NOBODY knows what the host of technical committees that supposedly discuss aspects of a settlement, in parallel to the negotiations, actually do. Are they just talking shops for people from the two communities to exchange theoretical musings or do they actually work constructively, tackle problems and find solutions? We do not know the answer as there have been no announcements of any results produced by the committees about anything other than the preservation of religious monuments.
A search of the ‘technical committees’ menu on the UN Cyprus Talks website reveals that the ‘committees’ website is under construction. The main website did however have a couple of pictures from the first meeting of the technical committee on culture which was held four months ago. This committee was one of several set up by President Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci when the negotiations began as a way of boosting the positive climate rather than facilitating the peace process. That we have heard next to nothing from them since is not a good sign.
This has not deterred the two leaders from announcing the establishment of yet another one after their Wednesday meeting. The newest technical committee would deal with education and would review educational practices with the aim of combating racism and extremism. An official statement said the committee would review existing research as well as good practices in education in Cyprus and abroad in order to undertake new research on how education could contribute to conflict transformation, peace, reconciliation and the countering of prejudice, discrimination, racism, xenophobia and extremism.
In other words, we could expect results from this committee in four to five years’ time assuming its members that have not yet been appointed agree on what constituted good practices in education, which of the existing research was relevant to Cyprus and the nature of the research they would commission to help combat racism. It is difficult to view this as anything more than a publicity exercise made necessary after the attacks on Turkish Cypriot cars by Greek Cypriot schoolchildren two weeks ago.
The mere suggestion that some technical committee would come up with ways of changing mindsets and perceptions that have been cultivated for the last 50 years and have become deeply-rooted in the national consciousness is beyond naive. While it is commendable that the problem has been identified by the two leaders the method they have proposed for tackling it is extremely superficial and unlikely to deliver results, let alone the desired ones. Referring it to a technical committee is a cop-out, an attempt to show that something was being done when in fact the problem was being swept under the carpet.
There is no doubt that we have a problem. We do not know the situation in the north but on the Greek Cypriot side opinion polls consistently show that the greatest opposition to a settlement and re-unification is among the young age groups. Schools have a big share of the responsibility for this, but this is also because the politicians fully support an education system that promotes dogmatism instead of free-thinking and revels in jingoism and nationalist myth-making. Whenever there has been an attempt at reform, the nationalists go on the offensive claiming that we will lose our identity and it is automatically abandoned.
How realistic would it be, in these conditions, to expect nationalist politicians, the media and teachers to agree to radical changes in education aimed at promoting a peace culture as the leaders claimed decided by a committee half the members of which would be Turkish Cypriots? They will rubbish the proposals, as an attempt by the Turks to ‘de-Hellenize’ Cyprus and label anyone who dares support them a traitor.
The problem at our schools cannot be tackled by a technical committee. Each side should do this on its own, not only because there would be a better chance of the drastic changes being accepted but also because the requirements on the two sides may be different. We need to introduce a liberal education system that promotes tolerance, open-mindedness, free-thinking and creativity irrespective of whether there is a settlement. For this to happen the government must have the vision and the political will to fight many battles with parties, pressure groups, unions and the Church.
We doubt this will exists, which is why President Anastasiades was more than happy to refer the problem to a technical committee, safe in the knowledge that nothing would be done.