Restoring Trust among Cypriots*
Last week, while I was driving in Famagusta, the traffic jam was worse than ever. As I was moving extremely slow, I was trying to figure out why
the traffic is as such. Passing by the university, I find out that, tens of young people with the flags yelling slogans and the police were trying to separate two groups of students. Coming closer to them, I recognize that, it is a clash between Kurdish Students and the students that belong to Grey Wolves organisation.
The University in Famagusta held annual student council elections and these two strongly organized groups eventually end up fighting with each other. Despite newspaper coverages mostly take this as an “incident”, in reality it contains elements of racism, extremism and public violence. They do not constitute a direct threat to the residents of Famagusta, but the presence of Grey Wolves students who aims to “import” their extremist values to the society is a real concern. Despite, the threats of those extreme elements targets the Kurdish students, occasionally they target the locals, particularly those who ally with the idea of unified Cyprus.
Their presence is a concern for many, but likewise ELAM in the south. It is a fact that such organisations are the distinct groups that have a significant role in the deterioration of the trust environment from the perspective of the “others”. This incident that I am explaining happened right on the same day as the incidents that had occurred in the South related the Neo-Nazi organisation ELAM. In fact, I was listening to the developments from the radio about ELAM’s attacks, and I was watching another wave of racial hatred taking place in Famagusta.
Two racist incidents, not related to each other happened at the same time. However, according to the public sensitivities one considered as less important than the other. Despite it was not. Because likewise ELAM, the extremist Grey Wolves constitute the same danger for anyone living on this island.
The developments after the incidents by extremists in the south followed many appropriate steps. Condemning the incident and demanding legal measures at the leadership level are significant steps to heal the deteriorating climate. However, more than that, various posts over the social media was exemplary. First of all, the reactions that I trace over the social media were different from the discourses of the officials. Unlike the classic statements of the political parties or the organizations, whom mostly aimed to give less vocal critique or referred to the laws and regulations, individual reactions had bolder comments and they were much significant. The differentiation of the ruler and the ruled over such an incident was a victory for the “masses” against the conventional political actors and the administrative tools.
While, the overall sensitivity played a role urging the leaders’ to decide on establishing committee on education, we all know that talking about the education system and all are the steps that have to take place at the higher level, needs systematic approach together with the political will to implement. The steps above, are all useful and significant. However, I consider them as tier one diplomacy in general.
The main problem with the “tier one” approach is, without the presence of “tier two”, they are not as effective as they perceived. Tier two approach, – the term ‘homo diplomacy’ also coined – includes the civil society actions and the steps that can come from the grassroots. I believe that they can play a significant role to form the climate of trust. As far as tier two approaches are in-line with the daily practices of the individuals, tier-one strategies are more to do with legislation. Without rejecting their importance, tier one approaches have following disadvantages:
1) Tier one steps are top to down – mostly out of touch with the daily concerns and the expectations of the grassroots, they may not be tangible or might not be owned by the masses.
2) Tier one decisions are slow as a response – do not have the capacity to re-design itself based on the latest developments
3) Tier one decisions aim to standardize – fail to grasp differences between different layers of the society
It is important to acknowledge that, trust building in Cyprus is not only a matter of mechanical processes. It needs a tier two strategy that is coming from the grassroots, focusing on the issues that considered as minor, but they can meet with the daily practices in comparison to the significant issues of “setting up technical committee, reconsidering education system and so on.” As ethnically divided island, Cyprus has significant barriers regarding engaging with the “other”. For this reason tier, two diplomacy becomes the primary source of reconciliation.
A particular way of understanding is necessary once we take “tier two” options as a tool for trust building. From my point of view, the philosophy of the trust building in Cyprus starts from a single but strong word “empathy.” Roman Krznaric, who write on the empathy, notes that:
I raised up on the stories of my army’s atrocities to the others. Observing the people, how they encounter with the feeling of insecurity and humiliation, take me to a level of empathy. Following to that, as a political scientist and a sociologist, I realized that the traditional ways of creating a social change cannot happen via the laws and policies. On the other hand, the key is to change individual positions of the people on each other. In other words, the social change can happen via the empathy to the other.
What Krznaric suggests is significant. It is the essential element for the trust building in Cyprus. However, it is necessary to support “tier two” understanding with a meaningful outcome. As “the key is to change individual positions of the people.”
