Τα δικαιώματα των Μαρωνιτών στην επανενωμένη Κύπρο

Σήμερα θα σας μιλήσω για αυτά που θεωρώ ότι πρέπει να διεκδικήσει η Μαρωνιτική κοινότητα στα πλαίσια των διαπραγματεύσεων για τη λύση του κυπριακού προβλήματος.

Δε θα μπω στις λεπτομέρειες των διεκδικήσεων, αλλά στις βάσεις αρχής πάνω στις οποίες οι διεκδικήσεις αυτές πρέπει να τεθούν.

Ας αρχίσουμε πρώτα με μια καταγραφή των πραγματικοτήτων στην Κύπρο. Στην Κύπρο έχουμε δυο κύριες εθνοτικές ομάδες[*], τους Ελληνοκύπριους και τους Τουρκοκύπριους. Οι δυο αυτές εξέχουσες ομάδες, έχουν ιστορική παρουσία στο νησί, δική τους γλώσσα, ήθη, έθιμα και θρησκεία.

Βάση του συντάγματος του 1960 τα πολιτικά δικαιώματα των πολιτών της κυπριακής δημοκρατίας απορρέουν μέσα από τη συμμετοχή σε μια από τις δυο μεγάλες εθνοτικές ομάδες. Αυτό είναι που ονομάζουμε τον δικοινοτικό χαρακτήρα του συντάγματος του 1960.

Πιστεύω ότι η εν λόγω έμφαση στον δικοινοτισμό επηρρεάζει αρνητικά τις προοπτικές επιβίωσης εκείνων των ιστορικών κοινοτήτων της Κύπρου, όπως τη Μαρωντική, οι οποίες διαφέρουν από τις δυο δεσπόζουσες και συνταγματικά εξέχουσες εθνοτικές ομάδες.

Πως, με άλλα λόγια, χωρίς συγκεκριμένες διεκδικήσεις, η Μαρωνιτική κοινοτητα απειλείται με αφανισμό μέσω της αφομοίωσης της στην Ε/Κ εθνική ομάδα.

Για να γίνει αυτή η συζήτηση, χρειάζεται να γυρίσουμε πίσω στο έτος 1959 για να δούμε πως η Μαρωνίτικη κοινότητα υποβαθμίστηκε σε θρησκευτική ομάδα, και πως η κατηγοριοποίηση αυτή, η οποία μάλιστα εδραιώθηκε στο σύνταγμα του 1960, υποβίβασε την κοινότητα και τις πολιτικές διεκδικήσεις που αυτή δικαιούται να κάνει.

Το 1959 οι μειονότητες της Κύπρου καλέστηκαν να αποφασίσουν κατά πόσο θα ασπάζονταν την εθνική ταυτότητα της μιας ή της άλλης δεσπόζουσας εθνικής ομάδας. Δόθηκε δηλαδή μια περίοδος μερικών μηνών στους Μαρωνίτες, τους Αρμένιους και τους Λατίνους για να αποφασίσουν κατά πόσο είναι Έλληνες ή Τούρκοι. Άλλες ομάδες με ιστορική παρουσία στο νησί, όπως οι Ρωμά της Κύπρου, δεν ερωτήθηκαν καν.

Το δίλημμα αυτό, εκ προϊμίου προϋποθέτει ότι κοινότητες όπως η Μαρωνιτική, δεν έχουν δικό τους εθνικό χαρακτήρα, και ότι εκ των πραγμάτων είναι κατώτερες συνταγματικά από τις δυο δεσπόζουσες ομάδες, μέσω των οποίων παρέχεται πρόσβαση σε πολιτικά δικαιώματα.

Η ταυτότητα που επεβλήθηκε στις εν λόγω μειοψηφούσες κουλτούρες της Κύπρου ήταν αυτή της θρησκευτικής ομάδας. Δηλαδή η ολότητα και ο χαρακτήρας των ομάδων αυτών αγνοήθηκε, περιορίζοντας την ιδιαιτερότητα τους στο διαφορετικό της θρησκείας τους.

Ναι μεν υπάρχουν οι θρησκευτικές διαφορές, δηλαδή η Ε/Κ κοινότητα είναι στην πλειοψηφία της ορθόδοξη και η Μαρωνιτική στην πλειοψηφία της καθολική, αυτό όμως δε σημαίνει ότι οι διαφορές τελειώνουν εκεί.

Άλλωστε, η Μαρωνιτική κοινότητα έχει αιώνες δικής της ιστορίας και παρουσίας στο νησί, όπως και οι Ελληνοκύπριοι, έχει ήθη και έθιμα συγκεκριμένα στην κοινότητα, όπως δηλαδή και οι Ελληνοκύπριοι, έχει δική της γλώσσα μάλιστα αναγνωρισμένη από την UNESCO ως παγκόσμια κληρονομιά συγκεκριμένη στην Μαρωνιτική κοινότητα της Κύπρου, και διατηρεί πολιτιστικούς συνδέσμους με τον Λίβανο, όπως δηλαδή αντίστοιχα πράττει και η Ελληνοκυπριακή κοινότητα με την Ελλάδα.

Δεδομένου λοιπόν του παρόμοιου χαρακτήρα των δυο κοινοτήτων, η συνταγματική ανωτερότητα των Ε/Κ δεν μπορεί να δικαιολογηθεί.

Έχουμε δηλαδή το πρώτο κρατούμενο. Ότι οι Μαρωνίτες έχουν αδικηθεί βαση του συντάγματος του 1960 και ότι δεν διαφέρουν ως προς τον χαρακτήρα της κοινότητας τους από τις δυο δεσπόζουσες συνταγματικά εθνικές ομάδες.

Προχωράμε τώρα στο πιο θεωρητικό κομμάτι, για να κατανοήσουμε τους κινδύνους που ελλοχεύουν με τη συνέχιση της υποτελούς αναγνώρισης των Μαρωνιτών. Γιατί, με άλλα λόγια, μειονότητες, χρειάζονται ειδική μεταχείρηση ούτως ώστε να μπορέσει η κουλτούρα τους να επιβιώσει και να μην πέσει θύμα αφομοίωσης από την πλειοψηφούσα κοινοτητα.

Για να γίνει αυτή η συζήτηση, πρέπει να αναλογιστούμε τον ρόλο που διαδραματίζει το κράτος στη διατήρηση και την επιβίωση των εθνικών ταυτοτήτων. Παρόλο που θεωρητικά το κράτος είναι ουδέτερο, στην ουσία του προασπίζει και συντηρεί τις ταυτότητες της δεσπόζουσας εθνικής ομάδας. Λειτουργεί στη γλώσσα της ομάδας αυτής, τα σχολεία του διδάσκουν την ιστορία, τα ήθη και τα έθιμα της, τα πανεπιστήμια του λειτουργούν κυρίως με ακαδημαϊκούς προερχόμενους από την ομάδα αυτή, και ο όλος χαρακτήρας του κράτους φιλτράρεται μέσα από την ιστοριογραφία της πλειοψηφίας. Δηλαδή, θέλοντας ή μη, το κράτος προωθεί τις ταυτότητες της πλειοψηφίας. Με άλλα λόγια, σπονσάρει την επιβίωση της δεσπόζουσας εθνικής ομάδας.

