“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that men and women of goodwill do nothing”
By Bertil Wedin….
In several parts of the world, many women and children are threatened by two kinds of men: the ones who are dangerously aggressive and the ones who are too weak or cowardly to protect them. Chivalry seems to have vanished in such areas.
Edmund Burke wrote famously more than 200 years ago in his Reflections on the Revolution in France: “The age of chivalry is gone. — That of sophisters, economists and calculators, has succeeded and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever.”
High-mindedness, good manners
The word chivalry can denote obedience to knightly codes of the Middle Ages, and, foremost, the duty to protect women from danger, insults and embarrassment, but it has also a wider meaning. It is felt that it generally stands for self-respect, respect for others, politeness, good manners, integrity, honour, high-mindedness, justice, fairness, truthfulness and courage.
These qualities remain admired but are understood to be rare. Their opposites – bad manners, bad taste, low-mindedness etc – are despised, but perceived to dominate the modern world.
In 1985, when my family and I settled in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, “chivalry” was the word that many foreign residents, visitors and observers used to describe the character of the country that had become an independent republic only two years earlier but had remained widely unrecognised. The TRNC was strikingly different from most of the rest of the world.
There was almost no crime in northern Cyprus. We never saw thugs, unruly drunks, impertinent youths or anyone indecently dressed. When I walked my dog at dawn I met builders and other workmen who said “Gunaydin” and bowed, not subserviently, but respectfully in a way that demanded respect.
At town centres, Turkish Cypriot teenagers and young men gathered here and there, but they never harassed anyone, far from it. They conversed cheerfully with aristocratic posture and heads high and smiling, and were greatly polite to passers-by.
When I walked past the Girne police station (then next to St Andrew’s Church) with my family to dine at the Harbour Club, members of the constabulary greeted us cheerfully from their terrace, using polite phrases: “good evening Sir”, “good evening Madam”.
When customers of Telecom paid their bills, they were invited to have coffee with Mustafa Bagman, the director. When you entered our local bank in Uppermost Girne, you were invited to sit down in a comfortable chair. You were served coffee and then asked with what the bank could oblige. Even customers with little money in their account were treated as royalty.
Our donkey escaped a few times. The Girne police always found it – somewhere, in Doğanköy or Zeytinlik, and helped us to get it back to our farm. Once, when I had been in a hurry and placed my car on the pavement right outside Dome Hotel, the police soon moved it. They did not tow it away and I was not fined. They understood that I had been busy and they simply wanted to help by driving my car to the nearest municipal car park.
I never locked my car and most often I did not even bother to take the ignition key out. Our home was never locked and much of the time all doors to the house were wide open, day and night.
TRNC was “too good to be true”
We had become inhabitants of a country that some said was “too good to be true”.
At the first cocktail party to which my wife and I were invited after our arrival in the TRNC I was approached by a distinguished-looking Englishman, a retired diplomat, who said: “I have heard that you are a journalist. Please do not write anything nice about this country.”
“The last paradise on earth”
“Why is that, Sir?” I asked. “Because”, he replied, “we do not want it to be widely known that this is the last paradise on earth. Too many people would come, if they knew.”
The people from outside who came to the TRNC for holidays or to take up residence were to a large extent cultured persons who harmonised with the republic’s chivalrous character. As a result, thugs and yobs would not feel at home here. This is how the TRNC developed in a positive direction while many or most other countries suffered badly from increasing violence and lawlessness, and cultural decline.
South Cyprus troubled by crime
South Cyprus, the Greek Cypriot state that is widely recognised as having the name Republic of Cyprus, was greatly troubled by mighty crime organisations, some of which were sex slave traders. Women in various parts of the world were kidnapped or tricked into this business and forced to work as prostitutes and were indeed slaves as they could not escape. They were forced into having “debts” to their “employers” who kept their passports. “Minders” kept the women in the brothels and followed them when they needed to leave the mafia-controlled areas for visits to hospitals and immigration authorities.
As South Cyprus had become a major marketplace for this horrible business, many Greek Cypriots voiced their concern so that their parliament had to debate the matter. Discussions went on for years before the parliament decided to appoint an “ombudsman” with powers to look into the matter and propose solutions.
The word “ombudsman” happens to be Swedish and means just “representative”,but has also become the title internationally for someone with extraordinary authority to represent the general public within the judiciary, the government or the parliament of any country.
