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22.11.2021, 14:54 184

Flag Fetishism

Around every 15 November we get embroiled in protracted arguments. Not just in Cyprus, here in UK too, where I live. This year was no exception.

A Turkish Cypriot local authority councillor, Nick Halebi obtained permission to hoist the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) flag in front of his Council building in Waltham Forest. This was in order to mark the declaration of an independent Turkish republic in North Cyprus. I don’t know how the decision-making mechanism works on these types of issues, but it transpired that the Leader of the Council had not known about this.

Around 20 Turkish Cypriots, only one or two of whom were Waltham Forest residents, hoisted the TRNC flag at 10.00 a.m. last Monday, 15 November. The fact that they had kept the event secret showed that they had been expecting a negative reaction. As it happened, when the Leader of the Council, Councillor Grace Williams got wind of this due to a huge reaction, she ordered the flag to be taken down.

I interpret this whole issue like this: The flag hoisting event was a calculated, masterful, party political move to portray the Labour administration in a negative light. Halebi and his Tory Party friends thought they would score a political point, in preparation for the forthcoming local elections in May 2022. The Tories have no chance of winning in Waltham Forest. They only have 14 councillors out of 60. Could it be that Councillor Halebi has ambitions for an MP position in an area with high Turkish Cypriot concentration, perhaps in neighbouring Chingford? I might be wrong, but I think so. We’ll have to wait and see.

Councillor Halebi claims their action has helped to bring the community together. On the contrary, by their action, those who were involved in this event have helped further divide the already divided Turkish Cypriot community. The huge social media response shows that there is a sizable number of Turkish Cypriots who do not agree with them, and see it as a gimmick, just as I do.

Councillor Grace Williams apologised in her statement for “causing offense”. However, by mentioning TRNC’s unrecognised status she made a huge mistake. It transpired that the Tibetan flag, another unrecognised country by the UK, was previously hoisted by her Council. This rightly resulted in her being accused of discriminatory practice. Subsequently she stated that that was done by her predecessor, and that the Tibetan flag too would not be hoisted anymore. That is positive. Perhaps now her and other local authority colleagues elsewhere concentrate on dealing with local issues and leave international politics well alone.

As someone who worked for various local authorities over 30 years, I have witnessed the repercussions first-hand when they start meddling in complex international issues.

***

Very few Cypriot voters base their support for political parties at elections purely on what they think about the Parties’ policy on Cyprus. All parties support the same policy on our long-suffering island anyway. The policy supported by the UN, namely a federal solution.

Like all voters, for Cypriot voters the local services provided for them are the most important consideration in deciding who to vote. While working in Islington, I saw many nationalistic Turkish Cypriots voting for Jeremy Corbyn, despite his views on Cyprus. Why? Because of his tireless efforts to help with their specific issues. Years ago, my own Labour voting family voted (just once) for the Hornsey Tory MP, Hugh Rossi much to my disgust. The reason? It was thanks to him that our immigration issue was resolved.

In short dear reader, those who come from miles away in their posh cars and hoist the flag in a predominantly working-class area are not fooling anyone. I suggest they stop dividing our community further and offer concrete assistance to our people to improve their position in a country in which they live. This they can do by monitoring how councils, and the central government deal with service delivery and when they fail come down on them hard, whether they are Tory, Labour, or LibDem.

I have no problem with any flag. I recognise and respect the TRNC flag as a symbol, nothing more. For many of us it is immaterial whether TRNC is recognised or not. For us it is a reality. My argument is with people who try to exploit people’s nationalism for their own end, political or otherwise.

I end my article with a quote from Ragip Duran, a prominent journalist / columnist/ writer from Turkey in his article titled “Flag fetishism and fascism”:

“The flag is a symbol. It portrays tradition, it contains colour from a culture, it is important, it is valued. However it does not lower interest rates, it does not increase wages, it does not come up with solutions to people’s urgent needs. Furthermore it could help make the whole situation inextricably difficult”.

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