Monthly Archives: May 2012

Making the case for change on the road to peace in Cyprus

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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!

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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”

Alexandros Lordos

“Actions are not suspended until the compilation of a master text by the leaders”

Marios Epaminondas

“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”

Bulent Kanol

 “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”

Katerina Antoniou

“A paradigm shift is required to allow ordinary people a voice in such processes”

Rana Celal

“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”

Meliha Kaymak

“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)”

Michalis Avraam

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.

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A big thanks to Michalis for sharing that with us! Join us again for more good stuff in the next post, coming soon.

Oh, and… if you’ve liked what you’ve read, please go ahead and share this post on Facebook and Twitter 😉

You can read a Greek version of this post here and a Turkish version here.

Civil society to address UK parliament

Stop press! The Peace Exchange wanted to grab your attention bright and early this week, to let you know about something very important.

Civil society representatives from Cyprus are set to address the House of Commons in London tomorrow,Tuesday May 15, and will also be speaking at an open event at the London School of Economics the following day.

Youth Power’s Katerina Antoniou, who is part of the team that travelled to the UK capital, brings you the details…

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Youth Power has put some pretty exciting events in the pipeline, and they ‘ve got me anticipating for an eventful summer. Activities like entrepreneurial trainings, social innovation workshops and trips for regional socialising provide a good basis for skills development, exchange of ideas and new partners for social action.

I must admit though, what’s got me most excited is the chance, on behalf of Youth Power, to present on the role of civil society in Cyprus, along with six other civil society activists on Tuesday, May 15.

The seven-member advocacy team will have the chance to present its work and suggestions at the UK Parliament and the London School of Economics, to British politicians, the local Cypriot diaspora, academics, activists and the wider public.

The key message being conveyed is that it’s time for civil society to directly get involved in the Cyprus peace process, putting an end to a decades-long stagnation.

This will be achieved by making the peace process more transparent, more inclusive and representative of public opinion, and by creating direct links between the process and politically under-represented groups, such as youth.

Opportunities for promoting fresh ideas and airing  the voice of new generations are unfortunately minimal within the traditional political scene on the island, leading young people toward political pessimism and apathy.

Yet the peace process is in vital need of new voices and fresh ideas, as the island’s youth today appears more ripe to negotiate and reunite than our political leaders ever did.

The voice of youth has been traditionally marginalised with regards to the local political discourse; perhaps youngsters are considered less experienced, often with unrealistic expectations, and would be better off reinforcing existing momentums.

Yet young people offer a lot more than that: they offer ideas and provoke immediate action; they don’t mind challenging conventional norms nor being cynical towards traditional practices.

In other words, young people are more free to express opinions and provide solutions away from any ideological, political and/or societal restrictions.

Today, many young Cypriots choose to remain politically aware and socially active. Yet youth activism goes beyond reading a book, engaging in a political conversation, criticising leaders or organising social events.

The island’s youth has the potential to bring a new vibe to a malfunctioning peace process, and requests for its voice to be heard and heeded.

I do hope the London presentations will be one of many, where the message of inclusion can be successfully conveyed to provoke thought, generate reaction and achieve change.

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Thanks so much Katerina. Stay tuned for more reports and photos coming from other members of the London team later this week.

And meanwhile, won’t you share this post on Facebook and Twitter?

That’s all for right now… see you very, very soon!

You can read a Greek version of this post here, and a Turkish version here.

GUEST POST: celebrating a year of cooperation

The Buffer Zone’s cool factor went up several notches last Sunday, when Home for Cooperation (H4C) threw its ‘first birthday’ bash. After all, who doesn’t like a good party?

Silly question!

For those who couldn’t be there in person, Leslie Frost, a friend of the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research (AHDR) – and Peace Exchange’s guest blogger this week – is here to give us all the details. Read on!

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A street party can’t change the world. But at H4C’s celebration of its first anniversary on May 6, there was a greater sense of possibility and genuine commitment to peace and goodwill across the Buffer Zone than overtly displayed in years of political negotiations.

And I’m here to report it was a rockin’ good time.

The genius of H4C is that it brings together many disparate groups, working toward common causes, and centred on values of knowledge, peace and tolerance.