Η μειοψηφίες που δεν απολαμβάνουν την προώθηση των ταυτοτήτων τους από το κράτος, σταδιακά αφομοιόνονται. Αφομοίωση συμβαίνει όταν μια κουλτούρα ταυτίζεται με τις ταυτότητες μιας άλλης ομάδας, χάνοντας σταδιακά τις δικές της.

Αυτό που συνέβηκε στη Κυπριακή Μαρωνιτική Αραβική γλώσσα είναι κλασσικό παράδειγμα, αποτέλεσμα της αφομοιοτικής πολιτικής που επιδιώχθηκε από την Κυπριακή Δημοκρατία από το 60 και εντεύθεν. Η γλώσσα αυτή αγνοήθηκε από προηγούμενους προέδρους ως μια διάλεκτος των Αραβικών που ομιλήται από μερικούς ηλικιωμένους στα Μαρωνιτικά χωριά, για τη διατήρηση και την εκμάθηση της οποίας δεν άξιζε να επενδυθούν λεφτά. Η γλώσσα αυτή, αναπόσπαστο κομμάτι της ταυτότητας της κοινότητας, αφέθηκε στον σταδιακό αφανισμό της, εωσότου ήρθε η UNESCΟ η οποία ανάγκασε την Κυπριακή Δημοκρατία να πάρει μέτρα προς τη διατήρηση της.

Κάτι παρόμοιο συμβαίνει και με την ιστορία της κοινότητας, η οποία απολαμβάνει ελάχιστου χώρου στα ιστορικά βιβλία και ελάχιστου χρόνου διδασκαλίας, φιλτράροντας την μάλιστα μέσω της ιστοριογραφίας των Ελληνοκυπρίων. Για τη διδασκαλία της ιστορίας των μειονοτήτων της Κύπρου έχει γράψει εκτενώς ο ιστορικός Αντρίκος Βαρνάβα, του οποίου τη δουλειά όποιος ενδιαφέρεται μπορεί να βρεί στο διαδίκτυο.

Έχουμε δηλαδή το δεύτερο κρατούμενο. Ότι οι ταυτότητες της πλειοψηφίας συντηρούνται από το κράτος και ότι χωρίς ειδική μεταχείρηση, η αφομοίωση των μειονοτήτων οδηγεί στον σταδιακό αφανισμό τους.

Προχωράμε τώρα στην ουσία της συζήτησης: τι εννοούμε ειδική μεταχείρηση.

Ειδική μεταχείρηση είναι η μεταχείρηση αυτή που θα επιτρέψει στην Μαρωνιτική κοινότητα να αποκτήσει έλεγχο πάνω στη γη της, δικαίωμα ψήφου στη βουλή για θέματα που αφορούν αποκλειστικά την κοινότητα, δικαίωμα στη διδασκαλία της γλώσσας και τη διδασκαλία της ιστορίας της, καθώς και δικαίωμα στη λειτουργία των εκκλησιών της και στην άσκηση των θρησκευτικών δικαιωμάτων των μελών της.

Για να διεκδικηθούν αυτά τα δικαιώματα δεν αρκεί η καλή θέληση ούτε της Μαρωνιτικής κοινότητας ούτε  και των δυο πλευρών Ελληνοκυπρίων και Τουρκοκυπρίων. Χρειάζεται αφενώς η αναγνώριση της κοινότητας ως ισότιμη εθνική κοινότητα ταυτόσημη με τους Ελληνοκύπριους και τους Τουρκοκύπριους, και αφετέρου η αναγνώριση της ιστορικής αδικίας που αυτή έχει υποστεί κατά τη δημιουργία του συντάγματος της Κυπριακής Δημοκρατίας.

Είναι μόνο βάση της αναγνώρισης της κοινότητας ως εθνική κοινότητα της Κύπρου που θα μπορέσει η ηγεσία της να διεκδικήσει τα προαναφερθέντα δικαιώματα. Η διεκδίκηση αυτών μπορεί να γίνει στα πλαίσια της ίσης μεταχείρισης των μελών της κάθε κοινότητας. Αν δηλαδή οι κοινότητες είναι ταυτόσημες ως προς τον χαρακτήρα τους, και δεδομένου ότι τα παιδιά των Ελληνοκυπρίων και των Τουρκοκυπρίων θα διδάσκονται την ιστορία και τη γλώσσα των κοινοτήτων τους στα κρατικά σχολεία, τότε στα πλαίσια της ίσης μεταχείρισης θα πρέπει να δικαιούται και η Μαρωνιτική κοινότητα να διεκδικήσει αντίστοιχα δικαιώματα.

Με άλλα λόγια τα δικαιώματα των Μαρωνιτών θα μπορούν να διεκδικηθούν μόνο μέσω της ρητής συνταγματικής αναγνώρισης της κουλτούρας τους ως ισότιμης των Ελληνοκυπρίων και των Τουρκοκυπρίων, στα πλαίσια του επιχειρήματος της ίσης μεταχείρισης των μελών της. Ελλείψει αυτού, η διατήρηση του υποτελούς χαρακτηρισμού της κοινότητας ως θρησκευτική ομάδα ή θρησκευτική μειονότητα, δε θα νομιμοποιεί το κράτος να προβεί σε οποιαδήποτε ειδική μεταχείριση πέραν της θρησκευτικής διάστασης, η οποία είναι ήδη λίγο-πολύ διασφαλισμένη.

Η δεύτερη διεκδίκηση, η αναγνώριση δηλαδή της ιστορικής αδικίας που έχει υποστεί η Μαρωνιτική κοινότητα, τίθεται ως εναλλακτική της πρώτης στρατηγικής, εκείνης της συνταγματικής αναγνώρισης. Αν, δηλαδή, για λόγους πέραν του ελέγχου της κοινότητας η συνταγματική της αναγνώριση δεν καταστεί δυνατή, τότε κάποιες από τις προαναφερθείσες διεκδικήσεις μπορούν να προβληθούν στα πλαίσια πολιτικών που έχουν στόχο την απάλυνση των αρνητικών συνεπειών της ιστορικής αδικίας που έχει υποστεί η κοινότητα. Στη γραμματεία της πολυπολιτισμικότητας αυτό ονομάζεται compensations for historical injustice.

Έχουμε δηλαδή το τρίτο κρατούμενο. Ότι για να διεκδικηθούν τα αυτονόητα δικαιώματα της κοινότητας χρειάζεται η συνταγματική της αναγνώριση, πάνω στην οποία θα βασιστούν οι διεκδικήσεις στα πλαίσια της ισότητας των μελών των εθνικών μειονοτήτων. Παράλληλα, πρέπει να επιδιωχθεί και η επιβεβαίωση της ιστορικής αδικίας που υπέστησαν οι Μαρωνίτες ως εναλλακτική πηγή διεκδίκησης των προαναφερθέντων δικαιωμάτων.

Προχωράμε τώρα στη συγκεκριμενοποίηση των διεκδικήσεων για να δούμε κατά πόσο αυτές είναι εφικτές. Η διεκδίκηση της συνταγματικής αναγνώρισης της Μαρωνιτικής κοινότητας δε σημαίνει την ταυτόσημη μεταχείρισή της με τις δυο εθνικές ομάδες. Με άλλα λόγια δεν πρέπει να περάσει η εντύπωση ότι αυτό που διεκδικεί η κοινότητα είναι ένα μοντέλο τριζωνικής τρικοινωτικής ομοσπονδίας.

