I spent a few days recently in Nicosia, my home town. Two years ago when I was last there the effects of the global financial downturn were very evident. One of the main commercial roads in the city, Makarios Avenue was a terrible sight. Every other shop had closed down, there were empty buildings, for sale and rent signs everywhere and a general depression which enveloped the island like
I write this of course as Greece struggles to maintain its economy, its dignity and its heritage. Cypriots went through the austerity and they were harshly treated by Europe. A lot of people lost a significant portion of their savings, I lost all my investments, others lost their businesses and one of the major Cypriot banks collapsed taking its shareholders and customers down with it. Three years on, the island is not over the worst, as there will be many foreclosures on unsecured loans yet to come but it has turned a corner. Makarios Avenue, which was the height of hip when I was growing up, has now re charged and while no longer the centre it used to be, there are more shops open now, trying to make a living.
What however was heartening was the walk I took in the old city. Nicosia is the only divided capital in Europe- we have a border which divides the Greek -Cypriot south from the Turkish-Cypriot north. This is also the only city with intact Venetian walls shaped like a star with 11 bastions and 3 gates through which citizens could come and go.
Now the border is open, people can come and go across it with some minimal formalities. The old lanes and the derelict buildings have become venues for little coffee shops and bars and the areas which were once characterised as war torn have now become desirable and sought after. Old buildings are being carefully restored and maintained. I was thrilled to see this life in the old city and it comes at a time when concrete hope has also been breathed into the talks. The future holds optimism and brightness. I wish I could say the same about Greece.