Cultural Diplomacy News (CDN)
The Hon. Ioannis Kasoulides (Former Foreign Minister of Cyprus)

06.11.2009 - Interview conducted by Holly Perman Turnbull

Ioannis Kasoulides was first elected into the Cypriot parliament in 1991. Two years later he obtained his first governmental role as a spokesman and was subsequently appointed to the post of Foreign Minister, a position he held until the 2003 elections. Kasoulides was among the first group of Cypriot MEPs to be elected in 2004 and, in February 2008, ran as a presidential candidate in the general elections. Despite being defeated, he has remained popular with Cypriot voters due to his open-mindedness and propensity to listen and negotiate. He is heavily credited with having supported Cyprus’s EU accession and prompting an initiative to improve relations with Turkey and the Turkish-Cypriot community. Currently a member of the Committee of Foreign Affairs, the Delegation for Relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council and the delegation to the Euro-Mediterranean Assembly, Kasoulides has received many honours from the Cypriot, Palestinian, Lebanese and Maltese governments for his diplomatic efforts.

During the “World Without Walls”, Ioannis Kasoulides participated in a panel discussion entitled, ‘Balancing Global Public Goods and National Priorities: Establishing Foreign Policy in an Interdependent World.’ In addition he gave his own lecture on ‘Breaking down visible and invisible walls’ during which he spoke about the ongoing negotiations between the two leaders of Cyprus and the importance of political equality in decision-making. Kasoulides kindly took the time to speak to a member of the CD News team, during which he discussed European expansion and integration and the importance of cultural diplomacy in breaking down social divisions.

Minister Kasoulides it is such a pleasure to have you with us here today. My first question refers to the EU. The potential for EU membership has been a powerful drive for reform in many countries. Would care to reflect on the role that the EU plays in alleviating conflict and in peace keeping?

Well first of all it has had symbolic role in the reunification of the European continent following the fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of the Soviet Union. I think this has brought peace and stability within the EU itself. The EU also works in a way that encourages stability to spill over into its neighbourhood. There are a number of projects in place, for example, that aim to ensure that there is not a division separating ‘us’ in the European Union and ‘the others outside’. There is this project of the Eastern partnership and the Neighbourhood Policy for all the countries with European location that in the future will be able to join the European Union. We also have the Union for the Mediterranean that includes all our neighbours in the south, in Northern Africa and the Middle East, who will be our partners forever.

What are your thoughts on the increased widening and deepening of the EU? And what is your opinion on the potential accession of Turkey?

There has always been a debate regarding the prospects of deepening and the problems that may be caused by enlargement. As you know, it has taken a long period of time and there have been a number of obstacles to overcome in order to finally reach a conclusion, implement the Lisbon treaty and take a further decisive step towards integration and deepening. It is true that among public opinion in many European countries there is a certain fatigue regarding enlargement and the consequences that enlargement will entail, particularly in the case of big countries such as Turkey. In the case of Turkey it is not only a question of responding to the EU criteria or making good progress in the reforms. We also need to consider the capacity of the EU to absorb Turkey and the impact that such an enlargement will have on the European Union. All these factors need to be taken into consideration because it’s not only what Turkey can do in order to join the European Union that is important, but also what the EU can do for Turkey once Turkey joins. The EU has to be in a capacity to respond to the expectations of Turkey, which is not something automatic.

Would you agree that the deepening of the EU is perhaps a threat to national cultural identities and if so what role should the EU play in trying to counter this?

In the EU one has never considered the diversity in culture, in language, in religions, in denominations, lets put it, as an impediment. On the contrary, it has been considered as something enriching. And therefore, this kind of consideration does not enter at all into the debate regarding enlargement or regarding deepening.  Deepening will be done on political terms but not on cultural terms. 

Finally, the overarching theme of this conference is a world without walls.  What role can cultural diplomacy play in breaking down the walls that still exist in today’s world?

As I said this morning, many walls remain in today’s world. However, the walls we need to combat most are perhaps not physical and perhaps not visible. By this I am of course referring to the walls we have within our own minds. We often try to define ourselves through divisions, through the differences we have with others, to set the positive image we have of ourselves against a different and negative ‘other’. Therefore, in order to manage to get away those divisions within our minds, divisions related to race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender - gender is still, I’m afraid, something that divides us – we must use cultural diplomacy. It is only cultural diplomacy and cultural interaction, which will help us to break down the divisions in our minds. What we need is not diplomacy per se, diplomacy between governments, but interaction between people.

Thank you once again so much for sharing this time with us.