Tag Archives: Cyprus problem

Opinion: Once we discover who we are, we will be free

Thoughts of a young Cypriot, on the 9/7 Public discussion with Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide

Photo Credit:Kadir Kaba / CVAR http://www.cvar.severis.org/en/

Photo Credit: Kadir Kaba / CVAR. Used by kind permission.

Marita Anastasi is a student at English School and an editor at KYPRIS news, a bicommunal news portal in Cyprus, ran by youth. Her interests include media and politics and is currently an intern at the Cyprus Community Media Centre – CCMC. The views expressed in this guest article are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of CCMC.

Nicosia, 9th of July, CVAR/Severis Foundation. People started gathering in the main conference room, most of them middle aged, almost no sign of people under 25. By 18:35 Espen Barth Eide, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Cyprus, had already started his speech on the negotiation process regarding the Cyprus Problem.

The people of Cyprus need to ‘overcome their grievances’ that was one of his first statements. He further expanded on his point by expressing the view that everyone has suffered in different ways. According to mr. Eide this is something that Cypriots should let go and instead focus on rebuilding what has been lost. He continued by asking the audience to consider ‘what solution do they want’, his lower tone this time indicating the importance of the question. As he continued he suggested that once this is decided, a long lasting solution will be closer than ever. It is such an irony though to notice on how firm his is on this argument, how essential he –as a UN envoy- believes that this is, whilst the Cypriot society completely lacks the infrastructure for such things to be implemented.

Starting from the education system on both sides, it shares just one thing in common and that is its one-sided arguments. When it comes to history it is interesting to notice how Turkish Cypriots put so much emphasis on the 1963 events whereas they describe July 1974 as merely a ‘peace-making’ operation. On the other hand Greek Cypriots are oblivious to the crimes committed against Turkish Cypriots before 1974.  At least in the Greek Cypriot-based education system for which I can comment, there is always a focus on how much this side has been wronged whilst most of the students will never experience a time where they will have to recollect on the wrongs that have been done by their own side. As a result, oblivious citizens are being produced. People who not only ignore but are actively refusing to recognise their own mistakes.

He further highlighted that ‘the federation should work in a European context’ so that the solution will follow some regulations expected by every other country-member of the E.U. With an enigmatic smile he pointed out that in the possible scenario of a solution, Cyprus will technically have the most modern constitution in Europe. ‘So do we want a constitution that truly reflects the period it was written, or one that reflects ideas back from 1950’s or 60’s?’ he asked the audience.  Another interesting point since it was just a couple of weeks ago that Turkish officials clearly stated that in their opinion, the negotiation process should continue with the involvement of guarantor countries –Greece, Britain & Turkey herself- and that the so long expected solution should continue to give rights to the guarantors. They are clearly missing the fact that Greece is simply exhausted in every way possible; politically, economically as well as socially and it is highly unlikely that it could play the role it was expected to, back in 1960.  However it is more frustrating to witness the absence of mere commenting, on such ideas which have been officially stated, clearly indicated and are nothing less but a huge contrast to all that mr. Eide had described that evening as ‘European Context’. Which developed, European country of the 21st century needs guarantors after all.

‘Having one economy rather than two’, he added, will make our island realistically competent and will give actual prospects to everyone but especially to the younger generations.  With his tone becoming lighter and sometimes even playful, as the talk proceeded mr. Eide concluded by expressing his enthusiasm for the strikingly positive atmosphere that has been created by the two leaders at the negotiations so far. However he highlighted that despite the good will that exists, ‘we are not there yet’.

As soon as he ended, the most interesting part of the evening, which was of course the questions directed to mr. Eide by the audience, began. One of the first questions was about the role of Turkey in the process. His answer was along the lines that Turkey wants a solution and that he as an envoy is continuously in touch with Turkish officials, with the ultimate goal being a high quality communication. Generally he avoided giving out information regarding the crucial issues of property and demographic changes.  Taking advantage of a question regarding the effect of a possible solution in the broader geographical are of Cyprus, mr. Eida said in an even more friendly tone that ‘the neighbourhood you’re (Cypriots) living in doesn’t look very nice!’. Having this in mind, he said that a solution to the Cyprus problem is not only the desire of its own people but also that of people from Middle East as well as Europe and the US.

