By Gary Gumpert & Susan Drucker
As Professors of Communication we have become obsessed with Cyprus because, communication wise, it is a highly technologically developed country split into two, but whose life is permeated by the inability or the unwillingness, both emotionally and technologically, to communicate with “the other”. The lessons of Cyprus transcend that small island in the Mediterranean because of its geopolitical implications and its regional importance. Lost in the rhetoric of division emanating from the each side’s partisan advocates is the interaction between those from opposite sides of the “Green Line” who are politically and, perhaps culturally divided, but who nevertheless meet on a daily basis as the once impenetrable lines became porous with the opening of several gates in April of 2003. There is a discrepancy, an incongruity, between people and diplomacy. There is also a difference been the office of the leadership and the persons who inhabit the office.
In 1997 we met with Rauf Denktash, longtime leader of the Turkish Cypriot community and Glafcos Clerides President of Cyprus. Those meetings were requested by us in trying to establish the position of these two men in regard to the severing of all official communication between the two sides, particularly mail, phone, and electronic – a condition that has existed since 1974 when Turkey invaded and divided the island in two. This July we interviewed Mehmet Ali Talat and Tassos Papadopoulos, the leaders of the two communities. Since the administration of the north is not recognized as a sovereign entity, one cannot refer to Mr. Talat as President. However, the office of “Presidency” is important since Mr. Talat’s perception very much framed by his view of that position. It should also be pointed out, before others do, that we are not diplomats, nor pretend to be experts in the art of diplomacy. Our expertise is in the art of communication, both interpersonally and technologically.
One other point needs to be made. The interviews were conducted in English. Both of the leaders are fluent in English, but their native languages are Greek and Turkish and thus this report is colored by some degree of a linguistic disadvantage. So we have, at times changed the language and restructured sentences, but we have tried to be true and faithful to the ideas being expressed. When possible we have quoted the two men. At other times we have paraphrased their remarks.
Eight years ago Rauf Denktash, knowing that we were professors of Communication, asked us “can I stop the Internet?’ It was an early point in the interview which had begun in the official reception room, as opposed to his office, and then later continues at lunch. We were momentarily caught off guard by the undisguised question, but quickly responded with an unequivocal “no!” We also explained that any political solution to the division of Cyprus had to be accompanied by a social solution and that the Internet would play a major role in that process. There was good reason for Rauf Denktash to be concerned about the power of the Internet.
Later that week we met with President Clerides. It was 7:00 a.m. in the morning and the President liked to begin work early. We asked him whether he used the Internet and he replied that “he did not watch it often.”
That was over eight years ago and in the intervening years rapid adoption of communication accessories have continued, including the adoption of the “mobile phone” as a necessary tool of living. Thus for example, many of those Cypriots on either side of the Green Line who cross back and forth carry two “mobiles” one for each side connecting to the either the Greek or the Turkish server.
An Interview with Mehmet Ali Talat
On June 21, we were escorted by one of Mr. Talat’s aides into that same formal reception room in which we began our meeting with Mr. Denktash, but this time, after a few minutes, the same aide suggested that it might be more appropriate and more informal to talk if we met in the President’s office. Apparently, the designated room helps shape the nature of the conversation. The talk between the three of us began with the Denktash tale and Mr. Talat asked, “what did he mean by that?” We responded that communication technology changes and shapes how we relate to others and how we see the world. He responded, “I am the product of this change. In 1998 we used digital cameras, because they [the Greek Cypriots] couldn’t cross easily without being accused of being traitors. We would take digital photos and send them to the newspapers.” Mr. Talat was talking about Greek Cypriot journalists and about that time when he was in the opposition to the Denktash regime. “This paved the way for groups to come closer but now, in the meantime, some negative impact has started to take place. Until the referendum the Greek Cypriot side was taught by its leaders that they liked Turkish Cypriots very much and were ready to give them whatever they wanted to go back to living together. But with the recent events (and perhaps the Internet), the Greek Cypriot side’s argument is closed. The Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots have started to understand the Greek Cypriot leaderships’ real views. I know they love the Turkish Cypriots, that is true, but in the way they loved their gardeners. Now there is artificial inhibition and there is an artificial isolation.”