Δεδομένης λοιπον της λεπτής θέσης της κοινότητας, πρέπει να υπάρξει προσοχή ούτως ώστε οι διεκδικήσεις της να μην ερμηνευτούν ως τροχοπέδη στις συνομιλίες. Γι’ αυτό μια από τις διεκδικήσεις της κοινότητας θα μπορούσε να ήταν όπως αυτή παραμείνει μέρος της Ε/Κ κοινότητας, αλλά υπό ένα ειδικό καθεστώς που θα της διασφαλίζει πρόσβαση στα δικαιώματα που αναφέρθηκαν πιο πάνω.

Στα πλαίσια αυτού του ειδικού καθεστώτος η κοινότητα μπορεί να ζητήσει τη συμπλεγματοποίηση των Μαρωνίτικων χωριών, όπου όλοι οι Μαρωνίτες θα μπορούν να εκλέγουν από κοινού την ηγεσία τους. Εναλλακτικά, και δεδομένου ότι δεν έχουμε γνώση του εδαφικού διακανονισμού, μπορεί να ζητηθεί όπως τα Μαρωνίτικα χωριά τεθούν υπό ομοσπονδιακή διοίκηση.

Η συμπλεγματοποίηση των χωριών είναι σημαντική ούτως ώστε να προωθηθεί η κοινότητα ως ενιαία και να μπορέσει να γίνει κεντρικός σχεδιασμός σχετικά με τις επιδιώκομενες πολιτικές και τον τρόπο όπως αυτές μπορούν να εφαρμοστούν.

Στα πλαίσια της συμπλεγματοποίησης θα πρέπει να αποσαφηνιστούν οι αρμοδιότητες που θα έχει η κοινότητα σε σχέση πάντα με τις δυνατότητές της — κυρίως τις οικονομικές και τις διαχειριστικές. Για να γίνει όμως αυτό χρειάζεται διαβούλευση μεταξύ των μελών της κοινότητας καθώς και η βεβαιότητα ότι η επιδιωκόμενης οδός εκφράζει την κοινή βούληση της πλειοψηφίας των Μαρωνιτών.

Δυστυχώς η ευτυχώς η κοινότητα βρίσκεται σε ένα ιστορικό σταυροδρόμι που θα καθορίσει το μέλλον της. Η απόφαση δεν μπορεί να αναβληθεί ούτε και θα μπορεί να αναστραφεί εκ των υστέρων. Οι επιλογές είναι δυο: η σταδιακή συνέχιση της αφομοίωσης που λαμβάνει χώρα, ή η διεκδίκηση δικαιωμάτων και πόρων για ένα καθεστώς μερικής αυτονομίας που θα επιτρέψει τη διατήρηση, την προώθηση και την εξέλιξη των ταυτοτήτων της κοινότητας.

Πριν ολοκληρώσω θέλω να τονίσω ότι η θέση στην οποία βρίσκεται η Μαρωνιτική κοινότητα δεν αποτελεί παγκόσμια πρωτοτυπία όπως αρεσκόμαστε να λέμε στην Κύπρο. Είναι παγκόσμιο φαινόμενοι οι ιστορικές εθνικές μειονότητες να διεκδικούν ειδική μεταχείρηση — στα αγγλικά αυτό ονομάζεται group differentiated rights for national minorities.

Αντιλαμβάνομαι ότι οι ανησυχίες είναι πολλές και εύλογες. Όμως το δεδομένο παραμένει: με την πρόταση αυτή η κοινότητα δεν ζητά τίποτε περισσότερο απ’ ότι διασφαλίζουν διεθνείς συνθήκες — δηλαδή, την ισότιμη μεταχείρηση των μελών της και το δικαίωμα τους στην επιβίωση της κουλτούρας τους.

[*] Εθνικές και εθνοτικές μειονότητες είναι όροι που χρησιμοποιώ εναλλάξ αναφερόμενος σε “national minorities”.

What is nation-building? Rousseau might have the answer

We do not live in monocultural states. Our modern states are multicultural and include people with different life-plans, comprehensive doctrines, and perceptions of the good-life. As such, the concept of the nation-state is outdated and so are nation-building policies. If ever states were monocultural, they no longer are. Now states are multinational. But how did the now outdated idea of the nation-state came about? By reading the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau we can get an insight into the thinking that established what we today describe as nation-building policies.

The state and the nation are two concepts that have been combined, creating the modern understanding of the nation-state. The theoretical origins of the nation-state are found in Rousseau’s idea of the general will. Rousseau, in the Social Contract, writes:

So long as several men united consider themselves a single body, they have but a single will, which is concerned with their common preservation, and the general welfare.

Rousseau revolutionised the relationship between individuals and authority. The authority lay in the will of the people, and not on the will of a king or a despot. The concept of the “general will” is the self-rule of the people. The people are the state and the state reflects the will of the people. When understanding the state as the embodiment of the general will of the people, those who deviate from the popular will, are challenging the state, and diversity of wills is threatening the welfare of the state, and in effect, the well-being of the people. Rousseau explains what happens when the general will is undermined:

When the social knot begins to weaken; when particular interests begin to make themselves felt and small societies to influence the larger society, the common interest diminishes and meets with opposition, votes are no longer unanimous, the general will is no longer the will of all, contradictions and disagreements arise, and the best opinion no longer carries the day unchallenged.

Therefore, according to Rousseau, the people are the state, and when the prevailing view of the common good is challenged the state is in jeopardy. This is so, because the state is the nation and the nation embodies in itself a shared understanding of the good. The state therefore, is aligned with the nation, and it encompasses the values and life-plan of the dominant cultural/national/ethnic group. This is why measures need to be taken in order to safeguard the general-will. Those measures are what we today call “nation-building,” which is the cultivation of a common set of values, ideals and conceptions relevant to a common polity.

The communal aspect of Rousseau’s understanding of the state is described in the final parts of Emile, where he provides a reformulation of the political theory advanced in the Social Contract. Rousseau might have been a social contract theorist, but his idea of the contract amongst individuals is communal rather than atomistic. This is obvious through his definition of the body-politic which, as he describes, is the outcome of the contract.

Each of us puts his goods, his person, his life, and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and we as a body accept each member as a part indivisible of the whole.

Rousseau understood that the development of the consciousness of the “general will” was not a straightforward affair and so he introduced the concept of the lawgiver in the Social Contract. The lawgiver is an imaginary perfect man, whose role is to help individuals evolve from the state of nature and enter into a social contract; in effect, the lawgiver is the deus ex machine which shows people (the members of a future common state) their common identity and shared interests. The lawgiver will transform the individual from a solitary being, to a member of a community. That community is the state. There is no public space beyond the state. The only alternative to the state, according to Rousseau, is the family, which, as it is demonstrated in the raising of Emile, provides the moral capacities necessary for the participation to the public sphere.

Once the body-politic has been identified as the nation and the state as the embodiment of the nation, it is easy to understand how the modern understanding of the state as a nation-state emerged. Now, I shall proceed to address the methods employed for the maintenance of the state; methods that have become known as nation-building measures or techniques.

The most lucid description of nation-building comes from the political historian Eric Hobsbawm, who describes nation-building as “a set of practices, normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and of a ritual or symbolic nature, which seek to inculcate certain values and norms of behaviour by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the past.”

