By Clive Turner
There are as many perceptions as there are people. I have been coming to Cyprus, initially on business, for nearly 50 years, and have lived here with my wife for 14 of those years. I think therefore I might reasonably claim to understand at least something of the Greek Cypriot culture. Yet my perception of the so-called ‘Cyprob’ in particular remains very clouded in misunderstanding. I have never understood the claim Turkey makes for its occupation, and the assertion that it is here to ‘protect’ the Turkish Cypriot community. I think one has to have grown up in Cyprus to make head or tail of the situation as it exists today. The constant and endless ‘negotiations’ carried on by successive governments – and particularly by this one with President Anastasiades flitting about here and there, and trying his best to please all the political interests – is an astonishing spectacle to outsiders when the rest of the world can see as plain as day that, for instance, to take just one topic under discussion, presidential power-sharing would never work. Can you see our current president giving up his power base for a day, let alone many weeks or months, or whatever the plan proposes? I certainly can’t.
Of course, our hosts here have their own perceptions about the expat community. They see some of us as beyond help in terms of understanding how Greek Cypriots think and live their lives. There are expats of various nationalities who appear arrogant, altogether too worldly wise, patronising, dismissive of Greek Cypriot sensitivities, believing that villagers are simply of little account, and ignorant and unwilling to listen. They see people coming here who have reinvented themselves to make what they believe will make a better impression. They observe money being spent on properties at a level they couldn’t countenance making available themselves.
There are many retired military types enjoying their retirement in a Cyprus where they may well have served in the past and loved it. The problem here is that these erstwhile upstanding serving folk find it difficult to forget their rank and former privileges and it rather shows in their offhand treatment of mere civilians who do not take kindly to an attitude of superiority better left well behind.
One of the problems too is the unwillingness of the expat community to learn the language, and I am among those who even after all these years of association with this island, can muster very little Greek – and I am unquestionably ashamed of this. Yet I do know several expats who have indeed done far better and are reasonably fluent. They are respected and deserve that respect.
Mind you, few Greek Cypriots will accept that they have anything to learn from incomers. It is a fact that the experience totalled from the decades of working lives of retired folk now living in Cyprus is astounding. It is largely ignored. There are people here who have enjoyed very highly distinguished careers and could be worth listening to but they are never approached.
It is seen as touching that the older locals across the island spend countless hours in their coffee shops talking about “the old days” and looking over their shoulders rather than forwards to the future. Yet, that is from where the improvements will come, where growth and fortune will appear. The past of course is always important and to be remembered, but it is tomorrow that will bring a stronger economy and a wealthier island. Economic illiteracy is talked about outside Cyprus as a given, and this is really quite sad. Sad, because actually Cyprus is slowly climbing out of its recent trough, though not fast enough to be impressive. Measures to cut back on the ludicrous and totally unjustifiable multiple pension payments of ministers and other senior officials is just one example of a situation only very recently being examined. The teachers’ equally ludicrous employment practice is another unhappy economic fact.
The local community is not very willing to recognise and accept that the expats contribute hugely towards the happiness, the well-being, and the overall standard of living on this island. The amount of generosity and voluntary support which comes from expats is astonishing and is often very, very welcome.
I won’t get far in to the religious scene, but with an archbishop regularly condemned and criticised in the media, and with his ability to spend millions on yet more new churches “to the greater glory of God” but not of course to the greater glory of the archbishop, my own experience of him has been his unwillingness to have anything to do with my crematorium project, now with nearly 12,000 supporters. “I accept that all the different faiths now practising in Cyprus have the right to decide their own way of disposal – but I will not help you”. He forgets, or doesn’t know, that cremation was historically associated and began with the Greeks thousands of years BC.
Perceptions will always be a matter for conversation and for enjoyable comparisons, but they can also be damaging. Maybe we should all look in the mirror more often.