As the talk was developing, the issue of creating a Cypriot identity arose from two different questions among the audience. The first question was raising concerns on a possible correlation between the indifference of the youth, regarding the problem with the absence of a unique Cypriot identity. The second question was more about on whether there should be a focus on creating bonds between the two communities before or after a solution.  Mr. Eide along with other UN officials present at the event pointed out that confidence has been built up to an extent, thus what is left now is head towards a solution. The construction of an identity and the creation of close bonds is something that can occur during the process according to them. As a question arose from an Irish member of the audience, mr. Eide made a comparison of the Cyprus problem to that of Northern Ireland, noting that everything was created during the process of achieving a solution and in fact the greatest part of peace building took place after both sides reached an agreement.

It sounds more or less as the infinite question of what came first, the chicken or the egg. Undoubtedly, UN officials know their job and they certainly have a point. However in a country where 48% of Greek Cypriots and 88% of Turkish Cypriots are identifying themselves first as Cypriots and with the term ‘Cypriot’ being identified with ethno-national characteristics, something is missing. First of all, even the statistics presented belong to one of the very few surveys that have been held over the years. This shows clear lack of understanding of the nature of the problem from all the sides. Of course this brings us to an even deeper issue of who is responsible to define what a ‘Cypriot’ is, however in the case of our island, working on the construction of a common identity is essential to make a possible solution work. Although it is our leaders who are going to create a solution, if people are not firm about it, it will simply collapse.

Lastly mr. Eide referred to the process of certain confidence building measures such as common telecommunication and electricity system which will be implemented very soon after some technical issues are solved. In general the impression that was left in the room by mr. Eide was a very positive one that gave inspiration to all of us present in the room to look towards the future with hope. It wouldn’t be right to finish this article without acknowledging that indeed great progress has been done. However it is important for everyone to realise that important parameters were always missing from the negotiation process and they need to be implemented if a solution is to be agreed soon. These are first making ourselves –especially the youth- to recognise that everyone has suffered, that both sides have done mistakes and we should do nothing less than get over it. Secondly, for the first time there should be a serious effort made not only by the people but by the authorities themselves to establish a common Cypriot identity, because this will be the basis of any kind of solution. Ralph Elison, an American novelist ‘when I discover who I am, I’ll be free’. Let’s hope that that shall be the faith of Cypriots.

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The Role of Mass Media in the Settlement of the Cyprus Problem

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By Orestis Tringides

This is a short version of an article included in the publication “Managing Intractable Conflicts: Lessons from Moldova and Cyprus” available here.

If it is agreed that in order for the mass media to be able to play a positive role in the peace-building process and cooperation in a conflict region they first have to ensure impartiality in both the way they present the news and in the way they operate, then the media in Cyprus cannot fulfill that role. Some of the problems regarding the media in Cyprus playing an effective role in peace- and trust-building between the two communities (Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots), are; the tendency of advocacy journalism (the kind of journalism that deliberately and transparently employs a non-objective perspective for political or social intentions) and the reliance on external (official).

As a percentage of the population, the readership of newspapers is relatively low – the broadcast media is a preferred source of news and opinion. News programs frequently feature developments regarding the Cyprus problem, although due to a limited number of sources, and heavily politically influence, they often resort to advocacy journalism with a dramatized and sensationalized delivery of news about a political development. In many cases there is lack of investigative journalism, with the news falling short of informing the audience as they lack crucial, or background information required to understand and present the issue thoroughly. Very frequently party-centric (male-dominated) and heated debates take place, thus diminishing (and sometimes, deliberately undermining) the role of those who can provide technocratic expertise, or a non-partisan view.

