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Unraveling the Mushroom Theory in Cyprus

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A few months ago I happened to attend a discussion (or attempt thereof) held on Oct. 10, 2011 at the Cultural Center of Larnaca, Cyprus, regarding the concept of federation.

The event was indented to take the form of a discussion with Mr. Alexander Downer, the UN Secretary General representative in Cyprus since 2008. Mr. Downer had just stepped off the plane from a trip in Australia and had graciously accepted the invitation to hold a discussion that same evening. The event was organized by the NGO Support Center and the Engage Program funded by UNDP. What ensued after Mr. Downer's brief comments about some of the fundamentals of a federation system, was a dramatic comedy of errors: shouting, personal attacks towards Mr. Downer and others attending -- including the mayor of the city of Larnaca- and lo and behold verbal fist fights amongst several audience members that walked out. Some of us tried to restore the balance with apologies and shifting gears to the subject at hand, while a teenager in the audience asked the most poignant question of all evening.

As the evening drew to an end, one thing was clear: The events revealed once again that there exists a huge chasm in the three generations in Cyprus and their perceptions of the past, the present and the future brought by unresolved pain, lack of transparency, lack of dialogue and an anemic civic society. The baby boomers were bitter, feisty and one could even say, uncivilized. They didn't comprehend the point of the event, they didn't listen to anything anyone said and they seemed blinded by their emotions. The two Generation Xers tried to focus on the present, apologized for the verbal jabs and tried to make sense of the technicalities of customizing a federation system in Cyprus. The Generation Y representative asked a forward-looking question clearly with eyes in the future.

The events also revealed once again a deep division of left and right (and I don't mean in driving regulation), north and south in Cyprus. It seems that the various local politicians are holding self-built compasses wrought with personal dogmas, unreliable and rusty and they are guiding the emotionally charged masses to nowhere... perhaps a bit like the emotionally and strategically blind leading the blind?

Well, we no longer need rusty dogmatic compasses: We have iPads and Google Earth and satellites. As Cypriots mostly of the repatriating Diaspora, we are multilingual and multicultural and we appreciate a good glass of arak and a delicious dragon roll (not together perhaps).

We know our poetry and music and our Nobel Laureates as well as our designer houses and fast cars and we give back because "to whom much is given, much is expected" and "we are hungry and curious" to quote a current magnate and a late icon. We have sat in conference rooms and made decisions to handle millions of euros/dollars/yen (fill in your applicable currency here) shoulder to shoulder with people whose grandparents were college professors and diplomats whereby our grandparents were goat herders and potters and our parents migrants to god-forsaken places. Our perspectives and points have been welcomed and applauded. We have brains and heart and experience and expertise and can harness and deploy these along with technology and innovation. We understand risk and reward and can strategize with reason and optimism and hard work to re-define leadership in this century, which happens to be the 21st (for those stuck in years and dogmas gone by) and we can dream and live in a multicolor world, not just red, or blue or white or green or whatever! 

The world is multicolored and 3D and we can dream in it, risk in it, care about it and live it!

So, while the mushroom theory ("feed them shit and keep them in the dark") practiced by many local politicians in the past fifty to sixty years may have worked in Cyprus, today, a different, smarter, more confident, demanding and articulate breed of citizens exists and is turning the mushroom theory upside down as we speak.

So, as a repatriated Cypriot heritage Gen Xer, I would like to once again apologize to Mr. Downer for the verbal jabs he received the other evening, and reiterate the value of building a strong civic society and equally leveraging our hearts and brains.