The historian Eric Hobsbawm
The historian Eric Hobsbawm

According to Hobsbawm’s version, nation-building relies upon invented traditions; upon the idea that the members of a collective are bounded by a historical and cultural past, whose continuity is maintained through time, and as a result, its continuity to the future is necessary for the maintenance of the self-image of the individual, which is directly related to that of the nation.

Nation-building cannot be defined as a specific set of policies aimed at the maintenance of a sense of commonness, since different states have promoted different policies of cultivating a sense of common belonging. Therefore, to reduce the concept of nation-building to a set of practices, would be to open the doors for disagreements over its exact nature.

I take nation-building to be the state-sponsored promotion of policies whose aim is to promote the initial point of commonness of a collective and invent further points of intersection. I claim that the foremost feature of nation-building is to promote the initial point of reference, because, as Tamir rightly argues, one collective cannot declare itself as a nation merely based on the will of its members.

Nationhood derives from something common like religion, history, language or traditions; as such, nation-building is the promotion of one of these features and the invention of new ones. Predominantly, the main aim of a nation-building policy, as Tamir explains, is to “to create the illusion of a ‘natural’ unit with a long, mostly glorious history and a promising future.”

The UN and the EU should use their carrots to steer towards a multicultural solution

Published in the Cyprus-Mail under the title “Role upgrade needed for EU and UN,” May 21st, 2015.

Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots have not been able to solve the Cyprus problem between them. Neither have they been able to solve it through the involvement of their respective motherlands. The Cyprus problem will only be solved through the United Nations and the European Union, who are already involved in the process, and who should use the carrots that they hold in order to steer the two sides towards a multicultural solution. Bear with me, this is not yet another oft-repeated Cyprob cliché.

The aforementioned intergovernmental organisations must promote the respect of diversity and the rights of all people — including non-dominant national minorities (e.g. Maronites, Armenians and Latins) and new migrant groups — over their culture, language and history. In order to guarantee fair treatment, we need to re-think the bicommunal exceptionalism of the negotiated constitution; namely, to consider whether we are still right in treating Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots as exceptional. We cannot have a healthy debate without the creation of a safe space where non-dominant minorities can express their demands in relation to the upcoming solution plan. And the only way to establish this safe space is through the EU and the UN.

Let us now consider what carrots the UN and the EU hold, which they could use to steer the two sides towards a multicultural solution.

The United Nations provide their good offices through the office of their representative in Cyprus. The UN have an advisory role, which means that they cannot force or enforce any decision; it is up to the constitutive sides to reach an agreement. Nevertheless, the UN are those with the expert knowledge, responsible for drafting and facilitating the negotiation for the new constitution.

The European Union is also involved in the negotiations, albeit through a less hands-on approach in comparison to the UN; one that nonetheless spans multiple domains. The European Commission releases the Annual Enlargement Package, which includes strategy and progress reports for each country. A lot of political weight is put into those reports, since they decide whether additional requirements will be imposed on the accession criteria of states that aspire to join the Union. As such, the EU has the ability — and does exercise it — to put pressure on Turkey through its Annual Progress Report.

Similarly, the European Commission can exercise pressure on the leadership of the Turkish Cypriot community. The EC has set up a Directorate-general for Enlargement which has, in turn, set up a task force for the Turkish Cypriot Community, that runs a Programme Support Office (EUPSO) in north Cyprus. The Aid provided by the EU through EUPSO aims to facilitate the social and economic development of northern Cyprus, to develop and refurbish its infrastructure, to support civil society in creating initiatives for reconciliation and to prepare the post-solution implementation of EU law. The Aid programme was established in 2006, and it had an initial life-span of five years, but it was extended from 2011 onwards with an additional €28 million annually, in support of the on-going UN process.

Thus the TC leadership has a very good monetary incentive to abide by the Commission’s guidance, and Turkey — through the Progress Report and because of the fact that in absence of the EUPSO Aid given to the TC, the gap in TRNC’s balance of payments would have to be filled by the Turkish state, which finances the regime in the north — is also incentivised towards finding a comprehensive settlement to the Cyprus problem.

The Republic of Cyprus, on the other hand, is already bound to the EU as all member-states are, and as such it is also incentivised for cooperation on finding a solution to the problem. Since March 25th, 2013, the RoC has an additional motivation to seek a solution. A solution to the Cyprus problem would be beneficial to the economy, and given that the RoC is under a Memorandum of Understanding with the Troika it is in dire need of political initiatives that will have financially beneficial outcomes for the country’s economy.

The authority of the EU and the UN is deliberately interwoven. The objectives of the UN and the EU in relation to the Cyprus problem are the same, and they are supported both materially and practically — the Aid and Grants of the EU, the good services of the UN in Cyprus, and the EU’s role as a guarantor for the success of the new constitution. Furthermore, the UN Security Council’s Resolutions and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights pertaining to Cyprus are used as political assets by both sides — thus the resolutions, ruling and reports issued by the two intergovernmental institutions can easily shift the balance of power between the two communities.

A recent example that followed the rejection of the Annan Plan by the Greek Cypriots, has been the creation of the Immovable Property Commission, where the ECtHR ruled that a new court would be set up in north Cyprus to resolve property disputes related to GC properties in northern Cyprus. The creation of IPC has shifted the balance of power between the two sides considerably, because it was the first EU-sanctioned institution established in the internationally unrecognised TRNC. Whereas the GC political elites maintain that taking a case to the IPC means recognising TRNC, the ECtHR clarified that the IPC does not constitute a recognition of the state in the north, for it is placed under the authority of Turkey and not TRNC.

Nevertheless, the public attitudes towards the EU and the UN are low amongst both the Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots. According to the latest Eurobarometer data, 86% of the Greek Cypriots believe that their voice does not count in the EU. 77% of GCs believe that their voice does not count in Cyprus either. 52% of Greek Cypriots are against the Euro and only 46% believe that they are citizens of the EU. The Eurobarometer results for the TC communirty show that 57% of TCs answered that they trust the EU and 49% have a “total positive” image of it. Trust towards the UN was slightly lower at 47%.

The opinion polls paint a bleak picture of the UN and EU. There is consensus of distrust towards the EU and the UN by both GCs and TCs, which is featured consistently across different surveys. Nevertheless, the negative consensus can be justified — the Annan Plan was rejected, all attempts for reunification since then have failed, and both states have been subject to severe austerity measures.

The success of the negotiations relies upon a positive consensus on the involvement of IOs in the process of reaching a comprehensive solution of the Cyprus problem. It is less a matter of transference of power from the domestic to the international, and more an issue of revision of the existing involvement of these intergovernmental institutions to the Cyprus problem; to revise their involvement in order to make sure that it is in accordance and compatible with the Lisbon Treaty and the Charter of the UN, which both explicitly uphold the respect of diversity. It would require that the EU or the UN provide arbitration for the deliberation over the rights of minority cultures, making sure that cultures are not denied rights because their cultural identities are ignored or misrepresented.

Should we reconsider the “Bi” in Bizonal Bicommunal Federation?

Published in the Cyprus-Mail under the title “Reconsidering the ‘bi’ in bizonal, bicommunal federation,” May 24th, 2015.

