WORKSHOP REPORT

HOW CAN AN INCLUSIVE APPROACH HELP 

THE CYPRUS PEACE PROCESS?

Malta 18th, 19th, 20th September 2013 

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

From the 18th to 20th September 2013, 60 civic, business and political figures from the two communities in Cyprus gathered in Malta to discuss the following question: “How can an inclusive approach help the Cyprus Peace Process”? Participants were introduced to examples of other peace processes around the World, including South Africa, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Northern Ireland.  The workshop was facilitated by Yeshim Harris, Nikos Skoutaris and Rosemary Jackson.

On the first day, business leaders met and discussed the necessity for an open, public debate about the benefits of a settlement to the Cyprus Question.  They highlighted the need for creating new opportunities for business cooperation across the Green Line in order to demonstrate the benefits of reconciliation.  In order to address these needs, they agreed to set up regular meetings of the business communities from both sides of the divide, to identify opportunities for increased inter-communal business cooperation.  These meetings will go under the name of “Malta Business Forum”, and will be facilitated by the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce.

On the second day the dialogue included Cypriot civic and political leaders, as well as leading peacemakers Jeffrey Donaldson, Danny Morrison (Northern Ireland), Roelf Meyer, Mohammed Bhabha, Ivor Jenkins (South Africa), Ljuljjetta Goranci Brkić and Ismeta Dervoz (Bosnia-Herzegovina). 

On the final day, and based on the participants’ interventions the previous sessions, discussions were focussed on how participants could:

1-   Energise communities to increase levels of hope in the peace process

2-   Build a stronger feeling of public ownership of the peace process

3-   Increase the transparency of the peace process.

Discussions led to a range of small to large-scale ideas for stimulating public debate, increasing transparency and building stronger public ownership of the peace process.  These ideas were championed by a range of participants from all three sectors involved. 

The political parties agreed to continue meeting in Cyprus to further develop their vision for a more inclusive peace process.  They have also agreed in principle on the idea of holding discussions with other sectors of society on the issue, such as business leaders and civil society organisations.  

INTRODUCTION

On the 18-20 September, Engi Conflict Management held a three-day workshop in Malta for business, civic and political leaders from the two communities in Cyprus. This workshop was part of the ‘Participatory Peacemaking Initiative’ supported by UNDP-ACT and the UK Foreign Office. The participants, who are influential figures in their respective sectors on the island, engaged in dialogue with one another as well as with leading peace-negotiators from South Africa, Northern Ireland and Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The main question being discussed was “How can an inclusive approach help the Cyprus Peace Process”? The workshop was facilitated by Yeshim Harris, Nikos Skoutaris and Rosemary Jackson.  The following is a report of the project background, the objectives and how those objectives were met during the workshop.

PROJECT BACKGROUND

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.  The elected leaders have reached decisions on behalf of their communities; then once the talks are complete, the leaders took action for bringing them along in support of the agreements or disagreements.  Recent polls (1) reveal an overwhelming consensus among people in both communities (90% of Greek Cypriots, 83% of Turkish Cypriots) that the voice of ordinary citizens is not heard by the Leaders in the negotiation process.  Added to this is an overwhelming desire by citizens to be consulted in that process (90% of Greek Cypriots and 81% of Turkish Cypriots).   

Of equal importance, another poll reveals very low levels of hope among the wider population, despite a desire for the peace process to succeed.  According to that study (2) people in both communities strongly desired a settlement (60-70%) and yet very few believed that a settlement would actually be achieved (only 15-20%). 

As a result of this demand,  a project entitled “Participatory Peacemaking Initiative” was set up, beginning with mono-communal sessions with smaller groups of participants in June 2013, followed by a workshop on 9th September 2013, where the case for a participatory peace process was examined, and participants prepared for the three day workshop in Malta which is described below. 

WORKSHOP AIMS

The main aims of the project were:

1-   to find ways to make the peace process more inclusive, accommodating more and varied perspectives from all sectors of society. 

2-   to improve public awareness and ownership of a settlement and improve the climate in which the negotiations and reconciliation take place. 

3-   to explore options for developing a  participatory process which can complement the formal negotiation

It is important to note that this event, like the larger participatory process it seeks to promote, was intended to support not supplant the talks process underway between the leaders of the two communities.

From the outset of the workshop, it was explicitly acknowledged that the Cyprus issue has a long history that has engendered numerous grievances felt by both communities.  With that in mind, it was agreed that the discussions would focus on the process rather than content of the solution.  Within the larger framework of process design, the  limitations of Track 2 diplomacy to date and a consequent lack of inclusivity were identified as the primary concerns to be addressed throughout the remainder of the workshop.

