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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”.

One particular conversation was striking. A middle aged man who lived through the events of 1963 when the Cypriot Maronites were forced to abandon their Lebanese ethnic identity in favour of the Greek one, recalls how he was feeling ashamed of his fellow Maronites who continued to converse in the Cypriot Maronite Arabic (CMA) language instead of the Greek Cypriot dialect, whilst at the same time he was feeling  ashamed of himself for feeling ashamed of his co-nationals who were conversing in the language of their ancestors.

Another interesting part of the documentary is when Constantinou accompanies the Maronite football team called ‘Lebanos’ to Lebanon. Whilst in the touring bus, he interviewed the people who travelled along with the team. When the question “How do you feel when you visit Lebanon?” was asked, the usual answer was “I feel like home”. When the same question was directed to a 20-something Cypriot Maronite who was also in the bus, the answer was “It is like I am in my natural habitat. Yes, yes, Lebanon is my home. Now that I think about it though, I also feel like home when I am at GSP [football stadium in Nicosia] and watch APOEL [Greek Cypriot Football team, ironically named Athletic Football Club of Greeks of Nicosia]”, demonstrating the ambivalence created by the post-1974 cultural assimilation that the RoC subjected the Maronites.

Another interesting part of the documentary was the filming of a Cypriot Maronite festival. Old and young Cypriot Maronites were singing a traditional Greek song, whose lyrics had been changed to include references to “a Maronite spirit that will make the Greek spirit tremble.” Interestingly, most songs were sung in Greek and Turkish interchangeably without any alteration to the lyrics.

The most interesting part of the documentary, was when the participants were asked about the 1960 decision to join the Greek or Turkish ethnic groups. People that lived during that period were interviewed, none of which remembered any elections taking place. Instead, as can be seen in the documentary, the decision was made by their political elites and was not voted upon. This is not widely known amongst the GCs—the common understanding is that the Cypriot Maronites ‘chose’ to join ‘us’.

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