Slowly they wind their way up upper Bourke Street. It is a cold, wintry day and the street, especially this far up from the Bourke Street mall, is deserted. Still, they shuffle, shouting to the closed windows, crying to the brooding shadows of the empty buildings: “Justice for Cyprus! Justice for Cyprus!” over and over again, as if these words, coupled with “Turkish troops out of Cyprus!” are a magic mantra that require repetition a prescribed but undisclosed number of times or need to be intoned in a particular way in order to unleash the magic entrapped within them and bring about by spell and incantation, the elusive resolution of the Cyprus Issue.
The stragglers reach Parliament House. They are few and their hair is generally gray in hue. As they listen to self-appointed dignitaries mouth platitudes, they purse their lips and shake their heads. Once in a while, someone will interpose a desultory “Justice for Cyprus,” and the rest of the small gathering will repeat it half-heartedly, once or twice, but they soon fall silent. Some of the dignitaries will attempt to punctuate their addresses with words such as «Ζήτω» which the crowd repeats like automatons, but with growing indifference and a sense of melancholy. All of them remember with bitterness and nostalgia, the days of old, when a sea of Greek people, a veritable «λαοθάλασσα» would surge through the city centre, spraying its righteous anger upon the rest of the populace. Now THAT was a protest. Whereas this….this miniscule gathering takes the form of a living wake, one in which we mourn the passage into impotence and oblivion of our own community, wondering when the inevitable and ever imminent day of our demise shall come, marvelling that we are still alive, in any event. Viewed from this perspective, (and there are many others, for the Justice for Cyprus Committee has over the course of four decades tirelessly campaigned on many fronts for the restitution of justice on the island, notably recently with one of the best websites around) the annual Justice for Cyprus march appears now to many of its participants to have more to do with justifying our own continued existence to ourselves than in substantively seeking redress for a heinous crime. In the Cypro-Cartesian we employ: “I protest, therefore I am.”
The young ladies who once wore black and carried the photos of their missing loved ones at the head of the protest march have now grown old. Large furrows have been carved down their cheeks by the descent of countless tears. They still wear black, they still carry the same photos and they still have no idea what became of their loved ones, though their suspicions can be discerned clearly in their eyes. They have been at the forefront of this demonstration for over four decades. They have heard, over the course of those decades, sundry Australian, Helladic and Cypriot politicians vow that they will fight for the freedom of Cyprus. Over the years, that oath has turned into a pledge that they will support a just ‘solution’ to the ‘problem’ for both sides implying that victimhood is not only annoying and inconvenient but also, ambivalent. Now, they just don’t bother turning up at all, neither they, nor the hierarchs with aspirations of ethnarchy, nor the majority of the community presidents of organisations with pretentions to leadership save for a few key ones such as the GOCMV, and nor indeed, the Hellenic Facebook warriors, those who behind their computer screens emphatically type maledictions against the ‘lesser races’ who have caused the Greek people’s woes. So intent are they about fighting the battle for reclaiming Greece’s greatness in cyberspace by accusing those of moderate and nuanced views of being traitors and posting racially abusive memes, that they refuse to budge from their virtual trenches for even a moment, to make the trip down to the city, pick up a flag and march down the empty streets, to protest against the continued occupation of Cyprus before an empty and mute parliament, to the clouds and the skies and whatever celestial being inhabits them. Mingling with the remnants of the masses is quite beneath them.
Also notably absent is the Melbourne Cypriot community, almost in its entirety. For weeks prior to the protest march, the diverse forms of Greek media beg and cajole the populace to descend upon the city and support our Cypriot brethren, only to discover when those few heeding their call arrive, that those same Cypriot brethren are largely nowhere to be seen. Thus, while the few chant: “Justice for Cyprus!” not a few chant: “Where are the Cypriots?” The answer, of course is as simple as it is sad: those who would maintain the rage are either infirm or dead and their descendants lack the immediacy of that rage to rouse themselves to a fervour sufficient for participation. Time, as always, is the enemy, and the enemy knows this.
