PRESIDENT Anastasiades has come under a lot of criticism for his decision to attend tonight’s concert at the recently renovated Othello tower in Famagusta. The attendance of both leaders was confirmed by Espen Barth Eide yesterday, sparking the familiar reaction from the opposition parties.
House President Yiannakis Omirou said that “symbolism is often more important than the substance of an event,” explaining his reasoning thus: “Possible attendance of the President of the Cyprus Republic at a theatrical performance in the occupied area, will transmit the wrong symbolism that the Cyprus Republic, through its highest-ranked state official is present at events under conditions of military occupation.”
The Alliance of Citizens was less deferential in expressing its objections, saying Anastasiades “should not ignore the occupation and his position as president of the republic” and that “through his actions he should not downgrade the republic and upgrade the occupation regime.”
These are the same tired rhetoric we have been hearing for decades. How would his presence upgrade the occupation regime and downgrade the republic? Would the republic cease being a member of the EU and the UN because the president attended a concert in the north? And would the occupation regime become internationally recognised as a result?
We had similar type criticism of the government for allowing the EU’s head of foreign policy Federica Mogherini to visit Mustafa Akinci in his offices in the north. This was another case of upgrading the occupation regime, said the critics, who argued that the government should have stopped Mogherini from going across. Again, they would be hard-pressed to explain how this upgrade took place in practical terms.
If anything, Anastasiades’ attendance would transmit the correct – not the wrong – symbolism. It would show that he has advanced beyond the old thinking about upgrades, downgrades and recognition and has moved forward, showing his readiness to take the bold steps necessary to achieve a settlement. Being present at the concert in Famagusta is a bold step as was his decision not to raise objections about Mogherini’s meeting with Akinci.
These are shows of goodwill that have been completely lacking from the peace process in the past, indicating that we have abandoned the mean-spiritedness of the past and entered a new era of positive thinking. Why would Anastasiades stop Mogherini meeting the man with whom he is working so constructively to solve the Cyprus problem? And why should he not attend tonight’s concert, when he knows this would give a boost to the positive climate the two leaders have created?
Only to those who want to keep things as they are is Anastasiades’ presence in Famagusta tonight a mistake. To the rest, it would transmit the correct symbolism – things are changing and the president is leading this change.