Nobody has any illusions that tree planting ceremonies will change the world. But today’s event in Nicosia’s United Nations Protected Area had a different feel to it. It was an opportunity for over 50 civil society organisations from both communities, to express their support for the ongoing peace negotiations and convey their message to the leaders that ‘every decisive step taken in the [peace building process] will contribute to deeper understanding between the two communities’.
Mr Christofias, the Greek Cypriot leader and Mr Talat, the Turkish Cypriot leader planted the trees firmly in the ground, and chatted to the assembled representatives of the organizations. The atmosphere was jovial, with jokes and repartee flying back and forth between the leaders, the journalists and the NGOs themselves. “Give us a kiss”, shouted one photographer, after the customary hand-shaking. “Demetri, you’re not digging hard enough”, said another, referring to the Greek Cypriot leader who was busy chatting with one delegate, who reminded him that the people of Cyprus wanted to ‘start harvesting the olives soon!’
A statement, signed by the participating organisations, was then read out in both Turkish and Greek. It spoke of joint intercommunity efforts and trust building measures that are being initiated by both communities ‘to discuss and exchange ideas in a manner which can contribute to the debate at the grassroots level.’ It also urged the leaders to keep the public well informed of any progress and to address emerging difficulties in a constructive way that would not adversely affect the outcome of the talks.
‘Civil society seeks to embrace a catalytic role,’ the statement concluded. ‘To contribute to a new impetus in realizing a bi-communal, bi-zonal, federal Cyprus.’
Yes, tree planting ceremonies don’t change the world. But a large group of non-governmental groups, representing their views and speaking directly to power, are a strong reminder of what these talks really are about: the people. A seasoned peace campaigner recently said to us ‘We don’t need any more olive trees that are planted for peace and later die from lack of watering.’
With all the cynicism and failed hope already around us, perhaps it’s time to start believing again. With the right nurturing, there’s everything to play for at the moment. Let’s keep watering those trees.
by Sarah, Cyprus Community Media Centre