Once the dual meaning of the term “Greek-Cypriot” is deciphered, then one must proceed to understand the process of misrecognition that took place during the crafting of the 1960s constitution. Non-dominant minorities have experienced their ethnic, religious and linguistic identities denied to them in the name of their membership to the Greek Cypriot culture. This is what I describe as the process of misrecognition, where the initial classification of a cultural group conditions the demands that the group is entitled to make. Such acts of misrecognition have been legitimised with the 1960 bicommunally-organised constitution, and perpetuated in all the subsequent solution plans. Thus, the constitutional model negotiated since then, called the Bizonal Bicommunal Federation (BBF), is open to challenge on the grounds that it suppresses cultural diversity through misrecognition and cultural assimilation.

Bizonality is one of the more controversial aspects of the negotiated constitutional model, because it grants each culture specific rights over land. The geographical area of Cyprus, both north and south, will be divided into two parts of different sizes, where each ethnic group will preside over. The opponents of bizonality, like the Social Democratic EDEK, claim that the concept of bizonality is original to Cyprus, since it has no precedence of application in any other country. Nevertheless, bizonality is another form of territorial rights, similar to those found in Australia, where certain indigenous populations retain rights over specific pieces of land. More specifically, in Australia 417,318 square kilometres of Aboriginal freehold land are regulated by Land Councils under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act of 1976.

The arguments against bizonality are often defended on anti-prejudice grounds: that it is prejudiced to restrict the right of movement of people, but they rest on false premises because they misunderstand the nature of the territorial rights in question: freedom of movement is not curtailed, people will still be able to move and live in the zones controlled by the other ethnic group, the only difference is that local governance will be up to the other national group.

The rejection of bizonality is often intertwined with a rejection of federalism altogether. To reject a federal solution to the Cyprus problem is not often part of the public discourse in Cyprus. It is something only featured among the supporters of the far-right. Supporters of the mainstream political parties, who are critical of a federal solution, often displace their discontent of federalism through the rejection of bizonality, although in essence they reject the latter. The most popular criticism that they level against it, again in the name of anti-prejudice, is that it is discriminatory to violate the premise of “one (hu)man one vote.” Nevertheless, balanced voting is a defining feature of many federal constitutions, used to protect the interests of minority cultures. The most popular example of this can be seen in the United States, where the weight of individual votes depends on the size of that state.

Irrespective of the popular discourse around the type of the negotiated constitution, certain aspects of BBF cannot be dispersed.The TCs would hardly concede to a solution that lacked the following three attributes: self-governmental rights in a federal state, territorial rights in that state, and Turkey as a guarantor of the security of that state. It is important to understand that the TCs, in almost an identical way as the GCs, have experienced the construction of their national identity in opposition to “the other” — through nation building and competing historiographies. At the same, the non-dominant minority cultures were assimilated through misrecognition and forced membership to one of the two constitutionally exceptional cultural groups. The challenge that a multiculturally-organised constitution needs to tackle is how to find the balance between the security-related concerns of the main groups (GCs and TCs), whilst compensating the non-dominant minorities for the costs imposed upon them through their historical constitutional misrecognition.

To resolve these challenges the role of the intergovernmental institutions involved in the process of finding a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem need to be reconsidered, as well as the currently-negotiated constitutional model, the Bizonal Bicommunal Federation.

Starting with the latter, the reasons why a federal solution is the only type of constitution likely to be accepted by all the national groups of the island, requires little discussion — it is the only model likely to be accepted by both sides.

Greek Cypriots favor a unitary state over other alternatives. Federation is a distant second, but still acceptable to a majority of the population. A continuation of the status quo is seen as unacceptable by the majority of population. […] Turkish Cypriots favor two states, but are prepared to accept federation as a compromise. Continuation of the status quo is also a tolerable option to Turkish Cypriots.

The opposite model, that of a unitary state, cannot ease the security-concerns of the TCs and given the post-violent climate, it stands to reason that a federal solution with territorial rights to the two dominant groups whose identities are competing, is the only constitutional model likely to be accepted, and most importantly, the only likely to be functional and able to provide a structure that promotes the peaceful coexistence of the two peoples. What must be reconsidered is not the federal basis of the negotiated constitution, but rather its binary character. This view is one that is almost never articulated in the discourse of the Cyprus problem, even though it is clearly the source of much conflict. The emphasis is usually placed on whether the future state should be federal or not, and whether the minority TC culture should have territorial rights in the form of political control over a zone. Instead, the emphasis should shift towards the binary application of those two constitutional provisions, which exclude the rest of the national cultures of the island.

In revising the “Bi” in “Bizonal, Bicommunal, Federation,” one must consider what rights must be extended to the members of the non-dominant minorities of the island, in order to compensate them for their historically unjust treatment. This view has the implication that Armenians, Latins, Maronites and Roma as citizens of the Republic of Cyprus, can rightfully advance claims for self-governmental and territorial rights, in the same way as the TCs do. An argument against this implication is the impracticability objection: that it would be politically messy in terms of governmentality, and invariably costly in terms of application, to provide self-governmental and territorial rights to all the national minorities on the island. Although the view that it would be impossible to extend (some of) the rights that the TCs will be afforded in future constitutions to non-dominant minorities has merit, there is no evidence to support it because it has never been seriously considered. In any case, the devolution of powers to, for example, the local councils of Maronites is not something that would be either terribly costly or grossly impractical. It is not the academic (or the politician for that matter) who must decide what rights must be granted to minorities. It is the minorities themselves that are burdened with the task of articulating their demands. Thus, until a process is established where minorities, under full knowledge of their options, can securely articulate their demands, one cannot know what those might be.

To this end, a process of internationally-facilitated recognition of minority cultures can be particularly conducive to the process of the communication of the demands of minority cultures, necessary for the creation of a new negotiating framework for the constitution of Cyprus. In order to compensate for the historical injustice of misrecognition, the exclusion and assimilation that minority cultures have experienced through the binary nature of the constitution need to be mitigated. A new constitution, one that is based on multicultural rather than bicommunal constitutionalism must be established; one that includes all cultures in the debate, and guarantees their equal standing within it. To this day, the members of non-dominant minority cultures are considered part of the GC civic group, and thus denied part of their cultural identity. In order to overcome this political and cultural deadlock, an external arbitration arrangement is needed to facilitate the process of their recognition — one that must underpin any future deliberation between members of majority and minority cultures.

What it means to be a Greek-Cypriot?

Published in the Cyprus-Mail, May 17th 2015.

In the case of Cyprus one must distinguish between the dual-meaning and usage of the dominant cultural identity.

The identity and label of the Greek Cypriot (GC) can have two completely different meanings: there is a constitutional (civic) definition and a cultural definition. The civic definition is that which is found in the 1960 constitution of the Republic of Cyprus, where a GC is a member of the Greek national group. Nevertheless, the civic definition of being a Greek Cypriot includes Armenians, Latins and Maronites, who “chose” to join the GC ethnic group back in 1959, only months before the introduction of the new constitution, as well as recently naturalised third country nationals.

As such, to be a GC in the civic sense does not mean being a member of a historical association based on a common sense of belonging to a community of fate, religion, lineage, language and customs. Rather, it means being a member of a civic group dominated by a specific cultural group.

By being a member of this constitutionally-recognised collective, the groups whose culture is different from the dominant group, are subject to assimilation because their own culture is not recognised.

The civic definition therefore is: the constitutional recognition of a collective that identifies based on the values of the dominant group of a country, but whose membership spans beyond the cultural natives of that dominant group; people from different (minority) cultures are assimilated to it — they are identified as members of the dominant culture and in doing so are denied their native cultural identity.