However, to use the key of empathy, it is necessary to step back and place the Cyprus conflict within an accurate historical framework. Otherwise, the good will can be easily exploited and bring harsh rhetoric of injustice. The feeling of injustice is another factor that influences the environment of trust. The rhetoric evolving around justice is important because, the tier two diplomacy gain its legitimacy from the collective understanding of normativity rather than the laws and regulations.
Justice and empathy are the two notions that we can use as the normative grounds for trust building in Cyprus. Of course, the decade-long legacy of the Cyprus problem creates layers of explanations for various issues. As a result, the complexity deserves a non-conventional way of thinking. I believe that stepping out of the comfort zone starts from this point. Liberating the mind from the “very important topics” of tier one to simplistic “tier two” approach bears its radical vision.
Because when we are talking about “tier two” we are talking about an approach that:
Primarily, gain its legitimacy from below, that are the grassroots and it can address the concerns directly
Secondly, tier two strategies can respond the changing circumstances and the concerns concomitantly
Finally, tier two approach can recognize the diversity.
In comparison to the tier one, the tier two approach provides the order of chaos, and this is more consistent with the real life. Rather than legal codes, the necessary steps consist of suitable measures that can have broad public support centralizing the empathy to the other.
From a Turkish Cypriot point of view, several steps can be raised to restore the trust by using tier two level diplomacy. At the moment, those all are framed under the title of “confidence-building measures.” However, it is not limited to it.
Recognizing each and every subgroup in the society and identifying their concerns related to trust is necessary. Sometimes the conciliatory moves can be enough to restore the trust. At this point, there is no need to consider “sub-groups” only as distinct ethnic identities, they may be the social minorities within every ethnic identity.
At this point, “Human rights for all” sounds like a generic motto, however, recognizing the rights of the individuals, without assuming the rights are fully ensured at the administrative level is a tool that has a significant role to restore trust.
Whatever legal status of the Northern part of Cyprus is, the access to the individual rights of the Greek Cypriots and minorities are limited. Moreover, one can also observe that various vulnerable groups from the Turkish Cypriot community do not have reliable mechanisms to protect their human rights, despite they are one way another have legal ties to the administrative structures. This understanding shows the failure of the tier one approach again.
Reinterpretation of the human rights can play a similar role in restoring the trust. Reinterpreting the human rights by taking the “other” as a central element rather than the “citizen”, at least at the discursive level, bears significant value. The inclusive practices have a tremendous effect to create an environment of trust. As far as, the grass-roots concerned, it is possible to speak on rights without being community—centric, the key – that is the empathy – will serve for trust building.
Public advocacy can quickly transform the perceptions. However, the spectre of the history always lingers. For this purpose, “encountering with the past” becomes the central element of restoring trust. Despite, the committees on truth and reconciliation considered as the primary institutions for the settlement, the technical work must be supported by actions of the grassroots. From my point of view, the key is to encounter with the atrocities that have been committed against the people of Cyprus particularly those of happened in 1958 at Gonyeli or post 1974 events particularly in the villages like Balikesir/Baliketrea.
However, encountering with the past is not limited to the stories of violence. At the same time, it is necessary to confront with the post-1974 setting, particularly in the North. Rather than focusing on the pre/after 1974 only as the issue of governance and property, it is also important to acknowledge, the island as a socio-cultural space consisting of diverse groups. Sustaining the multicultural structure of the island, depends on the intensification of the interaction, rather than the creation of parallel universes for each cultural group. It is necessary to understand that only by promoting the `other` religion, `other` language, `other` culture, the societies can establish unbreakable bonds.
One of the problems of the pre-1974 structure of the Republic of Cyprus was the presence of parallel `universes` in the people’s daily practices. Despite, we can observe mosque and a church in the same villages, the structure of the system did not offer complete freedom for the societies to interact. As a result, once the incidents started, the peaceful environment deteriorated rapidly. We need to learn from the painful experience of the past. It is necessary to understand that federation does not mean revitalisation of the old-fashioned Ottoman Millet system again. On the contrary, it is important to promote the multiculturalist values within the aforementioned second tier strategy to create the climate of trust.
The idea of restoring trust is a process that has to be dealt with very carefully but decisively. Like many other issues that silenced within the legislation, the tier-one approach is insufficient to create the environment of trust for the others. The process of the negotiations may offer a solution in the future, but to create deep peace for the people we need more human touch with empathy rather than the dense jargon of international law.
*** Presented at Peace Center Conference, Nicosia, 28.11.2015