By Stefanos Evripidou
'Occupy' members talk about why they are frowned upon by the establishment
THE CYPRUS problem has been solved. At least, for a small group of individuals who made the buffer zone their physical and ideological home the last five months it has.
Despite being surrounded by three armies and three sets of police, the UN included, who want them out, a group of people of all ages, from across the island and beyond, has broken free from the chains of the perennial ‘problem’ by simply living the solution.
“For us, the Cyprus problem ended when we all met here and created this space in the buffer zone,” said Kostis, 44, a member of the Occupy Buffer Zone Movement.
Through organising events, using each person’s skills to good effect and contributions, the group has survived a very cold winter in tents in an effort to make their point.
“We’ve tried to use this space in the buffer zone to pass on messages to society, to act as a resistance to the current system and propose solutions outside the logic of capitalism, where whatever you give or take has a price attached to it,” said Andreas, 28.
Kostis added: “We’ve created an alternative model of co-existence in Cyprus. When we all met here, we didn’t know each other. Everyday life would create problems for anybody, but we tried to find ways to incorporate every difference in the space we were living. We’re putting new foundations for society.”
I can already see the more cynical among you rolling your eyes, thinking just because it works for a small group of people does not necessarily mean it can be viably transferred to society at large.
But for the Movement, this is not another utopian effort to create a better society, as demonstrators around the world are trying. This is an exercise in opening one’s eyes to the structures that have perpetuated conflict in Cyprus for decades.
And last Friday’s violent police raid against the Occupy Movement in a building straddling the buffer zone is seen as an effort to destroy what the activists, without the need for oversight from higher powers, have created so far.
“We are not the ones who disturb the peace by being here, it’s the two banana republics and their efendi (master) in the middle,” said Kostis.
“It’s not just fun and games here, it’s very serious. We declared that we have already established peace and we are living it, living the solution,” said 32-year-old Cengiz.
If you don’t like something, you create something better to render its predecessor meaningless, he argued. “What they (the police) did was to destroy what we created. They are the destructive forces, we are the creative forces. They are thanatos (death), we are eros (love).”
Cengiz said the heavy-handed police operation spearheaded by anti-terror and drugs squad officers was mainly directed against unarmed teenagers who dared to think outside the box.
“Most people beaten, humiliated, abused and kicked out of this building by police last week have been traumatised. They are 16, 17 years old and they will never forget it. We are older. We’ve seen brutality before and can digest it. For them, it’s a shock,” he said.
Referring to the many dances, talks, debates organised in the buffer zone, he said: “You can call it a political art movement if you like. The occupation of the building did not destroy anything. In fact, we built upon it. Peace is like that, you construct. It’s a process.”
The same cannot be said for ongoing talks to end the island’s division, however.
“We are here to make a point. This is not a peace process. They abuse this word. It’s a war process. Why? Because the only thing they have agreed on is to not agree. They are trying to make it impossible to establish peace on this island other than the peace they envision, which is not a real peace,” said Cengiz.
“The real walls are in the mind. They say the United Nations is a peace force. They’ve been a peace force for 50 years here and nothing happened. What kind of peace is this? It’s just a ceasefire. The United Nations divides nations, divides people,” he added.
According to the Movement, there can never be peace as long as the established powers in the region, controlling the UN Security Council and on both sides of the divide and in the middle continue to impose their policies, systems and thought mechanisms on the peace process.
“This can never be a normal country. Both sides don’t want it to be a normal country. All of Cyprus wants to stay divided, traumatised, and split itself in a schizophrenic, paranoid way,” said Cengiz.
“The only way for us is to move forward. Open up these buildings (on or next to the buffer zone) and let us start showing that peace is possible. If they want, they can have a three-part solution and we will have our place in the middle. I cannot wait.”
Asked why the Movement, with seemingly noble aspirations for peace, has had little support or sympathy from the public at large on both sides of the divide, the protesters argue both communities have been brainwashed at birth by established interests and the media, with the military dictatorship in the north, and the Church and big business running the show south of the island.
“Those of us who were born after 1974 are tired of waiting for a solution from politicians and the same foreign powers whose interests were served by the country’s partition,” said Andreas.
He highlighted that his Church-influenced education taught him to think of Turkish Cypriots as “Turks” and the enemy.
Through this movement, Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot youth came together, and through dialogue reached the understanding that ultimately, they’ve been separated to serve the interests of others.
“We were given a chance to realise that Turkish Cypriots are, if not equal than more victims of the invasion and Ankara than us Greek Cypriots. I realised what we were told in schools about us and them was an illusion,” he said.
The same building that was raided by armed police last week was the place where young peace activists from both communities “got together, ate, danced, shared ideas and co-existed, operating as a bridge for people north and south”, said Andreas.
“What happened last Friday was the result of an ideology which dominates in Cypriot society. Anything that goes beyond political, social or economic norms is beaten mercilessly,” said Kostis.
He took particular exception to the media’s response to the raid which created an image of the Movement being a hotbed of orgies and drugs for young and old
“This is the propaganda of the state and church, who are breast-feeding society that the youth are destroying us, with the sole aim to control society,” he said.
A group of youngsters embraced the Movement because it provided a space to question existing norms.
“No solution of the Cyprus problem will come from parties. It can only come from society, which needs to understand the chauvinist fairytale that’s been sold all these years. As long as children are breast-fed with nationalism and intolerance on both sides, nothing will happen.
“This is what the youth came here to question and police hit them to scare them away,” he added.
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