Civil Society's Role in Peace-Building: Relevance of the Cypriot Case

By Kanol, Direnç | Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE, January 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

Civil Society's Role in Peace-Building: Relevance of the Cypriot Case


Kanol, Direnç, Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE


This article argues that the rationale of the current conflict resolution strategy for resolving the Cyprus problem is problematic. Time and energy should be spent more on peace-building efforts that penetrate into ideas and identities of the Cypriots, than on negotiations that take place between the leaders. Greek and Turkish Cypriots should have a sense of 'we' based on equality rather than recognizing each other as the 'enemy' in case a durable solution to the problem can be found. In spite of the current political rhetoric which is very negative, civil society can be a crucial actor in reversing this trend and pursuing this important task. Even though the peace-building success of civil society in Cyprus may be questionable, the author argues that the opportunity for a highly profitable outcome exists if civil society can shift its focus on in-group socialization, increase work-related activities, apply a more participative strategy, and act in a coordinated way.

Keywords: Cyprus problem; civil society; peace-building; political rhetoric; 'the political'

On the occasion of a conference in Nicosia, Hugh Pope, Turkey/Cyprus program director of the International Crisis Group, once told the audience that nobody wants to hear about the Cyprus problem because compared with other conflict areas the severity of violence in Cyprus has been trivial since 1974. Nevertheless, he continued, it is one of the conflicts which people read the most about on the International Crisis Group website. Nothing explains the Cyprus problem better than this statement. Academics, politicians, bureaucrats and technocrats still talk about the benefits of reunification. They reiterate their expectations of a peace agreement in the near future but the problem seems to be bullet-proof to all the hope and research that have been expended on the benefits of a solution. There is but one key concept that is crucial in understanding and solving the Cyprus problem. This concept which is called 'the political' may sound arcane to many of us who have yet to get acquainted with it. Nevertheless, one can argue that all the research and recommendations that have been done and will be done on the Cyprus issue should have had, and should have an understanding of 'the political' and its relation to what is going on in Cyprus.

The aim of the first part of this paper is to explain 'the political' by looking at the writings of Carl Schmitt and Hannah Arendt and discuss this concept's implications in relation to the Cyprus problem. In the second part, some practical recommendations to solve the Cypriot puzzle will be mentioned by looking at the state of civil society in Cyprus. These recommendations will not be completely foreign to the reader who is already acquainted with the Cyprus problem and reconciliation literature but the careful reader should have a better understanding of the importance of these recommendations and the insignificance of some of the efforts which is considered to be quite important.

The Concept of 'the Political'

The discussion about the meaning of 'the political' is debated in the field of political theory. Understanding the concept of 'the political' is essential for the purposes of this paper which argues that the solution to the Cyprus problem can only be found by addressing what is related with 'the political'. Creation and sustenance of any society and of a state is first and foremost related with 'the political' and civil society is suggested to be the key actor in accomplishing this task.

One can argue that there is no need for 'the political' so that there can be politics. Politics, which is about organizing collective matters, may exist in any form of organization. However, 'the political' exists only in the societies that are constituted. This does not mean that one can only belong to a single society, but the need for a society in order to talk about 'the political' and societal politics is conspicuous. …

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