In a community that measures success by empty and often quixotic gestures rather than by substantive results, the indifference shown by the community to what ostensibly is the key event in the yearly campaign to obtain justice for their homeland, is mystifying. Yet it need not be so and the community’s decision to abjure public protest is completely understandable, as regrettable as it is. Turkish troops brutally invaded and have occupied Cyprus for over four decades. Tens of thousands of Cypriots lost their homes, their livelihoods and their loved ones. Only the other day, a mass grave of Cypriot prisoners of war, massacred by the Turks, was discovered in the port of Kyrenia. Yet save for a few face-saving United Nations resolutions, the international community has displayed a blatant unwillingness to punish Turkey for its crimes, or uphold international law. Instead, it has, through conduct and omission, given us to understand that the only international law that exists, is that which the world powers are willing to enforce. As long as a country is powerful, is willing to hang on long enough, and its services are required by others, it can invade, violate international sovereignty and commit almost any crime with impunity. To add insult to injury, the international community has legitimised and rewarded Turkey for its invasion of Cyprus, by compelling the Cypriots to accept the presence of the invaders on the island as a condition precedent to the ‘issue’s solution’, and condemning the Cypriots for refusing to accept the manifestly unjust Annan Plan in 2004. All the while, silently yet indefatigably, the Justice for Cyprus Co-ordinating Comittee has been lobbying, informing, praying and hoping.
It is no wonder then that the community largely no longer participates in the Justice for Cyprus march. For protesting against the invasion and occupation of Cyprus to those who tacitly uphold the entire international legal system and who are by their inactivity, complicit in Turkey’s occupation, is tantamount to protesting to the Comintern against Stalin’s purges. It is demeaning, humiliating, hypocritical and ultimately counter-productive. Furthermore, it could be argued that the fact is that after four decades, we insist upon following the same threadbare and worn modes of protest, despite the fact that they a) have not worked; b) fail to inform public opinion as there is no-one in the city to witness them; c) do not take into account the fact that demonstrations on issues that are marginal to the mainstream are no longer effective ways to influence government policy; and d) take up energy that could be best utilised in finding other more contemporary and effective means to get the message about the injustice visited upon Cyprus across, highlights the plight of a community that is as tired, broken, bereft of energy and new ideas, as those who would solve the Cyprus problem themselves, broken by the passage of time and the impunity of the aggressor. Yet it is no fault of our own that our efforts over the past four decades have been rendered impotent, and the march, even in the form it has assumed, has become enshrined in our community calendar as a sacred day.
It is for the sacredness of this ritual, that I will attend the Justice for Cyprus march this Sunday, as I have always done.
I will do so because the valiant efforts and hard work of the Justice for Cyprus Co-ordinating Committee over four decades need to be appreciated and supported. I will do so because there is something inordinately wicked in hearing speechifiers repeat for the 43rd time, their pious hope that next year, there will be no need to protest, especially given the failure of the latest round of talks aimed at resolving the ‘Issue’, owing to a Turkish refusal to remove its troops from the island.
I will stride up a chilly, empty Bourke Street, meeting the gazes of the few bemused Asian shoppers that will cross my path with a stern countenance and I assume an air of grim determination as they raise their iPhones to entrap me within their photo gallery for eternity. I will chant the mantra “Justice for Cyprus!” and maybe mouth a few platitudes of my own because it is the voice crying in the wilderness that often prepares the way of the lord, save that, I have absolutely no idea which lord that may be. I will repeat the Justice for Cyprus incantation: «Δεν ξεχνώ, » because more than anything, it serves as a cursory warning to all those who look to hollow international and man-made political structures for safety and believe, in that need for safety, in human progress. But most of all, I will hold the hands of those sorrowful women, whose grief cannot be diminished by time, and for whom there is no balm in Gilead. The violation of Cyprus teaches us never to forget how precarious, how vulnerable, our existence actually may be and it is mostly for this reason, put in Orwell’s 1984 so eloquently: “We didn’t ought to ‘ave trusted the buggers,” that all of us, the entire community, should attend the Justice for Cyprus march, hopefully, for the last time.