“I can smell the scent of peace here… I came to give it a little push, if I can”…
Some call him Father; others call him “the voice of global consciousness”. As a child, he experienced the criminal nature of Apartheid in South Africa. Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu was the man who, along with Nelson Manedla, brought an end to the racist regime of his country, marking an immense victory of humanity. Small in stature, giant in spirit, Tutu has become a global symbol, not only for peace, but also for reconciliation, which “can only come about through forgiveness”. In the post-Apartheid era, Tutu chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which aimed at examining the circumstances under which the horrific crimes took place during the resist regime. The Commission had the authority of granting amnesty to those who gave a full confession concerning the politically motivated crimes they had committed. Transferring the wisdom of his struggle and experience, the Chairman of the Elders has recently visited half-occupied Cyprus, offering his moral support to the laborious negotiations for a peaceful solution to the Cyprus problem. When asked why he chose to visit Cyprus, of all the other problematic areas of the planet that may need his support, Tutu answered: “I can smell the scent of peace here… I came to give it a little push, if I can”…
You said you are inspired by the persistent and laborious negotiations of the two leadrers, Christofias and Talat, in working out a solution to the Cyprus problem. Why is that, isn’t it their duty to negotiate?
Well, as you know there are others that take different positions from their own. As you know, when you had a referendum in 2004, one side accepted the solution plan and the other rejected it. So it’s not a straight-forward matter. As leaders, they are up in front where perhaps some of their people in their community, and perhaps a large number of them, they might be saying, “Ah, we have been in this for too long”, and I gather that some of your polls are saying, the people do not expect anything. But they wish if they could be a resolution that meant peace and stability. This is why it’s so important to encourage both leaders to keep negotiating for a peaceful solution to the Cyprus problem.
You say that the worst enemy of peace is suspicion. But how can one overcome all this bitterness if one has seen their loved ones being killed and tortured?
How important is it to deal with the past, during a peace process?
The past always returns to haunt you. You know, it’s like a couple has a quarrel. And the man goes away and buys flowers. And they say “let the past be bygone”. The past never just disappears, because it has a life of its own. If you don’t face up to the awfulness and the beast of the past, it’s going to return and tear you apart. Even if I come along and give you a gift, at the back of your mind you still have a wound that is festering. In South Africa, we discovered -it’s something we copied from Chile and Argentina, we learnt from them and made small improvements- that it is important to face up to the past for people to be able to acknowledge that terrible things happened. People always need to know who ordered those things to happen. What happened to my loved ones? Have they just disappeared? Where they abducted? And I‘ve said, there is really no future without forgiveness. And forgiveness looks back and it looks forward.
Do you see any similarities between Cyprus and South Africa, both in terms of the conflict and the peace process?
Judging from the experience you personally had from the TRC, would you think it would be helpful if each community in Cyprus put their own war criminals to trial?
Our educational system -and particularly the lesson of history- on both sides of the border, has a very nationalistic approach concerning the narratives of the conflict. Do you think a change in how history is being taught could play a role of reconciliation between the two communities?
Absolutely! I know I shock you with this single word answer. But it is true. They say history is in the eyes of the beholder, in the eyes of the one who narrates. In many of our history books in the past, they used to say the white man (Livingston) came and discovered the Victoria Falls! There were Africans living around the Victoria Falls for so long, and they had to wait for Livingston to “discover” the Victoria Falls! So that’s how it goes, one tells the story from one’s own perspective. It will be important for Cyprus that the different perspectives are accommodated. For a long time, Nelson Mandela was described as a terrorist. The one side saw him as a freedom fighter and the other as a terrorist. Which is the truth? I gave a one-word answer to your question. I hope you could set up workshops and look at how you could depict your history. Because what we see in our history books can serve to separate us, or it can serve to bring us together.