CYPRUS: Our 'frozen conflict' belongs in a Cold War museum

  • Apr 21, 2019
  • Financial Mirror

While Trump exonerated himself over any suggestion of collusion with Russia in the US Presidential race, a miracle saved Notre Dame from the flames of destruction and climate change warriors glued themselves to London transport, a UN report slipped under the radar.

Quite rightly, world attention was focused elsewhere while another lost relic of our ancient culture had another nail hammered into its coffin.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres issued a report on his Good Offices mission outlining the state of play on the Cyprus problem and how he has been unable to get a peace momentum moving during a 21-month deadlock in peace talks.

Climate change may destroy the planet before a Cyprus settlement is found but it is worth remembering that we islanders live precariously either side of a de facto ceasefire line.

Cypriots like to behave as if its business as usual but the inability to seek a way out of a decades-old conflict that belongs in a Cold War museum is a depressing indictment on the lack of political vision among our leaders.

No matter how much therapy we undergo to heal the wounds of the past, there is a dogged determination to stand and pretend that someone is going to invent a reconciliation time machine that will somehow cure us of our mistrust and suspicion.

Greek and Turkish Cypriots live in splendid isolation of each other, there may be more people-to-people contact and free movement, but Cyprus is not an integrated society that understands how the other half lives.

Yet somehow, we are expected to conjure up a complex peace plan that brings down the wall and stitches us back together as if nothing ever happened, well things did happen but there is no process in how to come to terms with it.

In fact, the longer this division lasts there will be nobody left who remembers the conflict of the 1960s or the 1974 invasion, generations of Cypriots living apart because their elders were incapable of delivering a peace that we deserve.

A Guardian article this week about the island’s “frozen conflict” argued, “lack of communication and interaction create the perfect breeding ground for the prejudice and fears projected by nationalist education systems on both sides”.

The Guterres report told us what we already knew, there is no peace push to speak of with an all too familiar situation of charades where politicians go through the motions of seemingly wanting to negotiate but blaming the other side for being the spoilers.

Nicosia said it was “satisfied” because the UN chief had not given up but would keep his envoy engaged in the process of cutting down the dense forest of deception to see if a path to compromise can be found.

Guterres couldn’t actually say “I’ve had enough of this lot; I want nothing more to do with them”. He’s in the peacemaking game and has to be seen to be doing something to warrant the presence of UNFICYP troops which consensus dictates are necessary.

The UNSG lives in a world of tricky diplomacy, he cannot shut any doors, but he won’t be opening too many in a hurry either.

Maybe Nicosia should have taken the hint when Guterres said the way ahead must be “well prepared, with a sense of urgency and focus”. Does that sound like anything you’ve noticed in recent years and months?

Since the train crash at Crans-Montana in 2017 Cypriot leaders – reminiscent of Wild West gunslingers - have been quick on the draw to take pot-shots at each other in a rush to control the moral high ground that was flooded long ago.

The government says it has some “initiatives” up its sleeve, but this is unlikely to alter the low expectations of even agreeing on terms of reference for a talks resumption.

It remains to be seen whether the leaders will heed Guterres’ advice that “each side accept less than the fullest measure of satisfaction on every issue”.

I can’t see that happening because it “requires an open and constructive discourse that transcends polarising rhetoric and that focuses on the benefits for all Cypriots”.

Uhmm…can you feel all the well-intentioned positive messages while being better informed with greater involvement of civil society, Cypriot youth, and women. I thought so.

There is one game-changer that could make all the difference (I say this with a total lack of conviction) – Cyprus’ energy wealth.

Guterres’ report hit the bullseye when arguing that "natural resources found in and around Cyprus should benefit both communities and can constitute a strong incentive to find a durable solution to the Cyprus problem".

If we can’t overcome our division by having faith in humanity maybe we can simply buy a ready-to-wear solution by bribing everyone with petrol dollars.

Retired Greek Cypriot schoolteacher Christina Valanidou, summed it up perfectly when she told the Guardian: “As they say, Cyprus’ drama is that there is no drama.”

“But if the UN does pull out, everything will change in the buffer zone. That may well focus minds in the search for the urgent solution that we all need.” Don’t bet on it.

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