Cyprus Mail

Language and social media in bicommunal dialogue

By Waylon Fairbanks

POSITIONED halfway between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot sectors in the UN buffer zone in Nicosia, the Cyprus Community Media Centre (CCMC) symbolises its commitment to dialogue and peaceful coexistence within Cyprus.
Last Thursday evening, CCMC screened its first MakeMedia Film Festival at their centre in the shadow of Ledra Palace as the sun set. The festival showcased several films, public service announcements and documentaries aimed to promote the CCMC’s central cause.
“Our goal has always been to amplify the voice of the entire community and promote inclusion, whether in media or in civil society,” said Katherine Kotsirbas, a worker at the organisation.
Audience members from both north and south slowly filed in through the gates before dusk, on the warm and breezy evening. About 50 in all, the audience mingled and snacked until the showing began.
There were four main projects, two of which – a cartoon on youth participation in the European Union and a commercial series urging acceptance of homosexuality on the island – were broken into small vignettes.
The two main films were We Speak Greek by Kyriacos Tziambazis and Bridge by Kyriacos Droussiotis and Sophie Demetriou.
We Speak Greek featured two friends – an elderly Greek Cypriot and an elderly Turkish Cypriot – who teach their respective languages in Cyprus. The film emphasised linguistic interconnectedness to promote civility in Cyprus. While the production was somewhat amateurish, the audience loved the film, smiling and imitating the beginning-level students.
The second major film was Bridge. It was the longest and best liked film. The filmmakers, through extensive interviews with academics, journalists and citizens on both sides, documented the history of interaction between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. While newspapers and telecommunications could be censored, argued the film, the rise of social networking has fundamentally changed the nature of Cypriot communication.
However, the film stressed that although the opportunity for inter-cultural dialogue has never been greater, Cypriots now have more control over the information they consume; if they want to maintain closed societies, they can reinforce their preconceptions. The film concluded in stressing the importance of a critical approach towards information and opting for tolerance without compromising values. It received a large applause and avid chatter as the credits ran.
When the last public service announcement appeared, the audience began to file out and into the night, with people greeting the filmmakers as they left. The CCMC workers were extremely pleased with the reception.
Since its creation in 2009, CCMC has doubled its number of member organisations and diversified its representation. Along with providing grants to filmmakers, it has an online radio station and a widely-read newsletter. Yet despite aid from USAID and the United Nations Development Programme, funding for NGOs has recently decreased in Cyprus.
“The biggest challenge today is about the social and financial climate. Our existence is influenced by political and economic factors; we all face this,” said Kotsirbas. “Whatever challenges are out there, with a positive attitude and a will to strive, we have hope and a positive future at CCMC.”

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