Cyprus problem is fuelling racism August 3, 2010Posted by Yilan in Cyprus, Kibris, Turkey.
Tags: Cyprus, Kibris, Turjey
Defining each other only as ‘Turkish’ or ‘Greek’ has left Cyprus with a victim complex, struggling to cope with rising immigration
This incident takes its place in the recent litany of violence against foreign workers, students or, in the most notorious case, a 15-year-old Afro-Cypriot assaulted by 40 of her classmates while their teachers stood by. Earlier this year, the Palestinian community centre in Larnaca was vandalised, while the headquarters of the anti-racist organisation KISA are regularly graffitied with swastikas.
It is typical for another reason – the general absence of public sympathy. The teachers’ union obstructed punishment of the schoolgirl’s attackers, and the Cypriot police are so unwilling to even record racially aggravated assaults that many non-white migrants no longer bother. Listening to opinions on TV phone-ins and talk radio, it becomes clear that the attitude of wider society is that “i xeni” (foreigners) should not be here in the first place, and so deserve whatever they get.
There is an irony here, given the number of Cypriots who emigrated in the 60s and 70s to seek a better life abroad. Indeed, some estimates put the number of diaspora Cypriots as being greater than the remaining population of the island. As Denis MacShane remarked last week, Cypriots have become a formidable enough voting block in London that they may prove a significant obstacle to David Cameron’s desire for closer ties with Turkey.
Of course, Cyprus is not alone in struggling to cope with rising immigration. Indeed, due to geographical proximity to both Africa and Asia, and to the porous Green Line, Cyprus has one of the highest rates of migration – both legal and illegal – in Europe.
Nonetheless, there is something uniquely callous in the Cypriot attitude to asylum seekers, economic migrants and, to put it most simply, non-whites of all kinds. It is more striking given the low crime and unemployment rates, the high GDP per capita compared with all neighbouring nations, and the island’s long history of welcoming outsiders (such as refugees from the Armenian genocide in 1915).
The major source of such disregard for people outside one’s own ethnic group is the Cyprus problem, and no solution currently on the table would address this. Whether one chooses to date the situation to the invasion by Turkey in 1974, the coup by junta-supported Greek Cypriots the same year, the bombings by Turkey in 1964, the attempt by Greek Cypriots to tear up the constitution in 1963, or simply to the British colonial strategy of divide and rule, the fact is that Cypriots have been split along ethnic lines far beyond living memory. The sandbags and barbed wire of the Green Line that runs through the middle of Nicosia are only the most potent reminder of this.
Since 1974, the international conversation about Cyprus has been of “bi-communal solutions”. Both sides have formally committed to separate administrations for Greek and Turkish Cypriots plus a central assembly where representatives of the two sides will meet in equal numbers. Another possible solution, talked of with increasing frequency, is of a permanent partition into two states. External parties – the UN, EU, UK, Greece and Turkey – allow no other possibilities to be discussed.
Allowing only two ethnicities into the national conversation encourages zero-sum thinking, where “we” can only win if “they” lose. Both sides try hard to portray themselves as the only victims of the conflict, often in toe-curlingly exaggerated language.
Like all victim complexes, the Cypriot version leaves little room for nuanced understanding of a newly multicultural country. Faced in the 1950s with the need to formally assign minorities to one of the two permitted groups, Cypriot authorities decided the question along religious lines, with the mostly Muslim Roma becoming “Turkish” and the Catholic Maronites “Greek”. How might they deal with today’s growing Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish populations? Why should their descendants be forced to become “Greek” or “Turkish”?
Without external pressure to admit that the biggest injustices on the island these days are practiced against non-indigenous populations, Cypriots will continue to assume a pose of self-righteous victimhood.