“Culture is a powerful tool against the occupation and division”
Interview with Kostas Kosta, Head of the AKEL Cultural Affairs Bureau and member of the C.C. of AKEL
“Haravgi” daily newspaper, Sunday 14th May 2017
How did the idea for the organization of a bicommunal festival of culture come up?
In recent years, especially since the opening of the crossing points, cultural activities have increased all over Cyprus. Joint groups have been set up, while many Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot cultural groups and bands participate in common events. At the same time, organized bodies and agencies in both communities are organizing significant activities, conferences, exhibitions, publications, etc. We are seeking to upgrade these actions with the holding of the Bi-communal Culture Festival, giving them further impetus at an extremely critical period for our homeland.
Do you think there still a need for such bi-communal activities?
Of course there is a need, more so today than in the past. The well-known preachers of hate and fanaticism are exploiting every opportunity to drive a wedge between the two communities. They are also assisted by on-going developments, given that the deterioration of the political situation in Turkey and all the consequent undemocratic and unacceptable actions there are being exploited to cultivate and spread fear and prejudice. Unfortunately, sections of the mass media are also constantly cultivating hatred, bigotry and a lack of trust, which they then invoke to justify their nationalist rhetoric.
By combating them, true art and culture have always been a powerful means in our people’s hands against the occupation and division of our homeland. Art and culture can also penetrate areas that no one else can ever reach.
The President of the Turkish Cypriot Association of Writers and Artists Zeki Ali in an interview to our newspaper stated that we know very little about each other’s communities. Do you agree with him?
I agree with him completely. How many Greek Cypriots really know what happened in the occupied areas of Cyprus after 1974?
How many people know about the political, social, environmental and cultural actions of the Turkish Cypriot community?
How many people know about the struggles that have been waged to sustain the Turkish Cypriot community itself?
These questions also concern the Turkish Cypriots of course.
Tomorrow, Monday 15th May, in an evening event being organized we will present at the Local association “Atlas” of the People’s Movement of the Left in the Nicosia suburb of Aglantzia the book written by Kostas Kafkarides and Yasar Ersoy. Theatre breaks up divisions, referring to the 30-year collaboration between the “Satiriko” Theatre and the Turkish Cypriot municipal theatre of Nicosia. What is mentioned in the book, namely the unknown aspects of the common course of the two theatre groups, are indicative of how little one community knows about the other.
While there are a lot of initiatives being taken by organizations and citizens, why have we achieved so little on an institutional level with regards the issue of contacts between the two communities?
Unfortunately, many times, the forces who refuse to even have a coffee with our compatriot Turkish Cypriots, predetermine various reasons to hinder the upgrading of cultural relations between our two communities. In the public service, educational institutions and in the overwhelming majority of the mass media there are very powerful forces that are hostile to the rapprochement of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots.
Very significant initiatives taken by the previous government of Demetris Christofias for the development of a culture of peaceful coexistence, were either obstructed or prevented. Only where dynamic and courageous public officials existed were some results achieved. Unfortunately, not enough though.
You are a member of the Bi-communal Working Commission on Culture. Why didn’t it operate as we all expected? Has the Anastasiades government provided enough support to the Commission?
The Bi-communal Commission on Culture began its work with great expectations, at least on our part since we have been participating in it from the very beginning. The atmosphere among its members, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, is excellent. It’s an example illustrating how we could work together within the framework of a United Federal Cyprus. There have been some mass cultural events organized, such as the performance at the Tower of Othello in occupied Famagusta, the two performances in occupied Salamina by the Cyprus Theatre Organization (THOC), and several initiatives by voluntary organizations have been supported.
There is an issue about the fact that the Commission does not have its own budget to financially support the dozens of bi-communal events. This is what we believe should be elaborated by the leaders of both communities and dealt with. No matter what, we are continuing our regular monthly meetings.
Where will the Festival take place? What will it include?
