19 December 2013 19:22

Cyprus culture has drawn the attention of world media giants this week, with reporters such as CNN's Arion McNicoll posing a question at the back of the minds of many here in Cyprus.
CNN's report is not the only attempt this week to feature the island, yet this particular article focuses on contemporary cultural elements flourishing along the Green Line in Nicosia, and perhaps, in McNicoll's eyes, may hold the answer to the capital's divided fate.
Can cultural revival heal a rift in the world's last divided capital?
"In the old town of Cyprus' capital Nicosia, something subtle and unexpected is happening," begins McNicoll. "In the wake of the economic crisis, the historic centre - an attractive old town ringed by vast 16th century Venetian walls - is gradually coming back to life with new cafés, shops, and art galleries emerging from the labyrinthine streets."
Through the feature, McNicoll depicts Ledra Street, at the heart of town, as a symbol for the island's division since 1974 and denotes its change of fate since 2008 when it was reopened with a checkpoint which can now be crossed.
 "But between the ubiquitous Kentucky Fried Chicken and Starbucks outlets, and the local restaurants selling frozen yoghurt, coffee, and souvlaki by the pita-load, UN soldiers still patrol. Gradually however, through the frustrations of separation and the strain of the economic crisis, a new generation of poets, directors and entrepreneurs are reclaiming the area."
It's interesting to see how McNicoll managed to seek the alternative people and places which form the contemporary art world of the capital. Speaking to acclaimed local band Monsieur Doumani, who are known locally and internationally for their innovative approach to traditional Cypriot folklore music, he singled  them out for the 'distinctly political edge' they give in their own, original song writing.
Monsieur Doumani said: "We strongly believe that art and music can reconcile and reunite people ... especially in parts of the world where problems are between neighbouring countries. For instance, here in Cyprus, the two communities share the same culture, and people used to live happily together listening to the same songs - in many cases sung in both Greek and Turkish. This should be used as an example to bring people of the communities together."
Local journalist, column writer and author Eleni Xenou whose opinion on the Green Line is perhaps familiar to all of us here, was also included in McNicoll's interview.
 "The Green Line gives the city a strange energy ... in a good way. There is a silence here; an absence. A feeling of the past with the UN in the middle. It is very edgy and it gives the city a very interesting charm. You need to get over yourself to get over the line."
Obviously having roamed the old part of town, McNicoll must have stumbled on Haratsi Café, a typical example of how youth are integrating themselves in their ancestor's paths and consequently bringing their own whims to the site.
"Owner Stavros Lambrakis has managed (Haratsi) since before the checkpoints opened up. The café attracts all kinds of people, and welcomes anyone from either side of town," remarks McNicoll. While Lambrakis tells him: "The vibe of the place is what I believe attracts (my customers). Haratsi is like no other place. It is on the Green Line, sitting on 'no man's land'. It carries the energy and history of the city. It is untouched and one can see how the time has stopped."
"Alongside the arts scene are the shops, many of which celebrate their location with an unmistakable irony.
"A kebab shop called Berlin 2 sits right by a street blockade; a little further down the road you can buy lingerie from No Border Underwear. On Kleanthi Christophides Street, Anastasios Gkekas runs a shop called the Office - a high-end men's fashion boutique and art gallery space," adds McNicoll, making it clear he did his research.
And he concludes: "Many younger people in Nicosia see hope for the city and believe that reconciliation, while difficult, is certainly possible."
 
 


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