The European Youth Week was a unique opportunity allowing us to research and discuss the main problems that concern the youth of Cyprus. Throughout this experience we’ve had the chance to be informed of the current state of affairs that govern our society, we were able to research, voice the opinions and concerns of the youth in Cyprus and try to make our country, ourselves and our compatriots, better.
By running a survey using printed and online questionnaires, we were able to come closer to the people and listen to their concerns and ideas regarding the subject of active citizenship. Our questionnaires focused mainly on the duties of active citizens, such as: being actively up-to-date on the state of affairs, the responsibilities of the active citizen towards the society, the protection of the environment, the hunger for knowledge, the power to assert his/her rights, the respect for diversity and individuality, the intervention in cases of unlawful situations, and many more.
The response from young Cypriots was phenomenal, allowing us to collect 1757 fully filled questionnaires, 86% of which had been filled out by people between the ages of 18 and 30. Quite notable is the fact that the amount of male and female respondents was almost the same, with 55.28% of the respondents being female. Other notable findings include 76.21% of the respondents being graduates of higher education institutions and 51.6% of them being unemployed, thus revealing a substantial unemployment problem plaguing that particular group of society.
As part of the European Youth Week we had the chance of revealing our findings, as well as our own ideas to the political representatives of the state. Specifically, on the 26th of May, we had the opportunity to talk to Mr. Dimitrios Papadakis, general secretary of EDEK, who responded to our invitation and listened to our findings, concerns and ideas in a structured dialogue. During the conversation we presented our findings and posed a number of questions as well as suggestions developed by us during discussions with other team members and other citizens that showed their interest in the topic.
We initially made a reference to the fact that 37% of the respondents had answered that “none of the existing political parties express them”, and based on that, we proposed the idea of Horizontal Voting, which allows the voters to vote with greater precision as to their beliefs. The idea of introducing Horizontal Voting in elections was welcomed by Mr. Papadakis, who agreed that it would indeed benefit our society. Adding to our idea, Mr. Papadakis proposed the introduction of compulsory voting, so as to reduce non-voters and promote active participation in political affairs.
Next, we indicated that 13% of the respondents believed that there’s no use of speaking out to our government since “protesting achieves nothing”. Based on this, we asked Mr. Papadakis to justify their stance, mentioning the fact that in previous protests (e.g. Mari) the voices of the people had fallen on deaf ears. At this point, we introduced the idea of strengthening the legality and heft of petitions, enabling citizens to express their problems and ideas through them. In response, Mr. Papadakis noted that the citizens’ weapon is their voice, and they should always use it if they have something to say, together; as one. He encouraged young Cypriots to never give up hope, and keep speaking out to their governments until they’re heard. As for our idea, he found it to be a step towards a better society, although he expressed that such a feat would be hard to accomplish.
As the dialogue progressed, we talked about the fundamental features that define an active citizen, such as the action of enforcing their rights. This led to a discussion as to the selective treatment of Cypriot depositors in the current state of the economy, when compared to their peers in Greece, Spain, etc. Based on the charter of fundamental rights of the E.U., we indicated that the E.U. was violating article 20 on the equality of all citizens before the law, and, therefore, we queried as to where can the Cypriot citizens turn to in order to defend their rights. Mr. Papadakis was quick to agree with our concerns, seeing as he too had spent lots of worrisome nights on the subject. His proposal was the organization of citizens in various classes and the demonstration of social solidarity, which would come about through the cultivation of social consciousness.
Moving on, we discussed the major problem concerning our country, the Cyprus Dispute, as well as the rights of the refugees, concerning their properties in the Turkish occupied territories of Cyprus. We also referenced the fact that whereas in the initial ruling, in the case of Ms. Titika Loizidou, it had been ruled that refugees would continue to own their properties and be eligible for monetary compensation for not being allowed to enjoy them, the rulings have since evolved negatively. It’s apparent that since the case of, Ms. Eleni Meleagrou, any cases of refugees claiming compensation for their lost properties would result in rulings that include monetary compensation with the condition that the refugee loses all ownership of the property. We expressed our displeasure to all parties involved -namely the European Court of Human Rights, the Government of Cyprus and the Turkish Government- for this kind of treatment towards the matter, as well as the concern that these tactics only serve to lower the validity and power of the Government of Cyprus. Mr. Papadakis agreed that our concerns are completely valid, however he did not comment on them any further.
Towards the end of our dialogue, we talked about promoting and cultivating the environmental awareness of the citizens. We proposed greater green areas per neighbourhood (instead of only every house having its own yard) and the creation of a group of volunteers in each municipality with the task of tree planting. Both ideas were embraced by Mr. Papadakis. Also, based on our findings we discovered that 76.27% of the respondents used online news media sites and 73.02% used online social media sites. Extrapolating these findings, we proposed that political actors should strengthen their online presence, bringing them closer to their citizens.
In conclusion, this experience was a tremendous opportunity to acknowledge a lot of different problems concerning our society, as well as a means to get to know and appreciate the power of an active citizen. Through structured dialogue we were able to showcase our findings, express our thoughts and concerns and discuss them with our colleagues, thereby helping us evolve our problem solving skills so as to come up with viable solutions to modern day societal and political problems. Moreover, we were able to evaluate the integrity and approachability of the political actors of our country and were given the chance to discuss our findings, ideas and concerns with them. This was a valuable one-of-a-kind experience that helped us think about our future and will hopefully help in the improvement of our society and ourselves as active citizens. All in all, the knowledge attained during the European Youth Week will be with us for the rest of our lives.
Prepared by: Panagiotis Kyriacou & Yiota Lazarou