Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Rimbaud returns to Cyprus

Interesting this new French school opening in Nicosia next September. No doubt it’s intended to rival the English School, which is traditionally where most of the Cypriot elite have sent their children for secondary education and was established in 1900 with the specific purpose of producing a class of Anglicised Cypriots better able to help Britain maintain colonial rule over the island. To a large extent, the English School, 50 years after Cyprus won its independence, still performs that function. The three poles of influence in modern Cyprus have been the British, the Greek Orthodox Church and AKEL, the Cyprus communist party. But now the French – as part of a wider strategy to re-assert themselves in the Eastern Mediterranean – are looking for a slice of the Cypriot pitta. Interestingly, President Christofias, who wouldn’t know Paris from Phnom Penh, has been instrumental in getting the proposed French School off the ground, presumably because he sees it as impinging on British influence on the island.

And the name of new French school is going to be the ‘Arthur Rimbaud’. I’ve written about the great French poet’s connections to Cyprus before. The greatest outlaw and misfit – anarchist, if you like – in modern literature is a strange person to name a school for elite Cypriot kids after; but if there is going to be a French school on the island – and, personally, I don’t know what’s wrong with Greek paideia – one who wrote the following lines, from A Season in Hell, is allright by me:

If only I had a link to some point in the history of France!

But instead, nothing.

I am well aware that I have always been of an inferior race. I cannot understand revolt. My race has never risen, except to plunder; to devour like wolves a beast they did not kill.

I remember the history of France, the Eldest Daughter of the Church. I would have gone, a village serf, crusading to the Holy Land; my head is full of roads in the Swabian plains, of the sight of Byzantium, of the ramparts of Jerusalem; the cult of Mary, the pitiful thought of Christ crucified, turns in my head with a thousand profane enchantments-- I sit like a leper among broken pots and nettles, at the foot of a wall eaten away by the sun. --And later, a wandering mercenary, I would have bivouacked under German nighttimes.


Hermes said...

John, did you forget the other pole of influence, the Greek State? As far as I understand, primary and secondary education in Cyprus closely follows the curriculum followed by Helladic Greece with a few additions covering Cypriot history and literature (but this is not much different for a Cretan or Zakythnian school). At a tertiary level, much of what is taught would be similar to what is taught in Athens or Thessaloniki. And in fact, many Cypriots study in Greek universities.

NOCTOC said...

Rimbaud,the greatest outlaw and misfit – anarchist has a school named after him in ultra conservative Cyprus. A school aimed at the ultra rich Cypriot kids who are going to be tommorows ultra conservative political and economic leaders.
What a parody and travesty! But we are used to all these strange phenomena in Cyprus.

John Akritas said...

Noctoc: My thoughts exactly! What an irony – a great irony!

H: You're right. I was going to say this, but chose to lump Helladic influence, the influence of Greek nationalism, etc, under the Greek Orthodox church, which has, for the most part, been the bearer of these influences.

NOCTOC said...

Archbishop Chrysostomos was planning to build Greek Orthodox schools in all major cities in Cyprus. However, the current economic crisis has hold him back.
Under the Cypriot constitution all public schools in Cyprus belong either to the Greek or Turish community and not to the Cypriot State. This is the reason why Christofias has not dared to take down the Greek flags from the masts at school buildings. The Greek Orthodox Church has build many of the schools currently belonging to the Greek community but the Church is not happy with the educational system because it does not promote Hellenic and Orthodox values as much as the Church wishes it to do so.

John Akritas said...

Yes, N. I remember Chrysostomos' pledge on building new schools. Schools are a battlefield. I mentioned recently how the new education minister, on Ochi Day, declared his intention to turn Cypriot schools into bastions of 'democracy' and 'social justice' – which is something a Cuban education minister might say.

Hermes said...

There is nothing wrong with Greek and Greek Orthodox schools promoting Hellenism and Orthodoxy - actually that is the right way. The English and French are foreign borne diseases.

If anybody thinks that the political, cultural and economic crisis afflicting Greece and Cyprus are because of Greek values they are completely wrong. The crisis is because of an absence of Greek values. Therefore, the schools mucst become more Helleno-Romaic centric.

NOCTOC said...

I agree with you Hermes and I am sure John Akritas does also. Chrysostomos was trying to built schools belonging to the Church of Cyprus in order to safeguard these values which are under constant attack by the current government and by outside forces which are greatly undermining Greek Cypriot culture.
Cypriots are great mimickers. As a society we love to imitate Europeans, believing that this is progress and by doing so we become enculturated. For this reason we look down on our own Greek Cypriot culture and we remember it only during Easter.
The educational system has a lot to be desired but removing Hellenic values and changing history books in order to please the Turks will make matters worse. Fabricating history does not eliminate nationalism and extreme right wing fanatics. Understanding of the "other" can only be achieved by also teaching Turkish Cypriot culture in Schools as well as offering Turkish as a optinal foreign language in the high school coriculum. These are two among many options.

John Akritas said...

I agree with you, N. when you say that in order for a peaceful Cyprus, there is no need for us to abandon that part of our identity which is Greek and sees itself as part of a wider Greek culture and nation. This attempt (by AKEL) to impose a fictitious Cypriot identity on us – which stresses superficial similarities between Greek and Turkish Cypriots – is an exercise in Stalinist nation-building, as happened in FYROM.

However, where I don't agree with you is that GCs need to learn Turkish in schools and so on. Not even in the darkest days of Ottoman domination did Cypriots feel the need to speak Turkish. We even expected our rulers to speak our language. It's a slippery slope. What next? Celebrating the birth of Mohammed, or Mustafa Kemal, just to show the TCs we 'understand them'. I'm not denying that in a reunified Cyprus imaginative measures aimed at reconciling Greek and Turkish Cypriots will have to be taken; but I think the emphasis should on bringing the TCs closer to us not us to them. This is how it's always been in Cyprus – with the TCs speaking Greek and being cryptochristians. Our mistake was not following through with this assimilation – our fanatics, the British and Turkish nationalism – are responsible for the Turkification of the TCs.

However, I'm not peddling an ultra-nationalist line that we should ram Hellenism down TC throats, and I don't deny that we've missed a trick – especially since 2004 – when it comes to exploiting this new-found desire among many TCs to live as Cypriots in a reunified island; I'm just not sure about the options you mention. Off the top of my head, here's one thing we should do: arrest and put on trial the people responsible for the EOKA B massacres in Tochni and Maratha. That would really impress the TCs.

NOCTOC said...

I wrote that Turkish should be an optional course Akritas not compulsory:-)
And yes, murder is murder and murderers should be brought to justice but I don't think this will ever happen.

Anonymous said...

only Greek cathlics tied to the venetians became cryto christians under ottoman rule. the vast majority 90 percent of Turkish cypriots can trace their roots back to Anatolia however the secular culture in that community comes from partial assimulation as well as importing kemalist secularism as early as the 1920's

John Akritas said...

I'd encourage you not to believe Turkish nationalist claptrap about the origins of the Turkish Cypriots. Most serious historians will tell you that the TCs were Maronites, Greeks and Latins who declared themselves Muslim because of the privileges such a status had in the Ottoman empire. GCs and TCs actually have remarkably similar DNA, which tells you what: either TCs have nothing to do with Anatolia or, more correctly, Central Asia or that GCs do. Obviously, neither is the case. Here are some names of TC villages in Cyprus:

Ayios Symeon
Ayios Iakovos
Ayios Efstathios
Petra tou Digheni
Ayios Theodoros
Kalo Horio.

Funny names for Turks to choose for their villages as they got off the boat from Anatolia.