We asked about the importance of face-to-face communication and the opening of the border. “With crossings the realities become visible. When I was Prime Minister we decided to remove the passport requirements and require identity cards. At first they were cheerful about this, now they say that is not acceptable to require an ID card with a visa. Always there is a reality and the Greek Cypriot side uses these realities to veil their real thoughts. I will lift the requirement of a piece of paper, require only ID cards and still a large percentage will not come and will say they wont’ show ID cards to come to the occupied area. They use complaints as a cover. This is an excuse for all activities, not only for communication or lack of communication but all experiences.” Mr. Talat’s use of the word “occupied area” is significant because it reflects an awareness and sensitivity to the views and language of Greek Cypriots.
“The Greek Cypriots have followed the call of their leaders. Mr. Papadopoulos has no interest in power sharing on an equal basis or the equality of two communities. He wants a solution where the Turkish Cypriots will be a minority. He will deny this. He desires political inequality for Turkish Cypriots but Turkish Cypriot participation in all decisions.”
We asked Mr. Talat to comment on the referendum.
“Mr. Papadopoulos wanted it to be defeated. It is clear that his main intention is a solution in which there is Greek Cypriot state and that the Turkish Cypriots have some rights in it, even some protected rights.”
“In March 11, 2003 the talks in the Hague collapsed. Akel and Chrisofias [The present speaker of the House and AKEL party leader] were involved after that. He visited and decided to campaign for a referendum. They wanted to hide their real ideas behind the expected rejectionist stance of the Turkish Cypriots. In February 2004 there was the visit to NY and the talks began. The Greek Cypriots did not catch the reality and discern the difference between Turkish and Turkish Cypriot sides.” This statement is interesting because it eludes to Turkey’s presence and his awareness of this identity and influence.
We asked whether there was a vision for a post solution shared communication landscape? Was anyone working on future plans?
“This is not a problem. Yes, it is envisioned – a single telecommunication system with headquarters on each side, fiber optic lines etc… Television stations are mostly private. We make Greek programs and we have a vision to have joint programs. There is a new head of Bayrak who has been very prominent in bi-communal activities and broadcast many bi-communal activities. We have the vision here.”
In response to a question about telephone communication, Mr. Talat indicated that land lines are state owned and that mobile telephones are not a problem. “They are private companies. We are planning to give licenses to two telephone companies and would have a roaming agreement and if systems are to join they could put base stations here and us there. They would prefer just putting their stations here. We would need a joint activity agreement but we could not use the word roaming in a single state.” [what is significant here is the nature of this objection. In a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation is the concept of roaming appropriate? What does the language reveal about the path of solution?]
We asked whether action is being taken to meet the European Union harmonization standards.
“We are within the harmonization of the EU, we are harmonizing but burdened by the Greek Cypriot side, they don’t want us to have direct compliance and contact with the EU.”
What about development of the Internet?
“The Internet is all private activity here although facilitates are available for the administration. Fiber optics for telecommunication, television and the internet is being installed for the administrative part of the state. The government has a Communication Department under the foreign ministry. There is activity by the Ministry of Education to connect all the public schools. There is an aim to form an E-State and there is one official working with the EU on this and even more with UNOPS on the E-government initiative.”
At some point in the interview, we brought up the political changes that were occurring in the north and wondered what triggered the changes.
“After the peace process fell apart in The Hague in March 2003 the Turkish Cypriot turned inside and sought revenge from the leaders in power and recalculated inward.”
Is that why Denktash opened the border?
“The DenKtash administration was against bi-communal activities but opened the gates because of pressure. Things internally were tense, explosive. Thousands marched during business time and gathered opposite parliament in the rain asking for a Right of Referendum and self determination. There were police there. The situation was ready to explode, that is why they opened the gate and changed the agenda….Serdar Denktash had the idea for months before but couldn’t explain it. When the administration understood pressure points would explode and people would be rioting and that there were insurgents, this changed the entire agenda. That was Denktash’s compensation to Turkish Cypriot people for the peace process falling apart. Every night we went to some village with “peace fires for a solution” and the administration had to relieve the pressure gauge.”
How are you different than Denktash? Do you have a different vision of the future?