Organisations like AHDR – the driving force behind H4C’s creation – co-exist with Peace Players, ENGAGE, Hands Across the Divide, Interpeace and Future Together, along with other civil society organisations, citizen groups and individuals who host their activities there.

(Not to mention, H4C recently opened a highly popular café where people gather daily for lunches, meetings, or simply a good chat over coffee and muffins.)

On Sunday, H4C’s resident NGOs had a joint display set up to inform revelers about the work of each organisation. On the less serious side, there were also games and activities for kids and adults alike.

For example…

Bike for Cooperation sent out more than 40 people in bright-yellow safety vests with orange balloons tied to their bikes, to ride around and through the old city of Nicosia.

There was also a flash mob, and street ‘artivists’ organised a Word Carrier activity, collecting opinions on what cooperation means.

Children sang “Happy Birthday” in Greek, Turkish and English; we took part in laughter yoga and danced in the street. And there was enough barbecued souvla for all – a minor miracle when the crowds come in numbers far larger than expected – more than 500 in all!

And for those who were volunteers, the event was particularly memorable.

“This for me was the peace activity of all times and I now believe in a positive change even more,” said Tevfik Ioannis Aytekin.

“I am grateful to the AHDR for giving me the opportunity to supervise the painting activity, through which three fantastic murals were prepared by motivated and  talented kids working on the idea of cooperation,” added counterpart Iacovos Psaltis.

As both event and symbol, the day was amazing.

You can’t solve the Cyprus problem with a street party, but Cypriots from all over, and guests to this beautiful island like me, came together Sunday, May 6 to support a vision of building something better.

If to imagine a better future seems like a utopian dream, that dream has a tangible home that is one year old now.

With a dream, and a space for dreaming, and the committed work that makes even such dreams possible, who knows what can be achieved?

I believe in the power of those who have a dream today. Happy birthday, Home for Cooperation. Many happy returns.

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Thanks, Leslie! You can check out lots more photos from the event here.

And if you’ve liked what you’ve read, please show some love and share it on Facebook and Twitter 🙂

That’s all for this time. See you in the next post!

A Greek language version of this post can be found here, and a Turkish version here.

GUEST POST: Nicosia – a hub of CSO innovation?

All kinds of shoes have trod the streets of Nicosia over the decades. Peaceful, hostile, curious, transitory, permanent, reconciliatory… And throughout its checkered history, the city has brought together innovators of all kinds.

In its most recent decades, such innovators have been drawn from civil society.

Peace Exchange hosts UNDP-ACT’s Christopher Louise this week, who offers a suggestion on why Cyprus is perfectly positioned to leverage civil society peace efforts for the benefit of the wider region.

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Civil society in Cyprus has been able to change the dynamics of the island’s conflict and the relationship between the two communities in the last few decades.

The Peace it Together network, supported by UNDP-ACT, has amassed a wealth of resources regarding the role of civil society in peacebuilding and reconciliation.

The future role of Cypriot civil society in pushing for peace on the island will depend on the ability to sustain a pluralistic political narrative and press for progress in both national and international fora.

A chance for this will come this month (May  15, 2012), when representatives of civil society organisations, supported by UNDP, will speak at the British Parliament in a public debate.

Considering the United Kingdom’s central role in efforts to resolve the Cyprus conflict, this will be a prime opportunity to elevate the critical role of civil society in peacemaking to the international level.

Later this year (October 9-11, 2012), civil society leaders from Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Arab states will meet at an inter-regional conference in the UN Buffer Zone in Nicosia to exchange experiences and ideas on how civil society can contribute to post-conflict and other complex transitions.

But why a Cyprus summit, and why now?

Put simply, UNDP’s local civil society partners want to tap the island’s potential as a cultural and geographical crossroads between Europe and the Arab world.

Meanwhile, Cyprus continues to play host to one of UNDP’s most concentrated and long-serving civil society-strengthening programmes, resonating with the current priorities for the role of civil society in the two regions:

So, where can we find the civil society innovators to make contributions to the inter-regional conference? What can Cypriot civil society learn from other countries in the two regions? How can inter-regional efforts bolster and support local efforts?

The Peace it Together Network welcomes all ideas!

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Peace Exchange thanks Christopher, and will of course update you on all related developments as they arise.

Until next time, stay tuned, and… see you in the next post!

A Greek language version of this post may be read here, and a Turkish language version here.