Nicosia 20090620

Third and last day of the conference. I was keen to attend this day, because the presentations concentrated on Cyprus specifically. I introduced myself to Erol Kaymak, forwarding kind regards from Quintin.

In the discussion on setting an agreed school curriculum, one presenter made reference to this process in Northern Ireland. During the Q&A section, I underlined the relative success of this in Northern Ireland, e.g. managed by a professional body, but I also pointed out the fact there are five school systems in operation in Northern Ireland. I asked what was the situation in Cyprus, including integrated education. No one answered, but a kind woman from the UK-based Friends of Cyprus introduced herself to me, and gave me a complimentary copy of their newsletter (which I later read and found very interesting).

There was also discussion on dealing with mourning and how best to present history. Individually, I found myself telling people about my work experience at the Northern Ireland Political Collection. I learned about the Joint History Project, whose aim is “to revise ethnocentric school history teaching by avoiding the production of stereotypes, by identifying attitudes that encourage conflict, by suggesting alternative teaching methods, and by promoting the idea of multiple interpretations of one event”. Recently there was a launch of workbooks in Greek and Turkish.

Back at my hotel, I dumped my tote bag, now bulging with new papers and books. A long 30-minute walk in the heat back to the town centre, where I met Soula at the city’s Olympic Day event — a few dozen cyclists and a few hundred runners assembled. I love Soula’s sparkiness. And I’m grateful for her grabbing me a commemorative t-shirt!

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Afterwards, back at the Mayor’s office, we discussed a recent referendum that was held in Nicosia, to decide how to transform the old GSP Stadium. This fascinated me, because this seemed to me to a great leap for the elected representatives, as it’s more than a consultation; the result would be binding.

Eleni described how they got the idea of a local referendum from looking at other models, but the Switzerland experience specifically. I described an alternative model, called a preferendum (electors select choices in order of preference, 1, 2, 3, etc.). But Nicosia’s approach was to provide multiple-choice options for a series of questions (and some open-ended questions). I suggested that it must have taken some time to get the wording of the questions agreed, and indeed Eleni said that took the most time. The final result (see Cyprus Mail, 8/1/2009) has been deemed a success by all parties concerned: the local voters and the municipality (parties and officers). Something I am going to explore and float back in Belfast.

After some work talk we went to a nearby Italian restaurant, eating al fresco. The night breeze was refreshing. When asked what type of wine should we have, of course I requested something local. Just as last night, it was a very good wine.

Over my course of Cyprioti pizza (Halloumi cheese, olives), Eleni, Marios, and Soula all described aspects of intra-communal divisions within the Greek-Cypriot community. I was dumbfounded by the apparent intensity of feeling between Left and Right elements of society, demonstrated through football rivalries. Their description of football matches isn’t so far away from a Rangers-Celtic scenario. (There’s also selective Left-Right boycotting of local products — coffee, beer — though they say it’s not so intense now.)

I say dumbfounded; I told them that I never heard about this before. Indeed, they replied that most international researchers neglect this dimension when examining the Cyprus Question. Which is a shame, because it helps explain certain factors such as why so much of what one would consider “civil society” in the Greek-Cypriot community is so party controlled/influenced. This has its own consequences in the discussion on reconciliation, thinks Mr Ulster.

We also talked about the relatively poor state of public transportation in Nicosia. There’s a plan to improve the bus network, and a desire for a tram system. I suggested fact-finding missions to Belfast (bus), Dublin (new Luas city tram), and Bordeaux (new suburb and city tram). I would be only to happy to assist in any way, and told them so.

Overall, a very worthwhile trip to Nicosia. No one could believe I didn’t make time to go to the beach. I think I would have pushed my luck with Madame Oui! This was a pure work-related trip, a productive but enjoyable one, meeting up with friends and making new acquaintances.

Looking forward to my next opportunity for a return visit (with swimming trunks and trailing spouse!).

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