“Everything is different. We are for unification yet the separation is growing everyday in the South not in the North. I have a 180 degrees different vision from Denktash. The Greek Cypriot administration cannot survive without inventing an enemy. They have to create another Denktash. They call me Denktash II, can you imagine? [This was uttered with no sense of arrogance, but simply with bewilderment.] Without a Denktash they cannot continue their division.”
How do you personally communicate with the other side?
“I personally communicate with the other side through friends. My communication was better when I was a party leader. That is the only position Greek Cypriots accept but so-called Prime Minister or so-called President”….that is not the same. As President it is very difficult. I can’t meet their party leaders because they would be talking to a President. The Greek Cypriot president will only meet as a community leader. I want to meet Mr. Christofias, but it cannot be official since it would be seen as recognition. Meeting in one room vs. another room makes a difference. The office versus the living room…Can you see the problem, the size of the obsession?…I proposed a coffee with Christofias but he refused. Daily problems are communicated through the UN, but on the administrative level direct communication is not easy due to policy. They don’t recognize Turkish Cypriot police and there was problem due to that.”
An Interview with Tassos Papadopoulos
Several days later we met with Tassos Papadopoulos in Nicosia. The President came out of his office to greet us and we gathered around a table – the two of us, a representative of the Press and Information Office, and an aide. We asked about his vision in regard to communication.
“When you say communication, do you mean the means of communication or the wish? We responded “both!”
“Is there a vision of a shared media landscape for the means of communication: postal, internet, telephone, radio and television – once there is a solution?”
The President does not immediately answer the question and asked for permission to smoke. It’s the first time we have been asked for permission by a President.
“60-70% of the people said no to reunification. Mr. Annan thought about it [shared communication] for us! He thought there should be two separate telephone systems. One cannot keep news out, cannot stop communication, and cannot stop the Internet!” [We had mentioned the Denktash exchange but once again the conceptual issue of the relationship of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation emerged.
“Our main concern is the perpetuation of division. Two separate states, two separate plans, moronic!! We acted on the EU budget and we are on an austerity budget for two years. We cut the budget and all expenses of government, we agreed to zero increase even with strong trade union rules. The Turkish Cypriots would be allowed to have an expansion program while we have cuts. Can you imagine that? We guaranteed this! How can we do communication on a technological basis with them? “
“We allow Turkish Cypriot companies to obtain licenses for mobile telephones here but the country code must be 357 and they say no. They are out to demonstrate separateness. We proposed that the two Turkish communication companies have the right to mobile branches in Cyprus if they use the 357 code. Again their aim is two separate codes.”
We asked why not introduce a new code… .such as 999 for a new political reality. “Why should we do that? Because they are offended that we are recognized! …The UN plan … talked about a new name and proposed a new name and tried to find one. Why replace Republic of Cyprus? It doesn’t say Greek Republic of Cyprus. But the UN wanted the so-called Virgin Birth of a new country. They tried the Republic of United States of Cyprus; United Republic of Cyprus etc. Why would a new area code be needed when this area code is known to the world? Cutting the Baby in two is not always the best solution, certainly not for the baby.”
We asked whether E.U. membership affected the government’s policy with regard to communication.
“We have appointed an independent regulator, I appointed him for a 6 year term, longer than my own term – Mr. Vassos Pyrgos. He can only be removed the same way as a high court judge. The position covers mobile, fixed telephones and the negotiation of allocation of frequencies. I’m looking into creating a new commission. Internet is private and there are four suppliers. The Annan plan says they [the other side] have their own telephone system. Now many Turkish Cypriots buy Greek Cypriot Cyta and Areeba phones.”
What followed were some general remarks by the President.
“67,000 Turkish Cypriot remain and there are 120,000 Turkish settlers and 30,000 seasonal workers. How that area, can employ that number of workers? Our unemployment is less than 3%.
Over 5 million crossings since Turks lifted limitations of crossing the line. This was an important thing. There has been one incident on their side and one incident on our side. Three drunken Greek Cypriots beat 2 Turkish Cypriots.”
Ten years earlier, in our meetings with Mr. Denktash and Mr. Clerides we had been told that each had a direct telephone connection with the other, but Mr. Talat was not aware of such an existing line. Mr. Papadoploulos responded to question regarding such a phone: “I can pick up the phone and call Mr. Talat. There is no direct line. No “I don’t talk to him unless I go to have talks with him. Why talk socially?…Can he talk about Turkish troops? Settlers? Property? No, he can’t do anything, so why talk to him?”
