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understanding the role of civil society in Cyprus conflict

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understanding the role of civil society inCyprusconflict
Civil society’s role in Cyprus
At first we need toanalyzethe relationship between civil society andconflict.Theimpacts whichcivilsocietymay have onconflictis essential to understand.In Cyprus context,therole of civil society in ethno-politicalconflictsneeds to be understood.
Civil society’s role in Cyprus
It is widely recognized in the literature that civil society plays a key role in fosteringdemocraticgovernancein peaceful societies.In conflict settings,thedifferent understandings of the causes of conflict and the adequate responsestothemmayleadto the formation of civil society actors and ensuing actions that canfuelconflict, sustain the status quo or promote peace.
Civil society’s role in Cyprus
Civil society in Cyprus has a key role to play in creating spaces for dialogue and cooperation between the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities.We need tooutlinethe context within which civil societyorganizationsare operating, ways in which they are contributing to building peace, and challenges that they face.Studiesdemonstratethat important steps are being taken by civil societyorganisationsto overcome prejudices and break down barriers, and that by further developing links with local and international policy makers and institutions, civil society could be a stronger player in theCypruspeaceprocess.
Civil society’s role in Cyprus
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s recent assessment of the current peace negotiations acknowledged, for the first time from such a source, the role of Cypriot civil society in contributing to the peace process.TheSecretary General has urged the leaders of the two communities“to engage civil society in the task of reaching a comprehensive settlement and to take into account … important civil society efforts to contribute to the peaceprocess.”However, civil society groups argue that more could have been achieved and that their role in supporting the peace process could also have been moresignificant.
Civilsociety’s role inCyprus
While civil society actors can work towards peace by reaching out to other concerned people, peace cannot be built without the participation of citizens.Thisrequires involving ‘more people’ or involving ‘keypeople.’It is important to createincentives for people to becomemobilized,for example in relation to security, democracy, or economic improvement.Onesuch period was during the lead up to the accession of Cyprus to the EU in 2004.
Civil society’s role in Cyprus
In the Cypriot context, effective peacebuilding requires not only the participation of key people – which civil society partly provides – but also that they are effectively linked to Track 1 processes, which has not been the case.Italso needs both support and incentives. While incentives can come from political momentum, a key challenge is how to maintain momentum when political incentives recede.Butpeacebuilding also requires the involvement of more people, especially hard-to-reach people. This is a challenge that civil society is attempting tomeetin Cyprus.
Civil society’s role in Cyprus
Research suggests that contacts between different ethnic communities have a positive effect on people’s attitudes and perceptions of theother,Civilsociety plays an important role in providing these contacts, including through participation in trust buildinginitiatives.
Civil society’s role in Cyprus
However, research to date also suggests that civil society in Cyprus has been generally relatively weak, and that bicommunal cooperation between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities, as well as citizen participation in bicommunal events, is verylimited.Thelow levels of trustwithinCypriot society in general are also not conducive for the development of civilsociety.Despitethis,otherresearcheshaveshown that civil society in Cyprus is not content with the status quo and is open toreconciliation.
Overcoming divisions in Cyprus
In the absence of a political settlement, there are a number of ways in which civil society can contribute to promoting trust through addressing or alleviating some of the most marked aspects of the divisions in Cyprus.Theseinclude the divided and divisive education systems, the role and nature of the media, civil society itself, the political culture, and the legislative context.
Education
Currently, the education system in both parts of Cyprus is based on a nationalist ideology whichdemonizesthe other section of the population. A survey of the population suggests that about two thirds of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots think that the education system has a negative effect on the Cyprus problem.
Education
Greek Cypriot schoolbooks depict the rule of everyone on the island (Frankish, Venetian, Turkish and English) apart from the Greeks or Byzantines as oppression and imply that the indigenous people of the island have always been Greeks.Thisplaces Turkish Cypriots in an inferior position, conjuring up the impression that they do not belong inCyprus, andthe books project the Turks as“barbaric, savage creatures who killed and tortured the rightful owners of the island”.
Education
There is an almost mirror situation in the Turkish Cypriot schoolbooks. One secondary-level school book argued: “From historical-geographical, strategic and economic perspectives, Cyprus is connected to Anatolia”and that“history began”with the arrival of the Ottomans in Cyprus,“as it was the most important historical event…that sealed its character”.TurkishCypriot books alsoemphasizethe“barbarism and savagery”of the Greek Cypriots, concentrating on the 1963–74 period
The media
The Cypriot media has often depicted the other community as the enemy. According to research carried out by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), this has been exacerbated by language and the fact that, to a large extent, members of one community could only learn about the other through their respective media, since contacts were limited and most people could not read the other’slanguage.Therehas also been a lack of an independent media not affiliated to various political positions, and a lack of coverage and understanding of civil society activity.
Civil society
With civil society itself divided by the Green Line – with separate support, NGOs, advocacy groups,labourunions, professional associations, and relief and charitableorganisations, providing similar functions in their respective communities – opportunities or the desire for CSOs to become involved in joint activities have been limited.
Civil society
Nevertheless, there has been a substantial amount of peacebuilding work (training, conflict resolution workshops, interactive problem solving workshops, communication workshops, bicommunal projects, meetings, contacts, visits) over the past two decades.34 In addition, those involved in such activities in the Turkish Cypriot community were able tomobiliseother CSOs and members into a successful mass movement to campaign for a ‘yes’ vote in the referendum on the Annan Plan in the early 2000s
Political culture
Studieshavediscussed the ways in which Cypriots tend to consider political parties as the only channels for conveying their concerns, and how they use their political affiliations as a vehicle for personal and political career advancement.Thisdependency on political parties has served to undermine and devalue the efforts of civil society in promoting participatory democracy – as expressed through“the practice of democratic attitudes and values within society,realisedthrough active participation in associations, networks, and democratic movements”.
Political culture
CSOscan help to offset this tendency through a focus on participatory democracy, political accountability, social capital (including developing capacity, trust, networks, cooperation, influence and so on), advocacy and equity, citizenship and rights, and promoting innovatory and creative approaches to social inclusion.
Restrictive legal context
As both communities are governed by different legislative contexts, and related issues of non-recognition, it has not been possible to develop island-wideorganisations.Inaddition, in the southern part of Cyprus, CSOs are working in an obscure legal environment with complicated registration and operationprocedureswhile, in the northern part of Cyprus, the administration has attempted (unsuccessfully) to take control of CSOs through replacing already unhelpful legislation with draconian associations’ legislation.
Restrictive legal context
To function effectively, CSOs need to be able to play an active role, and are inhibited by the current legislative frameworks in both communities.AlthoughCSOs have made attempts to influence change, this has been limited by the pervading political culture in both communities. It has also been argued that the positive aspects of enabling laws do not amount to much if there is no culture of activism and engagement.
How EFFECTIVE ARE the work ofCSO’sIN CYPRUS?
In general, thework of CSOs has not been able toencompassthe whole of society, and those attending peacebuilding events are mainly English-speaking people (often referred to as the ‘usual suspects’).CSOs that engage in peacebuilding need to pursue innovative and proactive strategies to increase participation throughout the island.They also need to be involved in campaigns to have the legislation amended and to explore ways of developing processes for cooperative working that transcend the divided legal context.
Reference
NormanGillespie,VasilikiGeorgiou, andSevincInsay,Cyprus civil society: developing trust andcooperation,INTRAC Research Briefing Paper,November2011

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understanding the role of civil society in Cyprus conflict