This week, Peace Exchange hosts Mehmet Erdoğan and Ellada Evangelou, Knowledge and Innovation officers of the Peace it Together network (and, respectively, the lovely people to the right of each of the stylish frames above), who offered the following post after mapping past and present civil society peace efforts in Cyprus.
Civil society in Cyprus, working for years on peacebuilding, is mostly tired. Most people have been at it for years, and quite a few of them have found out that hope can really wear you out. So many relationships blossom, develop and die out. There are always obstacles to conquer, whether in the form of politics or politicians, challenging educational systems, families and communities, even our own personal preconceptions: and most times overcoming these obstacles is quite a difficult task.
But not all.
And in that space, the margin where exceptions are found, as well as exceptional people and exceptional situations, that’s where knowledge and innovation lies in Cypriot civil society in 2012. In the process of “cherchez l’ espace” one realizes the amazing qualities of Cypriot civil society exceptionalism: the strength and vibrancy of its nature, the determination and captivating qualities of its people, the overwhelming expertise and experience accumulated and utilised in creative and open-hearted ways, the compassion and love for the people and the island.
Getting rid of the insecurity of being “one of some”, as opposed to the safety of “one of most” defines civil society work in Cyprus. After that first defining leap, you must secure your position in order to move forward: embrace the past through knowing it and the future by anticipating it. In Cyprus, knowledge and experience about the past is invaluable, a basis and a strength. Mapping the civil society contribution to peacebuilding and reconciliation, through the individuals and groups who have worked on the Cyprus problem over the years is, therefore, crucial.
Understanding and managing lapsed time is a first step: Imagine that many civil society agents of the present were newborns while the first wave of pioneering work was carried out. Generations of Cypriots have put their heart and soul into bringing divided communities on the island together – though they may have little interaction with each other now. What if the leaders of the past could become mentors to the young and motivated folk? What if the new generation of peace-oriented civil society activists could help the previous generation discover the new creative interventions practised?
These are two reasons we have been busy at work lately. What often seems a daunting and exhausting legacy of work to many, seems to us to hold a sea of potential. We have rolled up our sleeves and have sipped countless coffees during interviews with civil society representatives. We have got to know their work: their dreams and joys. How they failed when they failed. Their contributions, reports, books, films, youth camps… Hours, months, years spent, bringing ordinary people together, in the most extraordinary of ways and circumstances. These are people who know that no matter what happens in the political sphere, turning back is not an option, that idleness (even if that is of the mind) has disappeared from their scope of possibilities.
We are enjoying getting to know them, it is a rare pleasure to sit around hearing stories, pieces of the puzzle that make up your history. And then piecing Cypriot (civil society) history, together.
Humbling and inspiring thoughts – thank you Mehmet and Ellada.
We hope you’ll join Peace Exchange for more good stuff, coming soon.
Have a great week and… see you in the next post!