were nationalised          Museum of the History of Lithuanian Medicine and Pharmacy, Kaunas, Lithuania
and the collection was transported to a ware-
house.When Lithuania was occupied by the          leagues, was nostalgic for the pre-war period    ing to the wall of her office. A few days later,
Nazis (1941), this warehouse was closed and       (and independent Lithuania) and started col-     the same official returned to ensure that his
the collection was moved to the premises of       lecting things from old Lithuanian pharma-       order had been carried out.When he saw the
the Pharmacy Directorate (the body respon-        cies.This could have been described as a form    painting in the office, he was furious. He
sible for the administration of pharmacy dur-     of resistance to the occupying government        started shouting, asking if the manager had
ing Nazi occupation).                             but the task was easy because all the pharma-    been praying at work, and ordered the paint-
    At the beginning of the second Soviet oc-     cies in Soviet Lithuania were the property of    ing to be destroyed. However, the manager of
cupation, in 1944, the Pharmacy Directorate       the State and the pharmacy leadership sup-       the Swan Pharmacy kept the painting in the
was moved to Vilnius but the museum collec-       ported the idea of establishing a pharmacy       pharmacy’s coal cellar and was more than
tion was transferred to the pharmacy unit at      museum. Mr Kaikaris was given permission         happy to give it to Mr Kaikaris.
the Faculty of Medicine of Kaunas                 to gather objects from pharmacies for the            As more and more objects of pharmacy
University. Minor objects, such as pharmacy       museum and many pharmacists were willing         history were gathered, those in authority at
pottery, books and scales, were stored in the     to donate items.                                 the Kaunas Institute of Medicine (Kaunas
office of Benediktas Siaulys, professor of           How some exhibits were obtained reveals       University had been reorganised in 1950)
pharmacy, while the bigger objects were           the spirit of that time. For example, the Swan   designated a place to house the pharmacy
stored in the faculty’s cellar. However, in       Pharmacy in Kaunas had an allegorical paint-     museum in 1973: the loft of the institute’s
1946, Kaunas suffered one of the biggest          ing in which the Greek god of medicine and       central building.There, an exhibition entitled
floods in its history; all the objects in the     healing, Asclepius, is portrayed (see p790).     “The Lithuanian city pharmacy, from the end
cellar were destroyed and only the objects in     One day, a child standing in the queue           of the 19th century to the beginning of the
Professor Siaulys’s office remained.              shouted loudly:“Grandma, look, a god stand-      20th century” was installed with the support
                                                  ing”. Atheism was the official policy of the     of several pharmaceutical factories. It con-
Starting again                                    Soviet Union and one of the customers in         sisted of the pharmacy officine (prescription
When Professor Siaulys died, in 1957, the         the pharmacy informed the city’s communist
artefacts in his office were passed to Alfonsas   party leadership. As a result, a functionary               Anatolijus Kostiukevicius is a community
Kaikaris, lecturer in pharmacy history.As well    went to the Swan Pharmacy and ordered that                 pharmacist in London and Tauras Mekas is
as having a deep interest in pharmacy history,    the painting be taken down. The manager of                 director of the Museum of the History of
Mr Kaikaris, like many of his pharmacy col-       the pharmacy, unthinkingly moved the paint-                Lithuanian Medicine and Pharmacy                                                                              23/30 December 2006 The Pharmaceutical Journal (Vol 277) 789
                  Christmas miscellany
room), coctoria (a room in a pharmacy where                                                       The exhibition of pharmacy retained the
                                                           Ravin asked Antanas Praskevicius, dean of the
infusions and decoctions were made and                                                        style of the old museum (it displayed phar-
                                                           faculty of pharmacy, if he could buy the mill.
water was distilled), a store room (eg, for raw                                               macy at the end of the 19th century and the
                                                           In similar jest, Professor Praskevicius an-
materials) and a laboratory.                                                                  beginning of the 20th century), with the
                                                           swered: “Why buy one exhibit, when you
                                                                                              addition of a pharmacy cellar display, which
                                                           may buy the whole museum?”, which led
KGB                                                                                           had been impossible when the museum had
                                                           Ravin to offer US$1m as a starting price.
Under Soviet rule, museums were seen as                                                       occupied the institute’s loft.
