Cyprus Independence Day
Today, Cyprus celebrates the 60th anniversary of its independence from Great Britain.
These past 60 years have been marked by great achievements, and great failures. Among the great achievements are the formation of a modern European state in volatile part of the world. Whatever criticisms we may have, the Republic of Cyprus is a well-functioning state which has provided a second home to hundreds of thousands of people, including myself.
The greatest failure has been the failure of the two communities to recognize a common, national and human interest that outweighs ethnicity, religion and language.
This failure was perhaps excusable in the past given the background of Cyprus prior to and at independence. It was also understandable given the active foreign interference in domestic affairs both during the Cyprus’ time as a British colony, and in the years thereafter.
It is, sadly, excusable and understandable no more.
Today, in 2020, we are 46 years after the events of 1974. We are a member of the European Union. We have a functioning, albeit inefficient, system of justice and home security. We are members of a rules-based system which, whatever its deficiencies, is far better than any conceivable alternative.
While toxic religion and nationalism play a certain role in our society, other factors have broadened the outlook. These include the fact that so many Cypriots have been educated abroad, under different circumstances, and have returned to Cyprus with a broader and more cosmopolitan viewpoint. Education in Cyprus has improved and expanded dramatically with the foundation of universities that are doing world-class research and teaching.
Equally important is the fact that the Cyprus diaspora has been returning to Cyprus, bringing with it new skills and outlooks. They have been accompanied by hundreds of thousands of other nationalities that have lived and worked in Cyprus: some temporarily, some permanently.
We live in a brave new world of technology. Today, we have the internet at our fingertips. Like all human creations, this can be used for incredible good, or incredible evil. The choice is ours.
Whatever choice we make, the internet has changed our lives. It means that state media can no longer effectively control and promote a single narrative. It means that multiple perspectives are available: we only need to the courage to seek them out. And, as always, to evaluate them critically.
One inescapable change from 1960 is the fundamental change in attitudes and perceptions made possible by technology and globalization. Today, we all can and do watch Netflix. We all buy coffee at Starbucks or Costa Coffee, where we are spared the hazy reminiscences of old men playing tavli (and just drink overpriced coffee). We can all book a vacation somewhere, including Greece and Turkey.
One of the most encouraging aspects is how many millions of Greeks, Cypriots and Turks have visited each other’s countries.
Because of this shared experience, I’d like to think that in most cases, a 20-year old Greek, Cypriot and Turk will find much more in common with one another than something to hate.
And yet today, 60 years after independence, so many aspects of life in Cyprus remain the same.
Our political system, i.e. the system of political parties, is beholden to a tired and failed logic of blaming someone else. No solutions are offered: just the tired rhetoric of the past.
Political ideas and philosophies continue to be debated that have failed every time they have been tried in history. We have both communists and extreme rightists in our society who appear to have learned nothing from reality.
Moreover, in both communities, far too many people look back romantically to a distant conqueror ideal: Alexander the Great; Mehmed II.
Yet they fail to understand that the price of such romance is not immortality. Immortality means nothing when you are dead. The price is despotism, brutality, blood and mass murder. And this price is paid by generations to come.
Perhaps we should try something different?
Perhaps it is time to seek for solutions, rather than reasons to prevent them?
Perhaps it is time to address the real aspirations of millions of citizens, rather than the bank accounts of a few thousand shriveled old men who dominate political parties and systems?
Perhaps it is time to seek the root causes of problems, and to solve them?
Perhaps it is time to trust and accept, rather than fear and vilify?
And perhaps, if there really are no solutions, it’s time to live by our professed values, rather than by rank hypocrisy?
I have no doubt that such a task is difficult, unrealistic, naïve and even delusional.
I am totally aware that the “geopolitical realities” in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Cyprus means that any negotiations for a solution are once more hostage to foreign interests that have nothing to do with the relations between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Communities.
Just as I am aware that around us today, we see war in Nagorno-Karabakh; millions of refugees from Syria, Iraq, Libya and Africa; we see a shattered Beirut; we see at least one neighbouring country with one of the oldest civilisations in the world on the brink of collapse.
In short, we see an entire globe that has staked all on the politics of exclusion and war. Of us against them. And has failed.
We also see the role of hydrocarbons diminishing and a real future of sustainable energy. We see historic enemies like France and Germany cooperating on the most existential of projects. We see religious leaders who proclaim reconciliation and acceptance rather than hatred and intolerance.
I’m just a few years younger than the Republic of Cyprus. And despite my many mistakes and shortcomings, I’m well aware when something is broken, it’s a good idea to fix it.
A big part of that fix is changing mental models and habits. And abandoning delusions and archetypes of the past that no longer serve any purpose but to poison ourselves.
Perhaps we should try something different.