The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) began providing support for small-scale bi-communal efforts to help build bridges between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots during the 1970s. The low-profile endorsement of bi-communal contact changed in 1998 when the two organisations agreed to establish the Bi-communal Development Programme (BDP). The BDP was the first concerted effort by the international community to solicit and fund civil society initiatives that brought Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots together to work on issues of common concern.
Although the Cypriot organizations working on BDP activities focused on ‘neutral’ issues such health care and the environment, cross-community civil society work was unheard of and the motivations of those participating in the initiatives were regularly questioned. In spite of this the BDP had a huge impact on changing the practicalities of bi-communal work, because it was the only mechanism available for supporting structured bi-communal interaction, and by 2004 70% of BDP projects had succeeded in achieving some form of face-to-face contact (either on the island or off-island) between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Although the BDP was successful in breaking many of the taboos associated with bi-communal contact, it could have been bolder in its attempts to foster an inter-communal civil society sector, to spark policy dialogue and support advocacy.
It was against this background that UNDP and USAID launched the Action for Co-operation and Trust programme (ACT) in 2005. The programme led the way in the advancement of inter-communal relations in a less than favourable climate. Its work was facilitated however by the relaxation of crossing restrictions between north and south by the Turkish Cypriot authorities in 2003. For the first time face-to-face contact between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots became possible – enabling the scope of ACT’s work to be far more extensive. Despite challenges and the continued division of the island, the ACT programme helped establish a solid foundation for communication, co-operation and reconciliation between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Over eight years, dedicated individuals and organizations from across the divide succeeded in bringing about dramatic changes in societal attitudes towards co-operation between the two communities. Working against a backdrop of fear, mistrust and prejudice the Cypriots who were part of the ACT programme chose to listen and learn, discuss and debate and, ultimately, to negotiate and compromise.
From the start USAID and UNDP utilized consultative processes to ensure that stakeholder aspirations and concerns were understood, beneficiary needs addressed and feedback shared. Public consultations were held at the Ledra Palace Hotel to discuss the state of trust between the two communities based on poll results and surveys. This public outreach exercise helped the ACT programme to align its priorities in accordance with political developments and assess the strategic needs of the emerging inter-communal civil society sector. The ACT programme helped to demonstrate the value of co-operation by exploiting opportunities to work on areas of common interest and mutual benefit such as economic development, cultural heritage and youth. Between 2005 and 2008, the programme funded 120 projects, involving 70,000 Cypriots in bi-communal activities, while developing the skills and knowledge of 370 CSOs. While each project had its own focus and expertise all were geared towards the programme’s overall peace-building goal. In 2009 the ACT programme responded to the resumption of peace negotiations between the island’s leaders by working with key civil society partners to design projects which would bring Cypriots closer to the process of making peace.
Bringing people into the Cyprus peace process
UNDP ACT ultimately believed that a Cypriot-led process necessarily involved providing the whole of Cypriot society with the opportunity to engage with the peace process in a way which would support the leaders to reach a just settlement. Dialogue with policymakers thus became important in order to introduce new narratives and new ideas – something ACT supported through civil society and academia. Since 2009 UNDP and its Cypriot partners have advocated a policy of public participation in the resolution of the Cyprus conflict. It is a policy which stems from the views of the Cypriot people themselves. (Cyprus 2015) For example, citizens of both communities strongly support the idea of a series of town-hall meetings involving the negotiating teams to enable the peace process to be discussed directly with the public. Similarly, both communities strongly support the use of technology to inform the public on progress in the peace process and to provide a mechanism for public participation. Finally, most Cypriots agree that whenever there is convergence in the peace process details should be made available for public review, even while the remaining dossiers are being discussed. This transparent and open design would require a wholesale reformulation of the relationships between the leaders, their aides, political parties, influential civic leaders, the international community and the voting public.
The recognition now being afforded by civic and political leaders across Cyprus to the contributions made by civil society towards development and reconciliation is testament to this objective. Today, civil society leaders are able to sit with politicians and decision-makers in Cyprus and Europe to discuss ways of creating a peace process which will finally end the Cyprus conflict. For example, in 2012 a group of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot civil society leaders led a debate in the British House of Commons, hosted by the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Conflict Issues (APPGCI). The debate included high-level participation from the UK government, British MPs, Cyprus experts and representatives from the Cypriot diaspora in London. The audience heard the Cypriot group express a common position, calling for a new approach to the Cyprus negotiations: one which required structural reform of the peace process to allow a harmonious collaboration of participants from track 1 (the leaders), track 2 (civil society) and track 3 (the wider public). Through the London event Cypriot civil society articulated a coherent inter-communal position, one which, if applied, would expand participation in the peace process to involve traditionally marginalised groups such as women and youth, while formally recognising the voices and experiences of those groups that have already found ways of overcoming the island’s political and socio-economic divisions.
The London meeting was one step in the process which led to UNDP ACT supporting a high level consultation in Malta (18 to 20 September 2013), where 60 Cypriot civic, business and political figures gathered to discuss the following question: “How can an inclusive approach help the Cyprus Peace Process”? Participants were introduced to examples of peace processes which accommodated the participation of different sectors of society from South Africa, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Northern Ireland. The workshop had two parts – a 1-day business leaders meeting and a 2-day dialogue involving political party representatives (from all the major parties from both communities in Cyprus) and civil society leaders, including representatives from some of the island’s largest trade unions. Selected business leaders also participated in the political and civil society meeting.
Business Leaders’ Dialogue
Business leaders discussed the necessity for a public debate about the benefits of a settlement to the Cyprus Question. They highlighted the need to create new opportunities for business cooperation across the Green Line in order to demonstrate the benefits of reconciliation. There was agreement that following the Malta workshop Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot business leaders will meet regularly in Cyprus to identify opportunities for increased inter-communal business cooperation. These meetings will go under the name of the “Malta Business Forum”, and will be facilitated by the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce.
Political and Civic Leaders’ Dialogue
On the second day the dialogue focussed on Cypriot civic and political leaders, and involved leading negotiators from South Africa and Northern Ireland. Roelf Meyer, who was the chief government negotiator in South Africa in the 1990s, presented some thoughts grounded in the South African experience of ending apartheid, but which could possibly have relevance to Cyprus:
• The need to develop a new mindset to ensure the obstacles of the past are overcome.
• 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.
• Building confidence across the divide and mobilising public opinion towards the need for change.
Participants focussed discussion on strategies to address the following issues:
• Increase levels of public hope in the peace process
• Build a stronger feeling of public ownership of the peace process
• Increase the transparency of the peace process.
The political parties agreed to continue meeting in Cyprus to further develop their vision for a more inclusive peace process.