Education is the key to solving diplomatic conflicts in Cyprus, according to the deputy director of La Trobe University’s Centre for Dialogue.
Dr Michalis S. Michael, whose research has focused on the Cypriot conflict, said education was crucial to conflict resolution in the troubled region.
“Education – dialogue, communication and exchange – is the key to things progressing,” he said.
Last year, Dr Michael attended the Cypriot Academic Dialogue in Cyprus, where he facilitated a session and participated in many others.
He said the conference, also attended by academics from Greece, Turkey, and all over Cyprus, focused on the future of Cyprus.
“If you start talking, you can start trying to understand the way the other’s thoughts, beliefs and positions,” he said.
“But understanding doesn’t mean you agree.”
As a Greek Cypriot refugee from the island’s Turkish north, Dr Michael said without the perspective of insiders, diplomatic negotiations can be condescending.
“It can be patronising, like ‘you’re two naughty boys and us more civilised people are here to teach you’,” he said.
But, while he described himself as “very passionate” about Cyprus, he said it was important not to get too emotionally involved in his work.
“You need to steer a neutral path, although those demarcations are very simplistic and misleading,” he said.
He also visited Turkey for the first time last year, when he was invited to participate in a conference about Turkey’s role in Europe.
Dr Michael studied Modern Greek and politics as an undergraduate at the University of Sydney, where he completed a Master’s Degree before he moved to Melbourne’s La Trobe University in 2000.
A brief stint in politics lead him back to a career in academia, where he completed a PhD at La Trobe, and has been involved in the Centre for Dialogue since its creation in 2005.
While his work is currently research-based, he said the Centre for Dialogue, which has links with universities in Greece and Cyprus, was looking at taking on post-graduate students in the future.
He said studying social sciences helped him to think laterally, and encouraged people to link ideas.
“I think it’s important to study anything,” he said.
“But the social sciences and humanities are much more intriguing and rewarding.”
He said the highlight of working in academia was the practical application of ideas.
“It’s good to see academic resolutions in practice, with the issues in the context of the Green Line, the buffer zone, and with colleagues from the north and south,” he said.