Both men are concerned about the perception of meetings between them and the confusion between themselves and their position.
Mr. Papadopoulos said “We can’t give the wrong message to the people that meetings are happening (if we met socially they might think that). We must talk under the auspices of the UN as community leaders not as heads of state. The solution of the Cyprus problem is the framework of my thinking. I don’t want to talk about how we manage the green line or how fishermen carry fish from Famagusta. I am not interested in that. I am interested in solving the problem.”
How do you communicate in an emergency? “Two months ago there was a big fire that started on the Turkish side and came to our side, then wind changed and our firemen offered to go and help and they said no. We always communicate for these emergencies.”
We returned to the matter of a vision of a shared media landscape and pointed out that the current structure doesn’t approach such a future. But this matter was essentially avoided by both leaders in the responses. This was apparently too far ahead.
“We established one government public broadcasting facility – RIK – with Turkish programming and we don’t control that, we have guidelines. A few days ago I was criticized for letting Talat’s name be used.” [It should be noted that is not uncommon for the editors of the Cyprus Daily Mail to print a letter submitted by Mr. Talat.]
“On their side there are 7 stations transmitting in Turkish and we have 4.” “Cross over to do what? News men go over each side and come here freely. There are no joint projects but when Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriot politicians are together there is translation… I don’t know Turkish.”
“Sener Levent writes everyday in opposition Greek Cypriot papers.”
In as reflective mood the President opined about his relationship with journalists.
“Some people think the order of things is: “God, journalists, then everybody else. I say what I think and lose patients when they ask stupid questions. I am told I shouldn’t do that. “
How aware are you of what they write about you in the North?
“I’m not aware at all. I know he is hurt and aware of what is written about him.” [The accuracy of that statement is reflected in the comments of Mr. Talat.]
We spoke about the Nicosia Master Plan and the EU funds scheduled for the effort.
“Their policy is that they seek to be self contained. They reject efforts to cooperate. Ledra Street is usually the conventional center of Nicosia, now destroyed so we wanted to open that roadblock and found funds in the EU to do that 6 months ago and to strengthen the buildings there. The Turkish Cypriots would benefit but for whatever policy they didn’t want to establish that policy”
The matter of trade issues came up.
President Papadopoulos noted, “Turkish Cypriots sell here but Greek Cypriots don’t trade there. If Greek Cypriots get license from them, from their “ministry of trade” it would be considered recognition…so Greek Cypriots can’t trade.”
It has been more than a month since these interviews took place, time in which we could reflect on the substance of the talk and on the occasion. We walked away feeling the sense of frustration that hung in the air, that a solution was near and yet so far away. We were confronted by the multiple personalities that surfaced: the gracious host, the role of the Presidency, the party leader, a representative of a constituency, a statesman, the former comrade, and above all, two grappling human beings who have chosen their respective roles, but certainly are not comfortable in those roles. We spoke to two leaders sparring back and forth divided by time and circumstance, placed in the straightjacket of power in which imagination and boldness are stifled by a long history of conflict and misunderstanding. We walked away understanding that behind the sincerity and dedication of these two men hung outside powers and interests who play in that arena called Cyprus.
**** Gary Gumpert (Ph.D, 1963, Wayne State University) is Emeritus Professor of Communication at Queens College of the City University of New York and co-founder of Communication Landscapers, a consulting firm. He is the author or co-editor of 9 books. His primary research focuses on the nexus of communication technology and social relationships, particularly looking at urban and suburban development, the alteration of public space, and the changing nature of community. He is the president of the U.S. chapter of the International Institute of Communication.
Susan J. Drucker, (JD, 1982, St. John’s University School of Law) is a Professor in School of communication, Department of Journalism/ Mass Media Studies, Hofstra University, New York. She is an attorney, editor of the Free Speech Yearbook, and Series editor of Communication and Law series for Hampton Press. She is the author or co-editor of 5 books and over 85 articles and book chapters. Her work examines the relationship between media technology and human factors, particularly as viewed from a legal perspective.
*Together they are writing a book entitled “The Communication Division of Cyprus” to be published by Hampton Press.