REPRESENTATIVES of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot teaching unions attended a conference at the weekend to discuss the part education could play in cultivating a culture of peace and co-existence. As one participant said, this was the first time teachers from the two communities discussed their role in the efforts to find a settlement.
The conference exceeded all expectations, he said, with five working groups drafting proposals regarding actions that could be taken to promote the culture of peace. Participants also approved a joint declaration that expressed support for the efforts of the leaders of both communities to find a just solution to the Cyprus problem.
Although support for a settlement by teaching unions, as well as the recognition of the need for the cultivation of a peace culture were small steps in the right direction, they were also indicative of how little (almost nothing) had actually been done to promote understanding between the two communities over the years by teachers.
Even now there is not universal support for the conference’s theoretical objectives, as OELMEK, the union of secondary school Greek Cypriot teachers, did not even take part. This could have been because it is controlled by nationalists who might not want to promote a culture of peace because they believe it would destroy the Greek national identity. This has always been the standard reaction of the nationalist camp to any suggestion that education should promote conciliation and co-operation rather than jingoism.
The reality is that the changes that the two leaders and now most teaching unions want to bring about will take years to yield results. A culture of peace after decades of jingoistic education, reinforced by the political establishment and the media, will need years to establish, not to mention the opposition it would encounter.
On Sunday Dr Eleni Theocharous issued a statement slamming the “blatant attempt to destroy the Greek conscience” and urged teachers to resist it. Parties and newspapers have taken a similar approach to the matter.
The excuse for Dr Theocharous’ outburst was the announcement of those people who will participate in the technical committees that will look at ways of reforming the education systems of the two sides. The setting up of the committees was a decision of the two leaders, after Greek Cypriot students attacked cars driven by Turkish Cypriots last November.
When will the committees discuss this complex matter and come up with proposals for cultivating a culture of peace? When will these proposals be implemented and change the attitudes that have been cultivated for decades? Commendable as all these initiatives might be, they are, unfortunately, very much a case of little, too late.