Shemaine Bushnell Kyriakides
While giving her perspective on the current challenges and opportunities in the Cyprus issue, Elizabeth Spehar warned of the passing of too much time and that "the more time passes, the greater the possibility that the divide will be entrenched".
Speaking at the 17th Annual Economist Conference in Nicosia yesterday, Ms. Spehar expressed her dismay at the failure of both sides to return to substantive talks on the Cyprus issue and of the political polarization of the island saying that "the positions of both sides have moved further apart in recent months. Negative narratives and unhelpful rhetoric are spreading, and political polarization on the island is sharpening -- between and within both sides of the divide".
Common challenges can bring people together and then, perhaps, that can lead to a better conversation about the benefits of a settlement and the need to get it done.
But her speech didn't entirely encompass doom and gloom. She assured people that a solution was still possible if negotiators maintain their political will, their energy and their incentives, if the neighbor guarantors cooperate and, most importantly, if people care and get involved in the process.
Addressing a crowd of mostly business leaders, Ms. Spehar said that the business community and private sector have major roles to play in the road to a solution and could act as a catalyst. They, according to Ms. Spehar, are the backbone of economic prosperity that everyone wants to see and are very influential in the community. "I fail to see why encouraging more business cooperation across the divide is so difficult and why there are so many obstacles."
The outgoing Special Representative also spoke of bringing together both sides through renewable energy projects that benefit both sides of the divide. One such project floated was the construction of a bank of solar panels in the buffer zone that could provide renewable energy for both sides. A project that could be feasible since electricity grids are already connected between the north and south. "There is potential on this island in the area of renewable energy. Could not that be a basis of cooperation?"
She also referred to the UN Youth Champions for Environment and Peace, a project that brings together young people from both sides of the divide to discuss environmental issues and entrepreneurship possibilities, which, she says, could be another approach to building cooperation. "Young people are keen to express their ideas and want their voices heard. They are concerned about their future on this island. They may not know each other, but they don't have the heavy history of this island which lessens barriers and can achieve great strides."
Elizabeth Spehar ended on a positive note by saying that there is still hope for a solution and that people all over the island have many of the same concerns which are economic, social and the state of the environment. "Common challenges can bring people together and then, perhaps, that can lead to a better conversation about the benefits of a settlement and the need to get it done.
Elizabeth Spehar will stay on for another few weeks before her replacement Collin Stewart takes the reigns. Leaving, unfortunately, another unfinished chapter in the Cyprus issue.