Editor’s choice: Readers’ letter Volunteering in a vacuum - Cyprus Mail 18/11 2012


House in the buffer zone, Lefkosia


WITH great interest I have just read Elias Hazou’s article, Academics question point of EU funding for peace, (Sunday Mail, October 28). In the article he focuses on a report, written by Dr Kate Flynn and Dr Tony King, “Reconciliation and peace economics in Cyprus”. I have recently studied the report and it’s informative, useful, interesting and - frightening. But not surprising. Among other things, Flynn and King question the effectiveness of all the reconciliation and development programmes, funded by the EU and others.

As a museum curator and archaeologist, I worked with Cypriote antiquities for 30 years in Sweden. I have also visited Cyprus several times, lecturing and presenting my books. I have also written articles in Swedish newspapers about the Cyprus Problem and the destruction of our common cultural heritage in the occupied areas. Earlier this year I felt that I had the time and opportunity to make a more manifest contribution to Cyprus and perhaps do some work for the many bicommunal groups in Cyprus.

I made an application to a bicommunal organisation, funded by USAID (United States Agency for International Development). The application was extensive; they wanted to know exactly what I wanted to do, at what time I could work, my qualifications etc. From the beginning I told my contact that I’m rather old, but that I have extensive experience as a museum curator, including knowledge about climatic conditions in museums and store-rooms and conservation. I also know many languages, including fluent Greek. We corresponded for several months and my contact promised to find a project for me. I was very optimistic when I arrived in Lefkosia in September, eager to start working.

But when I arrived at their office nothing was prepared. Two young persons were very friendly and spoke excellent English, but there was nothing for me to do and they hadn’t prepared anything. I was told to try to find EU funds and make applications for money. If I could find money for a project, I was told, then I could start working as an advisor. It was quite obvious that they didn’t have the slightest idea about anything related to the national heritage, for example museums or restoration. In my application I had, however, also mentioned that I would also be happy to work with environmental problems or the peace process. I was told that it was difficult to find something for me since I had already finished my academic career and didn’t need any practice.

I understand this, but why didn’t anybody tell me this from the beginning? On their website they are still looking for volunteers. I felt humiliated, stupid and left after a few days.

Since I had decided to stay for a month, doing my own research as well, I spent some time at the comfortable and pleasant Home for Cooperation (H4C), in the UN buffer zone, Lefkosia. I listened to lectures and met friends at H4C, where the staff is always friendly and helpful. After the lectures and discussions, there were often abundant buffets and refreshments. What do these enormous expenses have to do with reconciliation? Different NGOs often organise fairs, festivals and parties, where lots of material is distributed – T-shirts, books, pens, pamphlets etc. In what way does all this have any influence on the peace process?

A more obvious and serious problem is the complete absence of listeners who really should be there - ordinary Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Where are they? Instead we always met the same faces - foreign diplomats and businessmen, students, a few intellectuals. A Turkish Cypriot friend of mine has one theory about the absence of the Greek Cypriots, at least. According to her, they refuse any contact with Turkish Cypriots and anything which has to do with the UN, since the Greek Cypriots consider the UN to be ”bought” by Turkey.

A quotation from Dr Kate Flynn and Dr Tony King’s report: ”There is notable societal mistrust both within as well as between communities. There is suspicion about political leadership and the direction of the talks.”


Marie-Louise Winbladh, archaeologist, author, researcher, 1971-2001 curator of the Cyprus Collections in Stockholm, http://cypernochkreta.dinstudio.se.