Madeline Blount
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Choose Wisely

March 10, 2009 @ 3:32 PM | Permalink

"This is Cyprus," is a phrase I hear a lot, something both locals and ex-pats use with a sigh and a resigned smile to proclaim the peculiarities of the island.  It usually pertains to things never getting done.  Still waiting for phone lines to be installed by the government-subsidized telecom company?  Meh, this is Cyprus.  A performance starts 45 minutes late?  This is Cyprus.  Peace talks stalled, again?  Well, this is Cyprus.  I've also heard, "in Cyprus, everything is political" -- and the more I settle into living here, beyond visiting, the more I see how true this really is.

The intersection of politics and daily culture is part of what I'm here to study, so I expected some obvious political choices: who you talk to, what events you attend, what side of the border you live on.  But there are other borders too, and the one between the political Left and Right here, not only the Greek/Turkish divide, manifests itself in some surprising ways:

Football -- The soccer team you support here is not based only on geography or mascot, but whether you are communist-leaning (you support Omonia) or Hellenic nationalist (you support Apoel).  When I learned this a whole new layer of visual street culture in Nicosia opened up to me; the graffiti on the walls (OMONIA FOREVER!) is not just about the upcoming game.  

Coffee --  There are left-wing coffee shops and right-wing coffee shops, and their clientele are segregated.  I've been frequenting the Kala Kathoumena, which I've taken to calling the anarchist cafe; it is young people in knits and dreadlocks or paint-covered jeans and berets drinking cheap coffee and playing music.  There are right-wing counterparts like Olympiakos, which is decorated with Greek flags and populated with those in the more nationalist political parties.  

Flags -- Even on the Greek Cypriot side of Nicosia, the Greek flag is not a neutral statement.  It recalls the ENOSIS movement, when some groups in Cyprus fought for unification with Greece, and it asserts purity of Greek heritage.  The leftists, when using flags at all, use the Cyprus flag, with a picture of the island's land mass and olive branches for peace.  On the Turkish side, the Turkish flag recalls the motherland of Turkey itself rather than the community of Turkish Cypriots, who have their own flag but it is the exact inverse of the Turkish flag (a red and white moon and star).

Beer -- That's right, your choice of beer is political too.  I've heard different stories on this, but it seems that the national beer KEO is more right wing than the imported-but-brewed-in-Cyprus Carlsberg.  

Nicosia can be an extremely charged space, where every action carries meaning beneath the surface, beyond the obvious (going for a coffee can stand for "I AM ON THE LEFT" more than "I NEED CAFFEINE"). Navigating this at times feels like untangling an underground network.  Now I see the casual visitor picking up a football jersey or buying a beer, and I wonder if they have any notion of the reverberating waves they send into the cultural landscape here, what node they are building in this invisible network, what identity they are unwittingly performing.  This is Cyprus.



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Loved the ending on this. Related: I find that sometimes I remember a meeting or moment but can't recall what country it happened in. I also find that if I ...

Saleem Reshamwala on Upon Waking, and Placelessness 2009-03-23

Thanks Saleem -- I've also experienced that tonguetied delirium from speaking multiple languages in the same conversation. . . interesting to think of meaning separate from words, does meaning require ...

Madeline Blount on Upon Waking, and Placelessness 2009-03-26

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