                                                           Unlike the two participants of the conversa-
tools to portray the ideology of the state and                                                    When the new museum was created, it
                                                           tion, the KGB agents did not have any hu-
their exhibitions were controlled by the gov-                                                 was obligatory for every museum to promote
                                                           mour.They informed their superiors that the
ernment. Before the launch of the museum of                                                   atheism and the administrators of the city
                                                           Americans want to buy the museum for $1m
pharmacy, a session was called at                                                                        were promised that the museum
which influential functionaries of                                                                       would include such a display.
the institute’s communist party criti-                                                                   However, either because of the
cised the exhibition, pointing out                                                                       idleness on behalf of the museum
where the achievements of Soviet                                                                         administration or other reasons (it
government (in the sphere of health                                                                      might have been difficult to pro-
care) were not reflected. However,                                                                       mote atheism using pharmaceutical
the museum was saved from destruc-                                                                       and medical artefacts), this display
tion before it opened to the public                                                                      was never created.
by the tolerant position of Zigmas                                                                           In 1990, when the Soviet regime
Januskevicius, professor of medicine                                                                     collapsed and Lithuania regained
and principal of the institute.                                                                          independence, unlike other muse-
Another supporting factor was the                                                                        ums which featured exhibitions that
fact that guests of the institute and                                                                    praised the Soviet system, it was
managers were officially able to take                                                                    decided that there was no need for
advantage of treatment with various                                                                      any immediate changes in the
elixirs, made up in the museum by                                                                        exhibition.
Mr Kaikaris according to formulae                                                                            The new period of history
in old pharmacopoeias. This raised                                                                       resulted in the staff of the museum
the prestige of the museum in the                                                                        being liberated from the fear of the
eyes of the institute’s leadership. In                                                                   KGB. In 1993, the property rights
addition, the institute had received                                                                     to the land and buildings were
extra funding from the government                                                                        restored to the former owners. One
to cover shortages during periods of                                                                     of the museum’s buildings had to
central distribution (a Soviet model                                                                     be returned to the heirs of the orig-
in which finances and goods were                                                                         inal owners as a result. However,
distributed only by the central Soviet                                                                   through the endeavours of museum
government) so there were few                                                                            staff and the managers of Kaunas
financial barriers.                                                                                      University of Medicine (formerly
    The visits of functionaries could,                                                                   the institute), this building was
however, sometimes have negative                                                                         purchased from the owners by
outcomes. For example, on one                                                                            funds provided by the Republic
occasion, before a group of guests                                                                       of Lithuania Ministry of Health in
from the highest leadership of com-                                                                      1996. At that time it was the
munist party arrived, a supporter of                                                                     only cultural building that was
the communist party at the institute,                                                                     redeemed from the owners using
suspected by his colleagues to be Asclepius: painting for the Swan Pharmacy in Kaunas by state funds.
covertly linked to the Committee Petras Kalpokas, 1927                                                       Today, the Museum of the
for State Security (KGB), made Mr                                                                         History of Lithuanian Medicine
Kaikaris remove all drugs, labels and books and two days later, the most senior leaders of and Pharmacy is highly rated by other muse-
bearing the coat of arms of the Republic of the Kaunas administration and communist ums around the world. It is a member of
Lithuania (Vytis) from the exhibition. This party (eight people in total) descended on the European Association of the Museums of
was because the Vytis (a knight on a charging museum. They examined the exhibits and History of Medical Sciences and, recently,
white horse), was viewed by the Soviet decided the collection deserved its own two international workshops for the associa-
Union as a symbol of hostility to the premises, separate from the institute.Thus the tion were held here.
authorities.                                     museum was given two buildings (16th and         This article has described only a few of
    As curious as it may sound, the KGB had, 19th century) in Kaunas town hall square.        episodes from the history of Lithuanian
however, a positive influence on the history                                                  museum of pharmacy and medicine, but we
of the museum. In 1975, Louis Ravin, one of Collapse of the Soviet regime                     hope that it will give readers an insight to the
the managers of Smith Kline, visited the In the 1970s, the Kaunas Institute of history of their new neighbours in the EU
institute to give a lecture on the training of Medicine belonged to the Soviet Lithuania and, perhaps, even stimulate them to come
pharmacists in the US. At that time, Kaunas Ministry of Health Care. The administrators and see the museum for themselves.
was one of the leading cities in the Soviet de- of the institute (mainly medics) proposed the
fence industry and, for this reason, it had been creation of an exhibition of Lithuanian
given the status of a “secretive” city — every medicine history as well and, eventually,        The Museum of the History of Lithuanian Medicine
foreigner visiting Kaunas was accompanied the pharmacy exhibition was combined with             and Pharmacy is at 28 Rotuses Square, LT-44279,
by a big group of KGB agents. After the lec- the medicine exhibition and the Museum             Kaunas, Lithuania.
ture, Mr Ravin visited the museum. He was of the History of Lithuanian Medicine                     Opening hours are : Tuesday to Saturday 10am
delighted to see a mill for vegetal stock which and Pharmacy was ceremonially opened in         to 6pm. Tel: +370 37 201 569
had been produced in the US. Laughingly, 1987.

790   The Pharmaceutical Journal (Vol 277) 23/30 December 2006                                                 

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