Despite public protest by political parties and even individual dissenters, thousands of people flooded the ancient Salamina theatre in occupied Famagusta to watch a rendition of Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone on Wednesday night.
The decision to stage the play, a collaboration by the Greek National Theatre and the Cyprus Theatre Organisation (Thoc), sparked a storm of political opposition, with detractors claiming it would be a form of recognition of the Turkish army’s control over Cypriot occupied areas.
Androulla Vasiliou, former first lady and co-chair of the bicommunal committee for culture, which organized the production in the ancient theatre in the occupied part of Cyprus, said it the event was intended to allow Greek and Turkish Cypriots to watch “a play with so significant messages” together, and also as an opportunity to introduce Turkish Cypriots to ancient Greek culture.
Some 4,000 people packed the ancient theatre to watch the play.
“Among them dozens of Turkish Cypriots, foreigners, and heads or members of diplomatic missions to Cyprus,” the Cyprus News Agency reported.
Addressing the audience, head of the association for the walled city of Famagusta (MASDER) Serdar Atay told CNA that Famagusta is a “bird with a broken wing”.
“Because of the way Varosha was occupied, the residents of Famagusta today can’t develop the city for tourism by making use of the beaches,” he said.
“And we are hostages to this situation.”
At the time of the performance, individuals and parties opposed to the event, including Diko, Edek, Solidarity, and Elam, staged a protest outside the Greek embassy with a paltry turnout – reports said the group in attendance did not exceed 50.
A similar event staged last year at the same theatre had landed the organisers, participants, and audience, similar accusations of being naïve at best – and traitors at worst.
But Cyprus’ version of the culture wars didn’t end with the play – social media on Thursday were inundated by triumphant comments by people who attended, or otherwise supported, the production, and damning ones from critics.
“By law, only the Antiquities Department could have authorized use of the [Salamina] theatre,” Diko leader Nicolas Papadopoulos tweeted.
“Has our state been abolished?”
To his tweet, Papadopoulos had attached another comment by journalist Michalis Ignatiou.
“Tonight Antigone dies in the occupied country of King Evagoras – Salamina,” the journalist had written.
Prominent lawyer Chris Triantafyllides, who is a member of ruling Disy and on the President’s inter-partisan negotiating team for the Cyprus problem, was equally scathing.
“In the guise of culture, tonight we ‘enslave’ Antigone, too,” he wrote, also on Twitter.
“It is an example of a pathetic message of compromise with occupation.”
Another Disy member, Charalambos Stavrides, held the opposite view.
“Sophocles’ Antigone united for the second time thousands of Greek and Turkish Cypriots at ancient Salamina, in a joint call for peace and culture,” he wrote on Facebook.
“To those justifiably frustrated by the pitiful ‘protest’ staged by Nicolas [Papadopoulos], [Marinos] Sizopoulos, Eleni [Theocharous], and Elam, I want to say that they should be glad. All of them together managed to attract 50 people. They couldn’t be more pathetic. We want more of the same!”