Here’s what I think: ELAM’s flag burning

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Here's what I think: ELAM's flag burning 1

Last Friday being 15th November, the anniversary of the declaration of independence of the Turkish Cypriot state, it was unlikely that the week was going to pass without some newsworthy stupidity in one for another, and so it proved. As is now customary, a range of different groups held protests just south of the Green Line against the anniversary, ranging from the (misspelled) message of unity that predominantly left-leaning student unions POFEN and PSEM presented in their protest, to the headline-stealing ELAM.

Here's what I think: ELAM's flag burning 2
Tom Cleaver

For those unaware of what ELAM did to steal the headlines this year, here it is. They took what appears to be a homemade flag of northern Cyprus and set it on fire. Now, flag-burning is a superficial act; no one was physically hurt, but the act is still one that for obvious reasons angers people nonetheless. A flag is a political statement, yet represents a people irrespective of their politics. Thus, burning a flag is, albeit indirectly, attacking a people in its entirety, and this was no accident on ELAM’s part, as I need not explain.

News of the flag-burning had reached Turkish Cypriot politicians by Friday evening, and statements of ire and condemnation were out on all sides of Turkish Cypriot politics by breakfast on Saturday. Shortly after, however, the statements of some had gone a step further. Following a Saturday when nobody in Greek Cypriot politics said anything about the incident, Kudret Özersay was not quite as silent. He questioned why there had been no message condemning the burning of the flag.

on the one hand it is unfair to expect a condemnation for an act from someone who did not do it

It is now Monday evening and condemnation is yet to come, so I would imagine that it is pretty safe to say that condemnation will probably not happen. I have mixed opinions on this. On the one hand, it is unfair to expect an apology or condemnation for an act, from a group that did not commit the act in question. It was ELAM and only ELAM that burnt the flag, and so it could be deemed unfair to expect the rest of Greek Cypriot politics to condemn an act that they did not commit.

However, there is a part of me that thinks that condemnation should come without a second thought. It is not, or at least hopefully is not, a radical position to see the burning of a flag as distasteful, or to be disgusted by it. It is for that reason that a distasteful yet politically motivated act happening in a country’s capital city should probably be condemned immediately by that country’s entire political spectrum. In this case it could be argued that a lack of condemnation is implicitly condoning the flag-burning.

ELAM has been allowed to flourish thanks to rhetoric perpetuated by parts of greek cypriot mainstream politics

I believe that saying that and that alone in an isolated incident would probably be unfair and be a bad precedent to set, but in this world very few things occur in isolation. While ELAM may be a fringe group, it has been allowed to flourish thanks to the rhetoric which is perpetuated by parts of the mainstream of Greek Cypriot politics, going back many decades, well before the ELAM’s formation in 2008.

The rhetoric which comes from mainstream politicians is what allows the extremists to take their extremism a step further, given that many in the mainstream also play on the same sentiment of nationalist anger among the population in order to win votes, albeit to greater and lesser extents. It would not be entirely unfair, therefore, to suggest that the blame for the burning of a flag last Friday lays partly at the feet of the Greek Cypriot mainstream politics, and that a condemnation of this individual act from the politicians in the Greek Cypriot mainstream would not go amiss.

All that being said, there is still a small glimmer of hope. Akıncı and Anastasiades will meet in Berlin this weekend, with the same task they have every time they meet: to solve the Cyprus Problem. My political instinct tells me not to be optimistic about where the meeting in Berlin will lead, but given that politics can be incredibly draining sometimes and not much in global politics seems to be going right at the moment, I’ll allow myself to indulge in a small amount of baseless optimism just this once. I’ll report to you from a reunited Cyprus next Monday.

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