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Grassroots movements struggle on, some not hopeful

By Jelter Meers

THE unsuccessful conclusion of the reunification talks in Crans-Montana has been hard to swallow for organisations that try to promote a united Cyprus. While some are thinking up new events, others are doubting whether they will continue their efforts.

In the beginning of May, with unification talks coming to a stalemate, the call went out on social media for Cypriots to gather at the Ledra Street checkpoint in peaceful demonstrations. As the talks in Crans-Montana came closer, more and more people showed up under the banner of Unite Cyprus Now.

“We wanted to show our support to the two Cypriot leaders… and create pressure by showing that they had a duty to fulfill and were voted-in for a specific purpose,” said Natali Hami, a journalist, blogger and member of Unite Cyprus. “We also had people who went to the talks in Crans-Montana to show their support, and to say that we expect a solution and that now is the time to act.”

Unite Cyprus had high hopes for the talks and its conclusion was very disappointing.

“As an individual and as a member, it was a very big blow and a very big disappointment,” Hami said. “For the delegation in Crans-Montana, who were there for ten days, it was very tiring and difficult to deal with.”

The atmosphere at the demonstrations in Ledras Street changed as well.

“Especially in the first couple of days there was a very depressive mood,” Hami said. “These are the kind of days where you cannot try to turn it into a happy event, you just have to go with the flow and mourn with the people. There were varying degrees of sadness, some people had been involved for a few years and others for decades, but this was the biggest blow for all because it was the best chance for reunification so far.”

Unite Cyprus Now will continue their efforts although they will have to take time to rethink their strategy. “Our goal is still to push Cyprus to unite,” Hami said. “Right now, we are waiting for the UN report to get an impartial reading of what happened and how it went wrong. As an initiative, we are in the process of finding out what we are about and what we will do next. The gatherings at Ledras Street cannot go on forever.”

They do have specific ideas and initiatives ready.

“One of our goals is that we want to bring Turkish and Greek Cypriots together, because despite the opening of the borders, there are still many people who have never met “the other,” she said. “We also want to get the youth involved, and are calling to young people to send us short videos wherein they talk about their hopes and dreams for Cyprus and the reunification.”

In the meantime, they will cut back meetings to two times a week, on Tuesday and Friday.

“The past week we focused on remembrance of the invasion and it was more sombre,” she said. “As of this week, we will be having events only on Tuesday and Friday. Next Tuesday, we will have violinist Andrew Hubbard joining us. In August, we will be keeping it to a minimum number of events because it is such a dead month.”

With the Centre of Visual Arts & Research (CVAR), Rita Severis runs the first and only bicommunal museum in Cyprus. At the centre they organise movie screenings, lectures, music and dance events, and tours across the island in the theme of reuniting the two communities.

“We bring Turkish Cypriots to the south and Greek Cypriots to the north and sometimes we do tours with both groups,” Severis said. “We try to make all our events bicommunal, they are in Greek, Turkish, and in the common language, English.”

The Costas and Rita Severis Foundation received the Grand Prix from the European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage/European Nostra Awards and they are currently in talks to partner with the Nobel Peace Centre. The results of the talks in Crans-Montana, however, casts a sombre light on the foundation’s efforts.

“Disappointment and desperation,” Severis said when asked about the failed negotiations. “What else can I say? It is time for both sides to cut the umbilical cords with their motherlands and put their Cypriot identity above everything else. As long as we keep hanging on to our motherlands, it’s not going to work. I wish we could get rid of the countries’ representatives at the talks.”

Besides the ties with Greece and Turkey, Severis thinks that the ingrained focus on past conflicts is also detrimental to reunification efforts.

“To tell you the truth, I don’t see any reconciliation in the future,” she said. “I don’t think anything new will start… We are brought up with these ethnical ideas and we don’t know each other or don’t want to understand each other. Instead of saying that the past is all water under the bridge, we keep on mumbling and grumbling and remembering and celebrating. The future looks bleak.”

“Will there be a closing of the borders? Are we going to have changes? The results for the museum are weakening. We see that there are less Turkish Cypriots coming. If we cannot have Turkish Cypriots coming over, there is no real point anymore.”




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