Civic tolerance for less-than-ideal alternatives

Valuable work being done by the Cyprus 2015 initiative shows that Greek and Turkish Cypriots could be more swayed by sociological than political factors on issues and could be more flexible and tolerant of what on the face of it might appear to be less-than-ideal alternatives.

Territories abandoned

During the presentation of recent findings relating to property, Cyprus 2015 Research Director Alexandros Lordos said that there is a surprisingly large difference between the content of much of the political sloganeering and real attitudes.

Anyone relying on the Greek language media for information on the attitudes and expectations of displaced owners of property in the north could be forgiven for assuming that the property issue boils down to restitution – the often-heard slogan of “the right of all refugees to return to their homes”.

In fact, he added, “the property issue is more important for both communities than all the governance issues put together. This should be a warning as to how potentially explosive this current phase of the negotiations is going to be.” The prime negotiating priority remains the property issue – “achieving justice in relation to properties lost in 1963/1974” – ranks high among the priorities both of Greek and Turkish Cypriots, with security coming top.

Paradoxically, while Greek Cypriots are focused on their property ownership right this does not mean they intend to return to their homes – but they expect their right to be respected anyway. Meanwhile, Turkish Cypriots acknowledge the original ownership of property, but place less emphasis on exercising ownership rights and more emphasis on the rights of the current user.

The quantitative data presented by the study executed suggest that attitudes are not all black-and-white. While Greek Cypriots as a rule (80 per cent) expect that priority over currently unused properties and properties where immigrants from Turkey currently live should definitely be granted to the original owners, there is greater tolerance of the prospect of priority being granted to the current user in the case of properties currently being used commercially, involving public utilities, or ones that have since been built on or significantly improved.

Conclusions point to the fact , “that people in the end, are reasonable. These figures speak of the notion of categorisation could work. It could provide the breakthrough for solving the property issue, allowing us to say ‘for some properties, priority (the default decision on what happens) goes to the original owners, for other property types priority goes to the current users’.”

This contradiction is perhaps due to the “confusion between a taboo and the pragmatic reality – it is taboo to say you are against restitution, as accepting compensation which can be viewed as excusing the Turkish presence in Cyprus, but when you ask people about compensation, they say that is a good idea as well.”

There was also very strong support from Greek Cypriots for principles relating to free movement, with 82 per cent saying it is important to ensure that mixed local communities would arise in the context of a settlement, and 55 per cent considering it entirely unacceptable that all or most Greek Cypriots should live in a Greek Cypriot state and all or most Turkish Cypriots should live in a Turkish Cypriot state.

However, 69 per cent of Turkish Cypriots expect that each community should primarily reside within the boundaries of its own constituent state. Two-thirds (64 per cent) support the principle that all citizens must have the right to live, work and exercise their political rights anywhere within Cyprus, but also that there should be a balanced compromise between Greek Cypriot desire to live anywhere in Cyprus and Turkish Cypriot desire to remain majority in the region they control.

Residence, “is another case of conflicting priorities, when placed next to the 69 per cent of Turkish Cypriots who say each community should primarily reside within the boundaries of its own constituent state. This is a case of taboos (‘we must remain ethnically pure’) conflicting with everyday realities (‘Hey, I wouldn’t mind the chance of living in Limassol and getting a good job there’).”

Data on the willingness of Greek Cypriots to return to their original homes also challenges the “right to return” slogan. Greek Cypriot displaced persons display great willingness to return on the assumption that this would be under Greek Cypriot administration (69 per cent), but the majority of displaced Greek Cypriot (73 per cent) say they would not be interested in returning to their original home if it was returned under Turkish Cypriot administration.

Territorial administration explodes stereotypes when, “On the one hand, we hear a lot of talk in favour of restitution for all types of property, but on the other hand, when you actually ask, people say they are not interested in returning under Turkish Cypriot administration, expressing a preference for exchange or cash compensation. A key issue for the return of Greek Cypriots under Turkish Cypriot administration is that a Greek Cypriot community is allowed to develop there, secure in the knowledge that they are not regarded as living in an alien country. Those Turkish Cypriots who would consider relocating to the south are apprehensive about living with Greek Cypriots – they are concerned about their safety, and so are deterred from moving south in the context of a settlement.

Another way to interpret this is to understand why the concept of a bizonal, bicommunal federation is fundamentally vulnerable. We are trying to ‘sell’ it to the Greek Cypriot community, who all understand that a bizonal federation would mean that there would be a Turkish Cypriot administration in the north, and therefore that there will not be a real right of return, in the sense they understand it.”

Again, quite against the flow of familiar stereotypes, a greater proportion of Turkish Cypriots would be interested to return under Greek Cypriot administration than Greek Cypriots under Turkish Cypriot administration. According to the study, “this makes perfect sense, as these issues are decided by social factors rather than national policy. Social realities dictate that the south is intrinsically more attractive to a Western-looking culture that wants to have nice shopping malls, nice supermarkets, better links with the rest of the world, etc. Whereas, for Greek Cypriots to return to the north, one can see how this would not really work on the sociological level. Sociological factors seem to be much more potent than political factors in influencing the preferences of Greek and Turkish Cypriots to return or not to their original property.”

For more information:

The ‘Cyprus 2015’ initiative, which commenced in May 2009, is being implemented by the Joint Programme Unit for United Nations / Interpeace Initiatives (JPU) and is supported by the UNDP-Action for Cooperation and Trust (ACT) programme in Cyprus and by the European Commission Representation in Cyprus. The purpose of the initiative is to contribute towards a sustainable settlement of the Cyprus Problem through objective research and respectful dialogue between all relevant societal and political stakeholders, in a way that complements the peace efforts on the island.

Conclusions were presented by the press coverage from Cyprus-mail

About Cyprus.Diversecity

Culture is made and thrives on diversity, my aim is to look at it as it enhances our capability to be more open.
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