LEFKOSIA, Cyprus - On the island country of Cyprus, May Day is a national holiday. Most businesses are closed, festive parades take place in all the major cities; and restaurants, cafes, and beaches are filled with holiday crowds. May Day on Cyprus is always a big deal, but on this particular May 1, beginning in the late afternoon and continuing into the evening, an event of historic dimensions was organized by the Pancyprian Federation of Labor (PEO) and Devrimci çi Sendikalari Federasyonu (Confederation of Revolutionary Labor Unions, Cyprus) (Dev-Is).
The big event was held in the capital city of Lefkosia (Nicosia) and attracted a massive turnout from the populace, especially labor. Of note were the drum & bugle corps from local communities across the country. In the part of Nicosia controlled by the Republic of Cyprus, the celebration began with a rally in front of the government ministry of finance, serving as a challenge to the current government's capitulation to the demands of foreign bankers, to the detriment of the working people of Cyprus. After that rally the march proper stepped off, heading towards the North to the accompaniment of the marching bands.
The route took marchers past Ledra Palace, where current president Nicos Anastasiades was entertaining foreign dignitaries, not to celebrate May Day but rather to commemorate Cyprus's becoming part of the EU. At the same time as these marchers were heading north a group of mostly Turkish Cypriot workers was headed south after a similar May Day rally held in the Turkish occupied northern part of Nicosia. The two contingents meet inside the UN patrolled buffer zone, the "no man's land" separating the southern 2/3rds of the Republic of Cyprus from the north.
This meeting, inside the buffer zone, was unprecedented.
In the 1970's ultra-right nationalists from both communities, the Turkish Cypriot TMT and Greek Cypriot EOKA-B, went to great lengths to separate the two communities, even waging campaigns of terror and assassination against those Cypriot's who struggled for unity. The inter-communal violence perpetrated by these nationalist sought to divide the Cypriot people and opened the door to the Turkish invasion and subsequent occupation. Fortunately the right nationalists were discredited and now, although the nationalists continue to have some following, most Cypriots of Greek and Turkish origin alike aspire to a reunified Cyprus with a single sovereignty and international personality, an aspiration that was borne out by this historic May Day meeting.
The historic meet up was followed by speeches from Pambis Kyritsis, secretary general of PEO, Andros Kyprianou, General Secretary of the CC of AKEL (Progressive Party of Working People, the communist party of Cyprus), and progressive leaders of the Turkish Cypriot community. The speakers delivered their remarks in their native languages which were displayed on jumbotrons, translated into Greek or Turkish. A program presented by progressive Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot musicians followed the speeches.
May Day, the workers day is special in itself, but the historic buffer zone rally at the culmination of Nicosia's May Day parades served to emphasize the essential unity and solidarity of Cyprus's two communities, a unity that was symbolically borne out by the joint appearance of Dimitris Christofias, former GS of AKEL and former President of the Republic, and Mehmet Ali Talat, former leader of the Turkish Cypriot community.
Photo: Gary Bono/PW