The civic conception of culture is able to accommodate more members than the alternative, ethnic “cultural” conception, which forms the core of the civic identity, since the former provides the values upon which the latter is based. The cultural conception relies upon ethnicity as its determinant of identity and as such, it is less welcoming and more exclusionary than the civic conception, since it can only accommodate people who are born into the culture. The cultural definition includes the members of one imaginary community — in the case of the Greek Cypriots it includes those members who are being identified as part of the Greek ethnos. The agency of the individual members has little relevance. One cannot cease being a Greek Cypriot; membership to an ethnic culture is a blood bond rather than a product of voluntary decision-making. Individuals need not espouse the bundle of identities that make up the ethnic whole in order for them to be considered rightful members of that culture — blood is enough. For instance, one can be a Greek Cypriot whilst being an Atheist, thus diverging from the ethnic definition of Greeks as Christian Orthodox; or one can be a GC without speaking the Cypriot dialect of the Greek language, like the children of expats, which are nonetheless considered members of the GC culture.

In the case of Cyprus it is of utmost importance to understand that the identity of the “Greek Cypriot” can have a dual meaning, describing two different groups of people. The civic definition includes the members of the Greek ethnic group but goes beyond it to include the post-1959 new recruits — Maronites, Latins, Armenians — whilst at the same time promoting the values, customs and history of the dominant ethnic group.

It would therefore be a mistake to assume that there is a uniform culture of Greeks Cypriots, conceived as a solidified and homogeneous group whose values must be guaranteed by the state. Only when the dual meaning of being a Greek Cypriot is grasped, will one be able to proceed and question whether it is desirable, or even politically legitimate, to apply and reinforce the dominance of the ethnic identity upon the members of the civic group.

Thus, in the first instance, when one reflects on the case of Cyprus, one must distinguish between ethnic and civic conceptions of national cultures, which are then to be distinguished from the individual cultural allegiances, or lack thereof, of their members.

In Cyprus, the dominant narrative on both sides of the divide is to refute the fact that the cultural distinctions established and institutionalised with the 1960 constitution resulted in the assimilation of people whose ethnic identities diverge from the two constitutionally-recognised ones, or of people who do not perceive themselves as members of either cultural group. This dominant perspective has survived throughout the second half of the 20th century, and has found its way into all the solution plans (constitutions) negotiated since then. All the constitutional solutions to the Cyprus problem treat the two cultures as exceptional by granting them more rights than the rest, allowing for the gradual extinction through assimilation of those cultures that are civically-classified as members of the GC, but are nonetheless cultural members of other associations, and therefore not members of the Greek ethnic group.

The hidden agenda behind the explicit criminalisation of sex-selective abortion

Women, like men, live in societies and make choices based on the norms and constraints that exist within those societies. Accepting diversity means accepting the fact that different people hold different conceptions of the good life. As long as people make autonomous choices within those constraints, the government should keep out of it.

Women, like men, live in societies and make choices based on the norms and constraints that exist within those societies. Accepting diversity means accepting the fact that different people hold different conceptions of the good life. As long as people make autonomous choices within those constraints, the government should keep out of it.

A British or an American-born woman will likely choose to abort her foetus if she has no means to support it, or if bringing it up would affect her circumstances to such as an extent that she finds unacceptable. She makes the choice based on the constraints of her community, which holds financial independence and material affluence to high regard.

Can someone meaningfully argue against that woman’s right to abort? Can one object on the grounds that she is forced into it due to the pressures imposed upon her by the cultural norms of western societies? I think not. Yes, you could object to the abortion on religious or other grounds, but not using the argument that it is a product of cultural oppression.

Gruesome as it may be, sex-selective abortion falls within the same parameters. Sex-selective abortion is a practice that responds to the norms of some cultures, in the same way as financially-motivated abortions are a product of decision within the constraints of western liberal cultures. Insofar as it is the autonomous choice of women, where informed adults exercise their agency over their reproductive rights within the inevitable constraints of their societies or cultures, the state cannot legitimately intervene. As such, the amendment to the law to explicitly criminalise sex-selective abortion, has a hidden agenda: to criminalise all abortions and in doing so to restrict women’s reproductive freedoms.

The state should not be in the business of regulating people’s lives. Rather, it should guarantee that the women in question make autonomous decisions without coercion, and that they are aware of alternative options available to them; options that they might so choose if and when they want to.

The state should guarantee that the women in question enjoy a substantive right of exit from their cultures. A right of exit is very different from forcing a woman to give up her reproductive rights. Similarly, providing a right of exit should not entail the destruction of her culture, as it provides context-of-choice for her – a term coined by the Canadian philosopher Will Kymlicka.

Guaranteeing autonomous choice and a substantive right of exit for women, means that the state must guarantee that women have a right to education and that they are aware of the existence of a safety net beyond the structures of their culture. Both conditions rest on the availability of a welfare state that will provide educational opportunities, structures that will help women to get back on their feet if they choose to alienate themselves from their families and friends, and overall gender equality within society: in the job market, in universities, in the media, in the arts and, of course, in public office.

Restricting women’s reproductive rights is not the way to go. On the practical side, there is no way to enforce such a measure without the state shoving its nose into people’s private lives (the law already prohibits SSAs, the new amendment wants to recognise the “rights of the unborn” independent of the pregnant woman, as many academics rightly argued in a letter to the Telegraph). More substantially though, it doesn’t solve the problem. If it’s not sex-selective abortion it will be something else. And then something else. And some more. How far do we want to take it before our private decisions are first vetted by the value-system of the majority societal cultures?

A small state, as the one envisioned by the Conservative party, cannot guarantee people’s right to live their lives as they see fit. The erosion of the welfare provisions of the state leaves it unable to guarantee a substantive right of exit of individuals from their cultures. It can only act as a bully — by intervening and asserting its authority through a blanket ban on some practices, which rests on the arrogant superiority that women in minority cultures are victims of oppression who cannot make autonomous decisions.

In doing so, the sack of Aeolus opens and more restrictions on women’s control over their bodies is under way. Now it’s self-selective abortion, in a few years, provided that the majority culture deems it prudent, it might be all abortions, “our” abortions. When we talk about the rights of “others” is easy to miss how their restriction could backlash against the rights that feminists have fought for and won after centuries of oppression by us, men.

Am I the right person to talk about women’s reproductive rights? Probably not. I will never experience giving birth and I will never be in a position where I will have to make choices such as these. Nevertheless, neither are most western activists who campaign in favour of the explicit criminalisation of sex-selective abortions. The voices that need to be amplified, those we really need to hear, are the voices of women who face this choice.

If the objective is not to ban abortions altogether, if there is no hidden agenda against all abortions behind the proposed amendment, then we need to start talking about the empowerment of women and the unjust hierarchical structures that constrain the options available to them. We must engage with women who face decisions that we find problematic and learn from them instead of classifying them as victims of oppression who have no agency or control over their lives.

And history can teach us a few things on that. Not too long ago, France banned the veil in public schools. Three girls were expelled from their school for refusing to conform. A great debate took place, from which the only people missing were the three girls whose choice to wear the veil was considered problematic by the majority of French people. When the girls were later interviewed it became obvious that their decision to wear the veil was autonomous and reasoned, and that the veil was an assertion of their identity rather than a product of an oppressive culture that left them no other choice.

