Sunday marked the 20th anniversary of the opening of the first crossing between the north and south parts of the island. Newspapers were full of stories about people visiting their homes, homes they had not seen for 29 years, while television stations broadcast scenes of the emotional return of people. There were long queues at the Ledra Palace and many people had to wait for hours to get across. More crossings were eventually opened and there are currently nine scattered along the ceasefire line, the main ones in Ayios Dhometios and Ledra Street, always heaving with people.
When crossing was first allowed, there were fears, understandably, that there would be violent incidents between members of the two communities, coming into contact for the first time. They had, after all, been bombarded, on both sides, for more than thirty years, with viciously hostile rhetoric about the other side, by politicians, media, schools, and pressure groups. These fears proved unjustified. There were very few minor incidents but, thankfully, no outbreaks of violence or disturbances that would have caused tension. People are very comfortable crossing to the other side nowadays, with numbers constantly on the rise.
While the hostility cultivated by the politicians and the media of the two sides has never gone away, 20 years of incident-free movement north and south, has shown that the members of the two communities are perfectly capable of living in peace with each other, frequenting restaurants, bars, cafes, hotels, shops on the other side regularly. Admittedly, members of each community are careful and usually on their best behaviour when visiting the other side because they do not want to get in trouble with the law of what they see as a foreign entity. Perhaps, if there was no dividing line people would feel more inclined to behave badly.
Twenty years of movement across the dividing line has shown that the two communities get on fine, mixing as part of their daily lives. The differences appear to be between the establishments of the two sides, which oppose reunification because the status quo suits their interests – financial and political. Greek Cypriot politicians are not prepared to share power with Turkish Cypriots and make issues out of constitutional matters that would be irrelevant to ordinary people’s daily lives. Turkish Cypriot politicians, do the same because they believe their hold on power would diminish without Turkey’s presence in the north.
These are manufactured problems, of little consequence in the broader scheme of things, that have nevertheless been used over the years to block reunification, which quite clearly does not suit the ruling elite of either side. It is a shame, because 20 years of mixing between the two communities has shown that they can live in peace together, without hostility.