Réunion informelle des Ministres de la culture: «Le nouveau rôle et les nouvelles responsabilités des ministres de la culture pour initier le dialogue interculturel» - Strasbourg, les 17 et 18 février 2003 

(version anglaise seulement)

Discours du Dr Petros M. Kareklas, Vice- Ministre du Ministère de l’Education et de la Culture de Chypre

I would like to congratulate the Steering Committee of the Council of Europe for its initiative to take a serious look, through specific actions, at such an important issue as Intercultural Dialogue and the role it can play in the prevention of conflicts. Mankind has no other choice. The events of recent years compel us to work together so as not to bequeath to our children a civilization based on violence and intolerance, but to build a civilization based on peace and tolerance.

Due to its geographical location at the crossroads of three continents, Europe, Asia and Africa, Cyprus was, from ancient times, a meeting point for great civilizations and religions.

At times, these different cultures and religions were a source of strife and conflict, while, more often than not, they were used as a pretext to cover up the political and economic interests of those who wanted to exploit the significant geopolitical position of the island.

It must be pointed out that Cyprus, from antiquity to present day, has shown remarkable tolerance and acceptance of foreign cultures and religions, never failing to establish bridges of communication with them. It is not, therefore, by chance that in the Cyprus dialect which, to a large extent is the language of Homer, there are numerous words which are derived from the languages of other peoples who came to Cyprus, many times as conquerors, and who then proceeded to settle on the island. Moreover, the visitor to the Archaeological Museum in Nicosia has the unique experience of finding himself before remarkable works of art, which are the result of a free and creative synthesis of elements from eastern and western cultures. This is characteristic of the ability of the Cypriot artist to assimilate features from different cultures and, through a free and creative composition, transform them into a work of art, which represents his own unique world. This dialogue with other cultures which characterizes Cypriot art also characterizes other aspects of Cypriot culture.

We, therefore, consider Cyprus’ role as a connecting link of cultures to be of primary importance. We also look upon this role as an obligation on our part to cultivate and promote peace, stability and prosperity in our region. Our policy is to reinforce the acceptance of our religious and cultural particularities, and create bridges of communication between the different ethnic and religious groups which make up our population.

The recent history of Cyprus and the de facto and forced partition of the island since 1974, has begun to create a new state of affairs, so far unknown in Cyprus. The violent division of the island into two by the Turkish troops, and the compulsory enclavement of the Greek Cypriots in the south and the Turkish Cypriots in the north, has alienated these two main communities of the island from each other, with no means of communication, cultural or otherwise, between them. It is, therefore, natural that both communities now harbour feelings of fear and insecurity. The conflict culture has begun to penetrate into all aspects of life. The colonial political dogma “Divide and Impera” has been a complete success, thus serving the well-known foreign interests which promote it.

Fully aware of the need for rapprochement between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots, the Republic of Cyprus has encouraged civil society to develop its own initiatives and courses of action and to work towards recreating the bridges of communication, as they existed between the two communities for centuries in this island of the Eastern Mediterranean.

I shall not go into all these initiatives and courses of action, but I shall mention a few characteristic examples, which demonstrate the wish of the people of Cyprus for communication and for the creation of mutual trust and understanding between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The last decade has seen the formation of more than 60 Bicommunal Conflict Resolution Groups, which hold meetings and working sessions on a regular basis. The efforts of these groups have been reinforced to a great extent by new means of technology such as the Internet.

We also have the “Youth Encounters for Peace” which function under the guidance of two inspiring teachers-peace builders. These young people have created, amongst their other achievements and activities, a bicommunal dance group.

Furthermore, meetings between Greek and Turkish Cypriots who live in mixed villages are encouraged. I must also mention the Bicommunal Choir for Peace, and the rock and traditional folk music festivals which are organized in the buffer zone.

Also significant is the cooperation between the Greek and Turkish community for the conservation of our cultural heritage, as in the case of the Venetian Walls of Nicosia, the Monastery of Apostolos Andreas in the Karpass Peninsula and the Hala Sultan Tekke near Larnaca.

These constitute only some of the attempts that are being made with the objective of creating bridges of communication between the two communities, and which are gradually beginning to sweep aside misperceptions, mistrust, fears and negative stereotypes.

Our will to intensify these efforts and to support the good practices of the Council of Europe in creating an intercultural dialogue for the promotion of peace can be demonstrated by the fact that the capital of Cyprus, Nicosia is participating in “Shared Cities”, an action plan of the Council of Europe.

Apart from our political problem, in recent years Cyprus has seen the influx of new cultures with the arrival on the island of a large number of foreign workers from different countries and continents. This is a matter of deep concern for the Ministry of Education and Culture which is trying, through special programmes, to help both children and adults to get acquainted with, and to respect each other’s culture and civilization, and to help them - without trying to assimilate them - to take their place in society.

We are well aware of that fact that establishing peace is a very slow process, and that it takes only a few days of war to destroy what took tens of years to build. We also know that our only defence against war is to implant the virtues of peace firmly in the minds of our people.

With the accession of Cyprus to the European Union, we now have the necessary prerequisites for building a peaceful and prosperous future for all the people of our island - Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots, Armenians, Maronites, Latins and others.

And that is what we shall strive to do - with all our might!