We need to avoid the restriction of women’s right to choose how to deal with their own bodies and we need to take positive steps to make sure that the choices they make reflect the exercise of their informed judgement and not the pressure of their families or cultures. Explicitly criminalising sex-selective abortions achieves neither objective. Instead, it will endanger the lives of women who will seek alternative — underground — means to get those abortions and will, at the same time, limit the reproductive rights of women in general, as is the objective of the so called pro-life group behind the proposed amendment.

Published in the Huffington Post. For comments head to the original article.

Time to rethink the book ban

A Cypriot was stopped at Stansted Airport because he was carrying emergency flares with him. The person that will likely carry mini-explosives to the airport is either a potential terrorist or “stupid and naive”, and it makes sense for the authorities to assume that he is the former. As it turned out, the defendant was not a terrorist.

If this was a story about a 22 year-old with a box of distress signal mini-flares in his luggage, then there would be nothing controversial about it, besides perhaps the fact that the police actually returned the flares to him once they charged him. As it turns out, the problem were not the flares, but rather a book he was reading, called the Anarchist Cookbook, which was published in 1971.

Five months before his airport arrest, Andreas Pierides, a Cypriot student at the University of Southampton’s Business School, was photographed by a fellow train passenger reading the Anarchist Cookbook on his kindle. The eager co-passenger reported Pierides to the police and handed them over the pictures of Pierides reading the prohibited book.

The Anarchistic Cookbook, featured here on Vice, was written to express the anger of its author William Powell, who explained in the Guardian that he wrote the book because he was “being actively pursued by the US military, who seemed single-mindedly determined to send me to fight, and possibly die, in Vietnam.” It includes instructions on how to create bombs, LSD and other fun stuff.

It is prime time for an open debate about the practice of banning books. Not only because it violates people’s freedom of choice and expression, but also because it is impractical and costly. This debate needs to take place in light of the expiry of the copyrights of Hitler’s magnum opus Mein Kampfarguably the most controversial book of the previous century. The copyrights are currently held by the Bavarian state government, which prohibits its publication in Germany. In 2015 the copyrights will expire, and the German politicians will be called to decide whether to ban the book or not.

We live in an era were only rudimentary knowledge of computers is needed in order to browse the internet almost completely anonymously. Leaving all moral justifications aside, the sheer costs in money and privacy of banning books are enormous; so much so that it makes it irrational to maintain that banning them is either desirable or even possible.

The enforcement of such laws require the secret service agencies, be them the NSA or the GCHQ, to constantly monitor the activities of their citizens, and to apprehend them not for the crimes they have committed, or for the crimes that they are thinking about committing, but about the potential crimes that reading a book might lead them to commit. Do we really want to live in a twisted geeky version of the Minority Reportwhere citizens are arrested for future crimes they had not even considered committing?

The violation of people’s privacy, albeit the most important consideration, is not the only non-moral cost involved. The motivation that drove the fellow passenger to call the police on Pierides was guided by what I assume were well-meaning concerns about public safety. If fraternisation in a democratic society is curtailed by suspicion, mistrust and security considerations, it will gradually lead to the erosion of that society, because it will undermine the capacities of its citizens for cooperation and — dare I say it — comradership; necessary for the implementation of any redistributive programme by the government.

Banning books is as misguided as it is banal; it misses on how societies and individuals evolved with the popularisation of the internet. The internet created more open societies. It enabled people to transcend their cultural boundaries and to use the tools of other cultures to reform their own. Along with a culture of openness, it created a new kind of citizen, the scavenger citizen. Citizens that have access to enormous amounts of data that they skillfully navigate in order to find what they are looking for. The scavenger citizen is much more critical than the previous, analog citizen, and much more able to examine and reject new pieces of information.

The scavenger citizen deliberates over issues online, transforming the way political debate and deliberation takes place. The fear that books will adversely influence this new type of citizen, shows a complete mistrust towards their abilities and creates a flair of mystery around the subject-matter of the book, making it more attractive to young people who tend to be more susceptible to exoticised topics.

There is a dilemma here that we need to address: we will either live under a constant worry for our well-being in a securitised society that considers the private sphere as the place where potential terrorists are groomed, or we will try to achieve a more equal and inclusive society that trusts those living within its bounds. The more we emphasise security over equality, the more home-grown terrorists we will see. The way to tackle the problem is not by banning books or by monitoring every private moment of free citizens’ lives. The only way to make people less eager and less susceptible to influence of extreme ideologies is by providing them with a structure of equal opportunities, an inclusive society that does not exclude them because of their religion, language or skin-colour.

The issue on whether to ban books or not is not an isolated topic. It is part of a wider discussion on multiculturalism, economic and social inequality, and the freedom of choice and expression of people living in liberal countries. If people feel excluded from the society they live in because of the diminished life-chances that they have, they will be more susceptible to be influenced by extreme ideologies, and more eager to radicalise. The solution is not to proclaim that multiculturalism has failed and embark in a full speed attack on people’s freedoms, but rather to try and think about multiculturalism as linked to economic and social inequality, and to figure out how best ton integrate people from other cultures into your country.

Until the challenges are seen as part of a wider bundle, governments will keep censoring books and violating the privacy of their citizens to defend their “freedom from fear,” as George W. Bush used to say.

Published in the Cyprus-Mail on August 31st, 2014, under the title Time to rethink the book ban

Not very British #BritishValues: how Cameron silences minorities

In his article on Mail on Sunday, the British Prime Minister explains that values such as freedom, tolerance, social responsibility and the rule of law are virtues distinctively British that should be taught in schools. Cameron is factually, conceptually, historically and empirically wrong.

These values he describes — tolerance, freedom, social responsibility, the rule of law — are desirable and worth upholding, but they are not ‘British’. They are global values that feature at the core documents of the biggest intergovernmental organisations like the Charter of the United Nations and the Lisbon Treaty. At best, they could be described as ‘Western Values’; an equally misguided conclusion since it assumes that non-Western countries endorse slavery, which is the opposite of freedom.

Cameron is not only appropriating the whole of liberal political thought, he is also sterilising it by cutting it off from the historical developments and philosophical waves that have influenced it. Cameron’s analysis is therefore conceptually naive. It cannot capture the evolution of concepts such as freedom and toleration. A useful reading for the PM would be Lord Parekh’s book Rethinking Multiculturalism, which traces the historical, geographical and philosophical evolution of the concept of diversity, demonstrating its cross-cultural character. As the law professor John Tasioulas wrote: “real values, unlike good cheese and wine, are not geographically specified.” Britain did not invent these concepts and there is nothing distinctively British about them. The most we can say is that the UK provides a successful example for the application of some of these values; for instance, by providing religious exceptions to Sikhs, it has set a precedent for the accommodation of cultural and religious minorities in the EU.

Cameron’s appropriation of values such as freedom and toleration is not only conceptually challenged, it is also ahistorical, or even worse, historically selective. James Tully, a Canadian philosopher and one of the most celebrated Lockean scholars, has explained how John Locke’s philosophy was written at the back of British imperialism and how it was used to explain the appropriation of Aboriginal peoples’ land in the colonies. David Cameron appropriates the liberal values that philosophers like Locke have pioneered, but he does not explain the historical context that brought them about. He does not talk about British imperialism, slavery and racism, which are fundamental characteristics of the British Empire. If Britain is to be proclaimed the originator of these values, then it is only fair to highlight its other contributions to human civilisation rather than to cherry-pick the bits of history that make Britain proud.

