Peace Exchange promised you an in-depth account of last week’s address by Cyprus civil society representatives to the UK parliament and London School of Economics (LSE).
(And in case you missed the blog’s preview of the trip, you can find it here.)
Bringing you that account is Michalis Simopoulos of the Cyprus Community Media Centre, so read on!
There really is no substitute for practice. No matter the frequency, intensity, or ferocity of in-house discussions and deliberations; it is the delivery when it matters most that makes or breaks a message.
And this is exactly what happened in London last week, when seven Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot civil society representatives stood up and outlined their vision to two different audiences that serious structural reform of the Cyprus peace process is required for there to be a truly owned peace on the island.
And trust me, as an observer looking in on two packed-out gatherings, this was no easy undertaking. It is hard enough for one person to deliver a concise message about a topic as sensitive as this, let alone seven individuals piecing together and conveying as convincingly as they did a message of change.
May 15, 2012 first stop: The Houses of Parliament, and Yeshim Harris, whose organisation ENGI was so instrumental in getting this visit off the ground, was right about the weather! Light drizzly rain and a chilled wind greeted the team as they gathered outside the Cromwell Green entrance of the Houses of Parliament.
But the meeting that followed warmed everybody up, with Jeffrey Donaldson, MP joining a team discussion about how civil society can have a positive impact on peace processes.
Everyone was pleasantly surprised by his admission that, during his involvement in the Northern Ireland peace process, he started off regarding civil society as more of a nuisance than a voice to be taken seriously, but that in time, he and his colleagues came to realise “a challenge to the official rhetoric” was not such a bad thing after all, and that “raising the positive voices” through the vehicle of civil society was not only important but necessary to get to the 1998 Good Friday agreement.
After a traditional English pub grub lunch, the team met Simon Hughes, MP, the chair of the visit’s headline event, an open discussion on the topic of Cyprus: Tired of talking? Civil society to bring life to a stagnant process, organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Conflict Issues (APPGCI).
Joining Mr Hughes, who is also the co-chair of the APPGCI, was Baroness Meral Ece, herself a Cypriot by birth with strong views on the current status quo in Cyprus.
Despite the fact that the negotiations appear to be heading for deadline, both Mr Hughes and Baroness Ece agreed that “civil society’s voice needs to be heard and encouraged to come forward” and urged those present to ‘keep the dialogue going’ despite the presumed impasse.
And so to Committee Room 12, and a packed auditorium, including parliamentarians Nick de Bois and David Burrowes, as well as Lord David Hannay. Some 30 minutes later, and the message was clear, as the following quotes from members of the visiting team, attest:
“The positions of the two sides are increasingly arbitrary and fail to reflect what the people actually want”
“Actions are not suspended until the compilation of a master text by the leaders”
“Need for CSO activism is evident in polls, which show strong support for any proposal that would give the public a greater say in the peace process”
“The irony is that, although civil society offers the grounds to youth to challenge conventional realities and make a difference, civil society remains handicapped within the political sector”
“A paradigm shift is required to allow ordinary people a voice in such processes”
“The business leaders continue to meet to find new ways of flourishing business between the two communities, but they have hit a brick wall, due to political circumstances”
“Structural reform of the peace process is needed, in order to allow a harmonious collaboration of track 1 (the leaders), track 2 (civil society) and track 3 (the wider public)”
16 May 2012 started with a show of dedication – Alexandros getting up at 6.30 am to answer the call of 107.6FM and speak on behalf of the group about the message of the London visit. Kudos Alexandros!
In the morning, the group gathered for a debrief of the night before with Simon Hughes, MP, who said that he had been “hugely encouraged” by the response of the audience, and expressed his commitment to “carry the message forward” in meetings with the relevant stakeholders in the weeks to come.
Yeshim shared with the group some very encouraging feedback from participants, and outlined how both ENGI and APPGCI could stay involved with Cyprus in the near future.
The positive messages continued to flow in the afternoon meeting with the UK Minister for Europe David Lidington, MP, who offered his support to the initiative and requested that he be kept informed once a plan of future engagement had been set up.
And so to Cowdray House at the London School of Economics (LSE), where Dr James Ker Lindsay, himself a long-time follower of the Cyprus peace talks, welcomed an audience of London-based Cypriots to the concluding event of the visit.
The audience listened intently to the group outline their message of change to the peace process, but the focus of the Q&A session that followed was how the model of collaboration can be taken forward or even replicated in London.
Speaking as someone who has interacted with the Cypriot communities in London, the audience’s interest in the work of the island’s civil society was as important as the message on the peace process. You can listen to a podcast of the event here.
17 May 2012 final stop: Heathrow Airport for the return journey.
Without doubt, this was a step up from the grass-roots activism which has characterised the work of the network and its partners thus far – a first navigation into the unchartered waters of advocacy, diplomacy, and targeted messaging about what needs to change in Cyprus if this country is to become one again.
This brave new world, however, will open up the network to a whole new set of questions about its accountability to the wider public, its position vis-a-vis issues such as human rights and the role of external actors in the conflict to mention just a few.
But it is a challenge that the network must meet if this proposal is to succeed and generate the necessary traction across Cypriot society.
Here, a final word of thanks to Yeshim Harris. In Yeshim and ENGI, ably supported by Sarah Blair, Cyprus’ CSO network has found an important ally, eager to support the work of civil society and promote its message to a wider audience.
A big thanks to Michalis for sharing that with us! Join us again for more good stuff in the next post, coming soon.
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