by Yeshim Harris
Since the beginning of the Cyprus conflict there have been a number of direct and indirect negotiations between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot administrations. Even after so many years, these attempts have failed to formulate an answer that satisfies both sides. Following these, the stalemate now seems more intractable than ever before.
So far, settlement and peace building negotiations in Cyprus have largely consisted of bringing the political leaders, the UN and the guarantors to the negotiating table. In essence, all efforts to reach a settlement for a sustainable, peaceful co-existence have been guided by a traditional top-down approach, i.e. the elected leaders reach decisions on behalf of their communities, and once the talks are complete, then the leaders bring them along in support of the agreements or disagreements. Over the years, there have been attempts for engaging the two communities in the process, but these have been ineffective.
How does involving civil society and the wider public help with negotiations? Political leaders may sometimes be unable to adequately address the multifaceted and forever shifting relationships between the communities in conflict. With the best of intentions, negotiating behind closed doors may distort perspectives and leaders may find themselves lagging behind the changing dynamics at grass roots level.
In a conflict where two communities, as well as the broader regional or international actors are involved the overall picture becomes very complex. This has always been the case for Cyprus given its geopolitical position and the long history of the conflict. It is therefore understandable that those decisions that would potentially have particularly complicated implications would need a degree of confidentiality and diplomacy and may have to remain confidential until they reach a mature point in discussions. However does this necessarily have to entail absolute secrecy until the very end of the process?
Experience from other conflicts shows that broadening the dialogue to include a wider range of opinions, especially from relevant civil society groups, can loosen up negotiation deadlocks. It helps the society involved to move towards long-term social change, and builds the capability to endure a peaceful co-existence by a number of ways. Is Cypriot Civil Society however ready to take on this task?
To achieve all these aims, structural reform of the peace process is needed, in order to allow a harmonious collaboration of the leaders, civil society and the wider public. South Africa and Northern Ireland provide good examples for Cyprus to learn from. After years of efforts and talks on these seemingly intractable conflicts, the leaders realised that an agreement without an inclusive process would not be sustainable. There is no doubt that many other factors contributed to the success achieved in these two conflicts; but it can be reasonably argued that inclusivity was one of the key components.
Every conflict has its own unique characteristic and therefore needs its own unique solution but there are important lessons Cyprus can learn from other peace processes, which can then be tailored according to its specific needs.