Sunday, 14 April 2013

The Cypriots and the Others:

Putting Cypriot Solidarity to Test

The shock that our country is going through these past weeks is one that most of us have not been prepared for. It has shaken the very foundations that we have been securely building and obliviously standing on, and it now puts to test the values that will either keep us together, as people, or tear us further apart.
All of us encounter the growing realities of despair by those hit the hardest by Cyprus’ abrupt economic austerity. These are the realities of the unemployed amongst us, of the ones who fear losing their homes, of the pensioners and bankrupted business owners, of the mentally and physically disabled and of the elderly too frail to support themselves. 

What has been a breeze of hope in these desperate moments is the phenomenal wave of events being organised in response to the growing needs of the citizens amongst us. And these are not only the big charity efforts that are receiving immense support from people all over Cyprus. There are also smaller efforts; efforts whose character is more one of solidarity than of charity, and these too are multiplying on a daily basis. These are the efforts of the people who come together and set up groups for collecting food and funds that would pay for their neighbour’s bills, people cooking for community kitchens, and people who volunteer to look after children while their parents go to work. All these efforts, small or big, the solidarity ones or the ones for charity, are a proof that Cypriots are capable of feeling empathy for another human being. 

Yet there is something saddening and incredibly worrying surfacing from these stories of charity and solidarity for our fellow Cypriots. These are the parallel stories of exclusion and hostility that are spreading with great aggression towards the non-Cypriots citizens of the island, such as the domestic workers, the asylum seekers, the refugees, the international students, and the undocumented migrants. 

What is sad is that once again these people are being used as scapegoats for the Cypriot ills, while all of us know they have played no role in bringing Cyprus to where it stands now. What is worrying is that we have allowed our understanding of solidarity to be manipulated and our feelings of empathy to be disturbed in a way that uses the “crisis” to justify the unacceptable discrimination and exclusion of the already marginalised and fragile people in our society. 

We know that we are not alone in believing that to emerge from this crisis, we must reclaim our vision of a community, based on solidarity towards every individual living on this island, irrespective of one’s status, disability, religion, gender, age, or ethnic origin. And this is because as Aurora Levins Morales once said, "Solidarity is not a matter of altruism. Solidarity comes from the inability to tolerate the affront to our own integrity of passive or active collaboration in the oppression of others, and from the deep recognition of our most expansive self-interest. From the recognition that, like it or not, our liberation is bound up with that of every other being on the planet, and that politically, spiritually, in our heart of hearts we know anything else is unaffordable." 

Future Worlds Center

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