Civil society events that work to bring the two communities together have been largely excluded in the “traditional” media outlets – although in recent years civil society organizations (CSOs) have started employing and increasing their skills capacity in the new media (social media) that indirectly tend to attract more attention by the mainstream media. Exemplar cases of cooperation in the media across the divide (Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot) have largely taken place “outside” of the established administrative structures; mainly by individuals’ initiatives.

Problems and obstacles in the media having an effective role in peace- and trust-building between the two communities are:

  • Financial Dependencies and Political Influence. Media’s susceptibility to either commercial or political influence and pressure is in large part the result of the difficulties encountered in establishing an independent economic base upon which any non-state media enterprise depends on.
  • Practical and Legal Obstacles; Press Freedom and Access to Information. Journalists on both sides of the island are not (entirely) free to deviate from the agreed political modus operandi between their editors/outlet management and political party/ies, or other poles of political influence. Also, journalists on both sides are being hindered to perform their duties due to a lack of an effective access to information legal framework.
  • Cooperation Obstacles Due to Non-Recognition. The fear of “implied” recognition has developed obstacles on basic issues, such as how to address and acknowledge the other side; journalists have employed a terminology when referring to the other side (e.g. “pseudo-state”; the “Greek Cypriot Administration” etc.) that is plainly offensive for the other side.
  • The Barriers of Language and Information. Media outlets communicate in two different languages, Greek and Turkish; therefore, it is difficult for journalists from the opposite side of the dividing line to follow the news on the other side and to have a clear picture of the prevailing opinions on the other side of the dividing line.
  • Mass Media being part of the problem by emphasizing the hardships and obstacles to a settlement, and almost no mention of any prospects for a solution.
  • Neutral or negative Portrayal of Bi-communal, Collaborative and Reconciliatory Civil Society Efforts by the Mass Media.
  • The Portrayal of the “Other” Community by the Mass Media reinforcing a common public perception that one community does not want a peaceful solution with the other by giving disproportional coverage to the few extremist voices of the other side, rather than of those who wish for a solution.
  • During the Annan Plan era, most of the Greek Cypriot media favored its rejection, attacking those in favor, emphasizing the negatives and dismissing, or not mentioning, the positives.

There are various examples of cooperation/communication and flow of Information from and to Each Side. In 2003, when, for the first time since the war of 1974, the moving restrictions from one side to the other were eased, journalists from both sides had the opportunity to meet and cooperate with each other. Currently, this cooperation is mostly conducted in an un-strategic manner via the formal structures of the media outlets; most of the times it is e.g. based on a journalist’s personal connections with another journalist on the other side. Nevertheless, since 2003, some media organizations have established forms of direct cooperation between journalists and media organizations on the other side thus helping each other not only to get access to primary information on the news, but also helping their colleagues to understand the background of a story; this included featuring articles of journalists from the other community.

Because most attempts at collaboration remain hidden below the surface and informal, collaboration at the institutional level remains low. Also, the Internet remains an underutilized forum for media and information exchange. The civil society sector, engaged in cross-community issues, has used social media to promote dialogue and debate on issues of common concern.

For these abovementioned reasons, as an alternative to the established traditional media, joint initiatives in the Community Media (an umbrella term that also includes Social Media) have recently been taken by CSOs and individuals from both sides. As a result, the established Cyprus Community Media Centre (CCMC) acts as a “transcommunal” CSO (by this term emphasizing that its scope goes beyond the “exclusivity” of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities) that aims to increase civil society’s capacity in providing CSOs with the skills and tools to both communicate their message in the wider public and also to find ways to communicate with the traditional media. CCMC was established as a result of the identified “media gap” that the CSOs were facing and to counteract the disregard that the CSOs have been treated with by the traditional media and, as a result, the broader society. Community Media has been identified as an (alternative) means for building cooperation in the media sector – a sector that is very important for the peace process.

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Bringing life to a stagnant process: Cypriot civil society in London

6:30pm in London tonight, Cypriot civil society will be speaking to the UK APPG on Conflict Issues. “Bringing life to a stagnant process”. To find out more, click here.

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