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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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