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20 June, 2024
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Navigating civil society's role amid deadlocks

Exploring challenges and avenues for broader societal involvement

Yiannis Ioannou

Yiannis Ioannou

In Cyprus, amid the backdrop of the Cyprus problem, discussions often revolve around Civil Society and its potential role in resolving the issue. The UN Secretary-General's Personal Envoy, Ms. Holguin, drawing on her experience from the Colombian peace process (2012-2016), emphasized the crucial role citizens could play in the Cyprus talks. Consequently, she engaged with members of civil society, expressing her intentions to involve them further.

Indeed, Civil Society can play an active role in addressing the Cyprus problem, particularly at this juncture when breaking the deadlock has proven extremely challenging for seven years. However, our approach to this society in Cyprus often does not adhere to the necessary processes - quantitative and qualitative - that could be considered representative from a social engineering perspective.

During the culmination of the Annan Plan in 2004, Civil Society gained prominence amid intense political polarization, a legacy that persists in the public debate on the Cyprus problem. This resurgence occurred in the period 2014-2017 and during the latest talks in Crans-Montana. The qualitative characteristics of Civil Society members, spanning the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities, often involve individuals with high education and living standards, former politicians, academics specializing in ethnic conflicts in the Cyprus problem or other international cases, and journalists. Political positioning within Civil Society ranges from the fringes of the Left and AKEL to the Right, DISY, and the liberal center.

Over the years, Civil Society in Cyprus has not succeeded in becoming politically massive or making a transformative contribution to social or political changes expediting developments in the Cyprus problem. It failed to engage the entire Cypriot society, which, at its core, remains unrepresentative beyond the political parties. This failure stems from its lack of representativeness and its inability to permeate the broader masses of Cypriot society, which retains various distortions (cognitive/historical, experiential, psychological) when perceiving the Cyprus problem as a national issue with its resolution as the ultimate goal.

Expecting Ms. Holguin to effectively mobilize Civil Society in a country with, for example, 70,000 hunters, to break a seven-year deadlock is, in my view, overly optimistic and utopian. I do not anticipate that she will transform this Civil Society, currently a small and non-representative sample, into a broad movement capable of uniting the two communities in significant transitions.

If Ms. Holguin seeks to connect with Civil Society, it would be advisable for her not to solely focus on existing structures like NGOs, bi-communal events, and academia. She may need to think outside the box, acknowledging the evolving conservative context in society, which may not align with traditional approaches to addressing the Cyprus problem post-Crans-Montana.

Twitter: @JohnPikpas

Cyprus  |  Turkey  |  society  |  politics

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