WORKSHOP STRUCTURE

The workshop was held during a three-day period on September 18th-20th in Malta.  The first day was held exclusively for prominent business leaders from both communities, with the objective of focusing primarily on the role of the business sector as a driving force for the peace process.  The second and third days, in contrast, included a wide selection of representatives from civil society, business sectors, as well as political parties from both communities. 

FINDINGS

Business Leaders’ Session:

The business leaders who attended the first day of the workshop produced a list of practical proposals that could produce tangible results towards improving inter-communal relations as well as towards widening the peace process to make it more inclusive.   

The discussions held during the workshop highlighted several practical projects that the business community could undertake towards improving inter-communal  relations.  The business leaders then decided to form the Malta Business Group as a vehicle to implement the projects proposed during the workshop, as well as new ideas that may be generated in the future.  Towards that end, the participants themselves suggested that their group would nominate “champions” from among their members to take on leadership roles in implementing said projects. 

Civic and Political Leaders’ Sessions:

This workshop intended to create dialogue between members from both communities, especially those who have not previously engaged in peace-building events, so as to develop a broad vision of how the peace process could be enhanced through widening the debate. 

Roelf Meyer, who acted as the chief government negotiator in South Africa in the 1990s, opened the discussion.  He told recalled that the negotiations took place with an understanding that: “What’s important is what we want from the future and not what we want to protect from the past”. 

He also presented some thoughts grounded in the South African experience, but which could possibly have relevance to Cyprus: 

1-   The necessity to develop a new mind set to ensure the obstacles of the past are overcome. 

2-   The importance of developing a negotiating process that is transparent, open, and based on a solid communication strategy, which ensures the support of the wider public. 

3-   Building confidence across the divide and mobilising public opinion towards the need for change.

The participants acknowledged during the small group discussions as well as in the plenary sessions that they did not fully understand the other communities’ perspectives on the conflict.  Thus, the participants were given the opportunity to engage with members of the other community and express their questions and ideas for the future.  The political leaders from the two communities moreover were given the opportunity in a facilitated workshop to ask questions to the other community.  The political leaders then agreed to meet in the coming weeks in order to receive constructive answers to the questions raised during the workshop.

Civic and political leaders have been a part of various discussions to improve inter-communal relations on the island.  The participants raised numerous practical suggestions for improving inter-communal relations as well as broadening the peace process so as to make it more inclusive.  A certain number of these projects have now been given lead names, which is to say a person or persons who are willing to be the point of contact for those who want to assist them in its implementation.  

The discussions around how the lack of ownership felt by both communities currently impedes progress in the peace process took part in small group sessions.  The participants explored ways in which people could gain a more meaningful stake in the  peace process.  They recognized the lack of a sense of ownership at the civil level on both sides of the island; that people needed to be convinced that the status quo was no longer acceptable and that the peace process belonged to them and not just to their leaders. 

The international peacemakers[4] were present during day two and day three and made themselves available throughout the workshop.  They also hosted a question-and-answer session with the participants.  They drew out actual powerful and inspirational examples from their own regions where civic and political leaders’ action transformed the peace process.  They shared their successes and   what they learned from their failures.

NEXT STEP AND RECOMMENDATIONS

This workshop was a critical first step towards creating a dialogue around the need for  complementary tracks  to the  resumption of  negotiations.  An outcome of the workshop was the identification of three main issues impeding the process:

  • Lack of hope
  • Lack of ownership
  • Lack of transparency

The participants agreed to pursue projects aimed at combating these three issues through the auspices of the newly created, inter-communal groups mentioned above;  the formation of the Malta Business Group which held an  inaugural meeting in the week immediately following the workshop (25th Sept), and the convening of the party political representatives on 8th October  are both an early indicators of success. 

It is however important to recognize the need for gradual progress in developing the relationships that have been forged as a result of this project.  Long-term success will depend on these new relationships maturing and evolving over time. 

                                                                                        

NOTES:

(1) UNDP. 2012. Report on General Population Quantitative Research Project 2012 “Level of Trust between the Two Communities in Cyprus”. Nicosia: UNDP-ACT

(2) By the Cyprus 2015 project (www.cyprus2015.org) 

(3) Jeffrey Donaldson (DUP and Unionist perspective - Northern Ireland), Danny Morrison (Republican perspective and Sinn Féin experience - Northern Ireland), Ivor Jenkins (NP - South Africa), Mohammed Bhabha (ANC - South Africa), Ljuljjeta Goranci Brkic (Nansen Dialogue Centre, Bosnia), Ismeta Dervoz (Member of Parliament, Bosnia)