I write this at a time of great personal hope and anticipation. For the first time since 1974, Cypriots around the world are beginning to believe that the island we love will once again be reunified. A physical divide that has separated the two largest communities on the island is set to be knocked down. To some, this moment might seem insignificant, given the tiny population of the island and the quite minimal geo-political consequences that reunification will have. I, on the other hand, would argue that if Cyprus, after 42 years, is once again reunified, it must be viewed as a highly symbolic moment at a time when the world seems set on dividing people and building walls, rather than breaking them down.
Much has been written about the ascent of nationalism in recent years. It seems that everywhere in the world, nationalist politics is on the rise. And at the same time political decorum has become less intellectual and far more angry and hate-filled. Globally, politicians are tapping into a public mood of frustration at how the ‘elite’ have ruled over us for so long. The ‘establishment’ seem unable, and arguably, unwilling, to recognise the frustration that truly exists out there. Throughout history, when such a divide has existed, people have almost always turned to the outsiders, those who, unlike the ‘establishment’, are willing to truly speak up on their behalf and say the things that the others won’t. In times like these, people turn against one another, and vent their frustrations on one another. There can be no two clearer examples than what happened on 23rd June in the UK, and what happened on 8th November in the US.
As a young man, beginning independent life, witnessing these episodes of events that seem never to end has been utterly heartbreaking, but I truly see a glimmer of hope on a small island in the Med, and think people around the world should too. In Cyprus, instead of maintaining a wall that has divided people on the island for over four decades, leaders on both the Greek and Turkish sides are engaging in high level talks to reach a solution to what islanders commonly refer to as the ‘Cyprus Problem’. Yes, we have been here before, and yes, in 2004 many around the world thought that finally it would happen, given the Greek- Cypriot sides accession into the European Union that year. But something about the ‘Annan Plan’ made particularly the Greek- Cypriot side uneasy and unsure. This time it feels different. Something about the personal chemistry between President Anastasiades and President Akıncı has fuelled this hope amongst Cypriots around the world. It feels like the time has come. Watching these two leaders, who aren’t at all charismatic or particularly engaging, sit down around a table, and talk about what’s best for the whole of the island, instead of just their respective communities has been inspiring and eye-opening. Both accept that mistakes were made by both sides in the run up to the invasion in 1974, and both have accepted responsibility for past actions. Healing the divisions has taken many many years, but the only way to heal divide is to knock down the barriers that divide. That’s what’s happening in Cyprus, and I wish that it would happen more across the word too.
It is deeply ironic, and incredibly sad that as the wall, the last dividing a European state, is being pulled down in Cyprus, on the other side of the Atlantic, a man whose presidential campaign focused almost entirely on building a wall between the US and Mexico, to stop ‘the drugs, the criminals, the rapists’ will become US President in January. Donald J. Trump, like past populist demagogues, successfully tapped into a mood amongst Americans that has been bubbling below the surface for a long time. Americans who voted for Trump, like Brits who voted to leave the European Union in June, seem content on becoming isolationist and inward looking instead of accepting and tolerant. They believe that the best way for their nation to succeed is to close its doors and links with the rest of the world. Frankly, they couldn’t be more wrong. In the highly interconnected world that we live in, building walls, and creating barriers between peoples makes absolutely no sense. For states to enjoy and reap the rewards of globalisation, it is essential that we break down divide and work together to address the legitimate concerns that many have. The division in Cyprus, has a long political, and cultural backstory and it would be wrong to conflate what happened in Cyprus with what seems to be occurring about the world – an unwillingness to accept the notion of the free movement of people from state to state. But my point is a wider one, about how we should see events like the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the possible reunification of Cyprus as symbolic moments when instead of highlighting the differences that we have, we embrace them and move forward as one people. The world should see that despite historical differences between the two communities in Cyprus, they are seeking to come together in the spirit of unity and friendship.
Peace in Cyprus, has the opportunity to show the world that there is another way. We don’t always have to point fingers and seek out a scapegoat. Even where there is little hope, and after 42 years, many Cypriots had lost hope, with determination and drive, anything is possible. I wish the leaders and those involved in the final stages of these peace talks endless luck. If they are successful, it will not only mean a great deal to my family and fellow Cypriots, it will also mean a lot to a world that at times feels like it has lost all hope.