Cameron’s rhetoric on British Values is also empirically misguided. It misrepresents the current debates in British society. The PM used a fabricated letter — a hoax — to argue that Britain is threatened by Islamic extremists. Within this narrative, the non-extremists are described as moderates. And moderate is what you are before you become an extremist. He is making a double division: on the one hand he divides British society between those that are properly British and uphold the values of Britain and those that are not; and on the other hand, he divides Muslims into moderates and extremists.

In doing so he is silencing the overwhelming majority of Muslims living in the UK; people who are political liberals that accept the main premises upon which the British society is structured. These people are making demands on the grounds of liberal equality. They ask for the same treatment as the members of the majority societal culture, whose culture is engrained into the institutions of the state. The most obvious example of the ethnocultural bias of the British state can be seen in the appointments at the House of Lords: it has 26 Anglican Bishops as Spiritual Peers that influence the law on ‘moral’ issues such as homosexuality. Another example is the debate on faith schools, which is presented as a distinctively Muslim demand, obscuring away from the fact that Christian Schools of the Anglican church that receive money from the state far precede and outnumber their Muslim equivalents. David Cameron does not accept that (a) his country is a multi-nation country and (b) that all states are ethnoculturally biased in favour of the members of the dominant societal culture. In doing so, he is silencing the liberal demands brought forward by members of minority groups.

David Cameron not only misrepresents minority groups and the nature of the demands that they make, he is also skewing the whole debate on minority rights. The debate is not whether someone says “oh, and by the way, I don’t accept freedom of speech”. The debate is about how to balance different ‘liberal’ and ‘desirable’ principles with each other. How to balance, for instance, the liberal principles of freedom and equality. The government should enter into a productive dialogue with these cultures in order to find a way to accommodate their demands within the bounds of liberal principles.

David Cameron and most of his colleagues have studied PPE at one of the best universities in the world. They know very well that cross-cultural dialogue can only be meaningful when the groups and their demands are not misrepresented. Their handling of the Trojan Horse fake letter demonstrates that they have no such inclinations. What worries me the most is that the debate on British Values came only weeks after the Prime Minister declared that the UK is a christian country. This lets me wondering: what does Mr Cameron want? Does he want a liberal country that respects all its citizens or a religious country that discriminates according to the religious beliefs of its citizens? If it’s the former, then he should stop calling people unpatriotic.

Published in the Huffington Post

HOWTO survive social encounters with British people

Life in the UK is not always straightforward. One needs time to get accustomed to the social norms in order to be able to understand the subtle meanings that are implied in social encounters. I will attempt, through an array of generalisations and stereotypes, to illustrate these differences. Continue reading only if you don’t take yourself too seriously.

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Multiculturalism in Cyprus: watching the Third Motherland, a documentary about the Maronite community


Costas Constantinou and Giorgos Skordis created a documentary back in 2001, called The Third Motherland. It contains a series of informal interviews at the village of Kormakitis. The interviews show the internal exclusion that Maronites have experienced. As Constantinou himself says: “the film reveals the dilemmas of identification and belonging and accounts for opposing feelings and beliefs within and beyond the community”. It is “a film about cultural loss, co-option, denial of rights and everyday social problems, but also of ethnic pride, cultural revival, communal joy and resistance”.
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Multiculturalism contra Ethnicity: the case of Cyprus

In late June, I will be presenting a paper titled ‘Multiculturalism contra Ethnicity: the case of Cyprus’ at a conference organised by Surrey’s Center of Research on Nationalism, Ethnicity and Multiculturalism and UCL’s Migration Research Unit, called The Future of Multiculturalism: Structures, Integration Policies and Practices.

This is the abstract of my paper:

This paper will use the post-conflict and post-colonial multicultural challenges that exist in Cyprus to assess the use of ethnicity as a marker for cultural identification. It will be demonstrated that ethnocultural identification can become a source of social, political and linguistic oppression and as such should not be uncritically adopted in defence of group-differentiated citizenship. This hypothesis will be assessed through the example of Cyprus, where the British colonialists divided the various religious groups of the island into two ethno-national minorities, reducing the rest into religious collectives without substantial political rights. The case of Cyprus will demonstrate: (i) how the concept of ethnicity as an ‘imagined community’ can be utilised as a pretext for assimilation or social isolation; (ii) how ethnicity prioritises the continuation of the collective imaginary values over than the needs of the individual cultural members; and (iii) how ethnicity can be utilised in making religious groups socially invisible. The marginalisation of the Maronite, Latin, Armenian and Roma cultures in Cyprus demonstrates the problematic relation of ethnicity and multiculturalism since the former can be used to deny cultural and linguistic recognition to non-dominant or non-ethnic minorities and religious groups.

Modood’s Multiculturalism: a Civic Idea

Opposite the critiques of group-rights, stands Tariq Modood who is one of the most vocal proponents of multiculturalism in the UK. His book Multiculturalism: a Civic Idea (2007) is a reply to the conservative claims that multiculturalism is dead, like those advanced by the British Prime Minister David Cameron when discussing terrorism and radicalisation (05 February 2011).
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Kymlicka’s Multicultural Citizenship

In this post, I provide a summary of Will Kymlicka’s very influential book on multiculturalism, titled Multicultural Citizenship: a liberal theory of minority rights. This book is important for everyone interested in multiculturalism since it initiated the contemporary debate about group-differentiated rights. One needs not to fully agree with Kymlicka to acknowledge his courageous effort to challenge liberalism’s atomistic individualism by promoting an interpretation of traditional liberal values which demands special treatment to members of some (minorities and immigrant) groups. In doing so, Kymlicka challenges the long assumed neutrality of the liberal state. His thinking and argumentation comes within liberalism itself, which is what makes his case distinctive (if anyone dares to give a concrete definition of liberalism, be my guest).
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Multiculturalism and Women’s Agency

A couple of days ago, at a roundtable, the discussion of Female Genital Cutting came up, and I remembered that I’ve written this piece about women and agency some time ago, but I didn’t publish it in the blog. I hope that you find it interesting.
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Tully's Strange Multiplicity

I give a summary of what I consider to be one of the greatest works of contemporary political philosophy.

Tully, in his book Strange Multiplicity (1995) gives an account of what a just constitution would look like. In a just constitution he tells us ‘each speaker is given her or his due, and this is exactly the initial question raised by the politics of cultural recognition’ (p. 6). A just constitution arises through deliberation among equals; people who mutually recognise each other for what they are without reducing them to familiar and convenient images that distort and misrepresent them. This requirement (of diversity) has been ignored in the discussion of multiculturalism, since ‘cultures are conceived as analogous to the more familiar constitutional concept of nations’ (p. 8). Moreover, multiculturalism has been a victim of essentialism; cultures are discussed as if they are internally homogenous entities, even though in reality they are ‘continuously contested, imagined and reimagined, transformed and negotiated, both by their members and through their interactions with others’ (p. 11).

Tully suggests that we need to listen to the stories that other people have to tell us through intercultural dialogue that will facilitate our understanding of other peoples’ diverse perspectives. This intercultural discussion has not taken place at the constitutional level, and therefore the modern constitution remains undemocratic (p. 28-9).
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