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Lessons from Cyprus to Colombia

Maria Paula Unigarro Alba

Posted on August 5, 2019 20:06

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Cyprus and Colombia share the challenge of being divided societies. However, they also share the benefit of counting with local movements willing to overcome divisions.

The International Institute on Peace Education (IIPE) is a weeklong residential experience that facilitates exchanges of theory and practice in peace education. This year, IIPE took place in Cyprus and explored the theme of "Educating for a Culture of Peace in Divided Societies: History, Dialogue, and Multiperspectivity Toward Reconciliation." It gathered 70 participants representing more 33 different country identities and affiliations.

They shared research, practices, and methodologies on promoting a culture of peace in divided societies. Even though different contexts were addressed, Cyprus being the host country, it was inevitably the mainly-discussed case.  

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded the north in response to a military coup on the island backed by the Greek government. Turkish invasion resulted in the partition of the island with the north run by a Turkish Cypriot government and the south by a Greek Cypriot government.

Physical division has produced a social division between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. In a context of failed political dialogues to reunite the country, local initiatives have been developed with the aim of overcoming division. One example is the Imagine Project, an educational program directed at primary school students. It creates safe spaces to discuss stereotypes, discrimination, and racism while facilitating encounters between students from both communities. It is an amazing project that has contributed to eliminate rigid narratives among Cypriot children.

And what does Cyprus have to do with Colombia? Well, the fact that it is also a divided country. In this case division is the result of an armed conflict which has followed a cold war dynamic: guerrilla groups with left-wing ideas fighting a State characterized by right-wing ideas and paramilitary groups seeking to maintain the status quo.

Polarization in the country grew in 2016 after the signing of a peace agreement between the government and the FARC (main guerilla at that time). In this scenario, those willing to endorse the peace agreement were labeled as communists and supporters of the FARC, likewise, those rejecting the accord were branded as peace enemies and supporters of the paramilitaries.

President Duque was elected on 2018. He was candidate of Centro Democrático, the political party that exerted biggest opposition to the peace agreement. Despite this, Duque presented himself as willing to reunite the country and to lead the way to overcome polarization. Today, almost one year after he took office, he has done nothing to fulfill his promise. His public discourse is filled with condemnations to the now demobilized FARC. This way, he keeps replicating the narratives that have polarized the country.

Fortunately, as a lesson to Colombia, Cyprus shows that political leaders are not the only ones able to reunite divided societies. Grassroots movements can be very powerful in this sense. With a genuine interest in overcoming divisions, local movements can indeed contribute to reconciliation.

Just as in Cyprus, in Colombia there are initiatives promoting a mutual understanding. Hopefully, they will achieve what President Duque promised to do during his presidential campaign.


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Source: WashPost

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