The big festival will take place on Sunday 21st May from 19.00-22.00 p.m. at the Acropolis Park in the municipality of Strovolos. The program of the Festival includes music, dance, theatre, poetry, film screenings and documentaries, painting and cartoon exhibitions. There will be stands where organizations from both communities can project their activities. There will also be food and drink in the Festival area.
Is there a view that a way must be found to organize such mass bi-communal events in other cities too other than Nicosia? What do you think?
In the announcement about the Bi-communal Festival to be held over two months, we stressed that the arena of activity would be Cyprus as a whole. We have fulfilled this goal. We have organized events in the occupied areas, but also in the areas of free Famagusta, Nicosia, Larnaca, Limassol, the mine of Amiantos etc. Events will take place from Karpasia to Akamas peninsula.
Who make up the Cultural Affairs Bureau of AKEL? What is its purpose?
Professional people of the arts and letters participate the AKEL Cultural Affairs Bureau, but also amateur artists and people of culture with great experience in both producing culture and organizing cultural events.
AKEL was always at the forefront of our country’s cultural affairs. The existence and functioning of AKEL’s Cultural Affairs Bureau contributed greatly to the development and upgrading of culture in our homeland. The gains in culture that bear the seal and mark of our Party and its District Party Cultural Bureaus are countless.
Some consider that the relationship of political parties with culture is limited to a superficial approach and the exploitation of whatever attraction and appeal culture radiates.
Far from us, any such outlook. Our own involvement stems solely from our awareness of the importance of culture in improving people’s lives and their passage to a society of peace, happiness and creation. Our great poet Tefkros Anthias wrote the following on 14th April 1963: “The foundation of our Culture, of true Culture, is ethos, humanism and beauty.” That is our sole concern. That’s what we are aspiring to achieve as the new Cultural Affairs Bureau – to maintain the core of these wonderful values.
Are you satisfied as a Bureau with AKEL’s intervention in the field of culture in recent years? Where do you identify weaknesses?
If I said we’re satisfied, it would be a big lie. The economic crisis, which, like a storm, has struck Cyprus, has perhaps hit the people of culture to a greater extent. There has been a drastic reduction in expenditure on culture. Grants/benefits were cut for the people of the letters and arts who were and are in need. The collapse of Organizations such as cooperatives, which were a constant and steadfast donator and sponsor of cultural unions and events, was like a stab in the body of cultural artists who were unable to react. Unfortunately, as AKEL, we could not stop this onslaught. Despite all our efforts, the people of culture have paid and continue to pay a heavy price for these policies.
There were weaknesses at both central and district levels. We are gradually finding our way and charting a course. We are a big group of people, the majority of whom are young people and I firmly believe that we will succeed in fulfilling our goals.
What did the experience of the 2008-2013 governance show in the implementation of a cultural policy?
As in other areas, work had also been done in the field of culture, as well as many efforts to upgrade our activity. Expenditure and funds for culture were maintained and in some cases increased. For example, there was the construction of the Cyprus Theatre Organization building, the expansion of the custom of Music Schools to Larnaca, Paphos and Famagusta, Open Schools (schools with many cultural activities) were expanded from three to ten Municipalities, the monthly allowances for the people of the letters and arts were maintained. Unfortunately, here too, in some cases because of the economic crisis, we weren’t able to achieve what we had set as objectives and were struggling for years. One example is the Unified Culture Authority which, although the draft bill was ready, it was not promoted due to the economic crisis that broke out.
How are AKEL’s positions on culture determined? New issues are constantly emerging. Do they need to be updated?
A little while ago, the Cultural Affairs Bureau began the effort to elaborate and complete a plan of action for culture that will respond to today’s given situation and conditions. Numerous contacts have already been made with artists of various forms of art. You have rightly mentioned new emerging issues, such as rising unemployment and cuts in funds for culture. We have elaborated and recorded very important proposals and remarks.
Furthermore in the period ahead we will complete the elaboration of our program, which we will put forth in the form of conducting a public debate and consultation. We want those involved in cultural affairs and have an opinion to submit it. As the AKEL Cultural Affairs Bureau, we are all willing to hear and implement the proposals of our cultural artists and creators. Their views are very important to us.
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