By George Koumoullis
SHOULD Cyprus be proud that it observes more national holidays than any other country in the world? The Greek Cypriots observe four (no need to list them) and the Turkish Cypriots three – July 20 (Day of peace and freedom), August 30 (Day of Kemal Ataturk’s victory over the Greeks in 1922) and October 29 (Day of the establishment of the Turkish Republic).
In other words the island has a total of seven national days. The Greek Cypriots are 4-3 ahead in the score, but the Turkish Cypriots are threatening to equalise, if the TMT ‘fighters’ are heard and August 1 – the anniversary of the group’s establishment – is declared a public holiday. Meanwhile some Greek Cypriots are pressing for November 17 (the uprising of Athens Polytechnic students against the Greek Junta) to be declared a national day, in which case the score-line would be 5-3.
What should we say about the over-abundance of national heroes on either side of the dividing line? Just as money loses its value when more and more is printed, likewise the meaning of the word ‘hero’ is cheapened when heroes emerge by the hundreds. It is so simple.
Unfortunately, the preparation for these national days and the way they are observed strengthens, not only a militarist, nationalist tradition, but also hostility, dislike, contempt, fear, suspicion and repugnance within the two communities. In this way, anything that is built by supporters of rapprochement is, to a large extent, ruined by the celebration of national days and the speeches/teachings that accompany them.
For example, in the Turkish books, the cruelties committed by the Greek invaders of Asia Minor are described in great detail, but make no reference to the murders committed by the Turks when they invaded Smyrna nor to the uprooting of 1.5 million Greeks. Our history books may devote whole pages to the massacre of Greeks by Turks in Chios but make no mention of the massacre of 30,000 civilian Turks and Jews in Tripolitsa.
Describing the shameful moments in the history of a country is as enlightening and instructive as the elation over its feats. In our case, such a reminiscing teaches the causes that led to ethnic cleansing and points out to the decision-makers the mistakes that should be avoided.
For this to be achieved in Cyprus, Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot students must have common history books. The liberal-minded of our country dream of a history book that would be as objective as possible. A book that would not only describe the noble and commendable but also the ugly and unsightly of the two communities. A book that would not praise the nationalistic hysterias, or one that glories in extremism and intransigence.
The military parades of April 1, October 1 and July 20 constitute a nationalist, militarist custom that we were bequeathed by the “mother countries”, where military/didactic regimes were all the rage. Such parades, with the fascistic cheers that accompany them, do nothing else but promote fanaticism and disunity while creating the sense that a murderous confrontation between the two communities was inevitable.
The military parade that particularly sticks out is that of October 1, the anniversary of independence. The display of our military might (with or without inverted commas) to the sound Greek military anthems fosters a climate of confrontation with our Turkish Cypriot compatriots, increasing the hawks among them, while resoundingly reinforcing Turkey’s position that there are two peoples on the island. It’s time, therefore, to end this exhibition of murder weapons if we are sincerely seeking a peaceful solution. On the anniversary of independence the Turkish Cypriots should not be excluded as happens now. Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots should celebrate the occasion hand-in-hand with cultural events such as plays, concerts, discussions and lectures. Only then would countless doves be hatched and most hawks eliminated.
But the military parade of July 20 also provokes bitter feelings among Greek Cypriots, especially those who were violently uprooted. The labelling of the anniversary as a day of “peace and freedom” causes nausea to the Greek Cypriots.
As regards the student parades, they are a fascistic custom that was imposed in Greece in 1936 by the fascist dictator Ioannis Metaxas and which we, aping the Greeks as always, copied. It was no accident that Nazism placed parades at the centre of its propaganda as did most totalitarian regimes that dominated the previous century – Mussolini, Metaxas, Papadopoulos, Stalin and Mao were all admirers of Hitler’s propaganda techniques which they copied. This was why honouring the Greek victory over fascism on October 28, with fascist displays constitutes a tragic paradox and rank stupidity on the part of the education ministry.
The two leaders need to look seriously at the admittedly thorny issue of national days and parades. The first step could be made by scrapping student parades. There are so many ways to celebrate October 28 and March 25. Time is ripe for decisive de-fascistification.
George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist