Copyright Kerk Boon Leng March 2013

As it happened my first visit to  Cyprus ended the week when for the first time in 40 years the world’s gaze is fixed on this violin-shaped island in the Mediterranean ten times the size of Penang. The last time the world gave a hoot was in 1974 when Turkey invaded, occupying the northern third of the island to this present day.

Economics and media gurus can postulate any way they like about the Cyprus  financial meltdown but looking at cultural clues sometimes gets one closer to understanding the problem.

Cypriots are proud and independent people: the product of a 2,000-year mixing of eastern Mediterranean blood and cultures with invading Romans, West European Crusaders, Venetians, Ottoman Turks and British.

In a geographical sense, Cyprus is more accurately in the Middle East ( its capital Nicosia is nearer to Cairo and Damascus than to Athens ). Language and culture bind Greek Cypriots to Greece and Turkish Cypriots to Turkey but the two communities (despite modern forced separation) have had a long enough history and experience of living together to jointly claim a Cypriot identity distinct from their mainland compatriots.

Greek Cypriots like the Greeks share the same orthodox christian faith with Russians;  while Turkish Cypriots are like muslims in the Balkan countries known for following a relaxed and highly secular form of the religion. In  business and civic institutions, legal system and driving rules, Cyprus as an English-speaking commonwealth country more closely resembles Australia and New Zealand than the rest of Europe.

Cyprus may be puny but its long history of being neglected by distant foreign overlords makes it unaccustomed to being scrutinized and bossed around too much.

It enjoys its new found status and sophistication as a European country but wants to, at the same time, be free to pursue its position as tax haven in the sun for wealthy clients whether they are from Russia or anywhere. The discovery of huge deposits of offshore gas south of the country (enough for 60% of Europe’s needs) only adds to Cyprus’ national display of self-confidence and intransigence.

Click here for  Pictures of Cyprus

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