The Greek Cypriot lawmakers chose a lady member of parliament to be the anti-organised-crime “ombudsman”. She accepted the job and worked for a long time trying to map the crime organisations and to think of ways of fighting them successfully.
South Cyprus mafia too strong
However, she eventually reported in a speech to the parliament that her Greek Cypriot country simply did not have enough powers and resources with which to fight the mafia organisations that were operating in the “Republic of Cyprus”. She admitted defeat, which was a brave thing to do, but her statement was of course also embarrassing for her government.
Hushed up EU warning: the mafia controls Europe?
This happened soon before the historic referenda in 2004 in South and North Cyprus on the so-called Annan Plan. It was when the European Union still had only 15 member states and when something most remarkable happened: an EU research unit reported to the world that the crime organisations within the EU were gaining political powers by unlawful means. It warned that if the trend continued at unchanged speed, the crime organisations would within five years be more politically powerful than the elected governments.
This was an alarming prospect. The report was never opposed, but it was soon hushed up, not surprisingly, as it challenged the authority of 15 governments and their European Union at a time when the EU was hoping to get many more member states.
The TRNC continued to be treated by the EU as if it did not really exist other than as a territory, but at the same time the EU executive wished to win the hearts and minds of the Turkish Cypriots because it wanted them to forget about their TRNC and accept to be led by their Greek Cypriot enemies into the EU as citizens of a new Cypriot republic.
Prior to the 2004 referenda in South and North Cyprus on the Annan Plan, the EU wished to arrange a conference in the TRNC. As it had no official links with the Turkish Cypriot state, the British Council, which had an office in the TRNC capital, accepted to host the event on the EU’s behalf. It took place in the Atatürk Cultural Centre building in Lefkosa.
Several academics had been invited by the EU to give lectures that were meant to make Turkish Cypriot intellectuals and opinion-formers think that their people would benefit greatly from having the TRNC turned into a Brussels and Greek-controlled entity.
One of the speakers was a Swedish-born professor of history at the London School of Economics and Political Science and with a PhD from Yale University.
“TRNC threatens prestige of other countries”
He attracted favourable attention among the Turkish Cypriots by describing the TRNC as the most wonderful country he had ever visited. He had chosen to take a short holiday in the TRNC before the conference began, to be able to see for himself what sort of country it really was. He was amazed by the TRNC’s peaceful character and the friendliness and politeness that he found everywhere.
He said he was not surprised that the TRNC remained widely unrecognised because it constituted a threat to the prestige of most other countries by having the fine qualities that governments of other lands were unable to maintain. The TRNC was abundantly chivalrous in a world where perhaps most people no longer knew what this adjective meant.
Much has happened since the conference took place in Lefkosa ten years ago. The Greek side of Cyprus has joined the EU and the Eurozone. This has damaged seriously both the EU and the “Republic of Cyprus”. The EU research unit that warned that the EU countries could be ruled by crime organisations instead of elected governments by 2008 has been quiet which it would be, of course, if the crime bosses really had taken over.
Moving towards bad normality?
Much in the world has moved in negative directions, and the TRNC has not been spared serious damage. Although the gross national product has multiplied, much of North Cyprus’s beautiful wilderness and rural areas have been replaced by conurbation with commercial clutter and buildings with vulgar design. There have been many cases of fraud and theft; numerous people have paid for new homes that they never got. Unopposed reports from community groups and news media have warned that crime organisations have settled in North Cyprus. One could perhaps say that the TRNC is moving towards international normality in a bad way.
Keep chivalry alive
Yet, good community qualities remain remarkably strong here. The LSE professor and other fans of this land would still find excellent manners, great politeness and warming helpfulness in North Cyprus. Chivalry has survived.
The TRNC deserves to be saved and defended, for its own sake, naturally, but also because it has that rare, almost forgotten, quality. If chivalry has vanished elsewhere in the world, it needs to be spread from here. Like delicate plants it needs to be nurtured and guarded carefully so that it lives on and can extend to as many places as possible in our troubled world.
Some good human action is needed here because, as Edmund Burke is supposed to have said: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that men and women of goodwill do nothing.”
Copyright (c) Bertil Wedin
Bertil Wedin served with the UN forces in the Congo in 1963 and in Cyprus in 1964-65, mainly as a military operations and intelligence officer. In the TRNC he has worked as the maker and presenter of radio programmes for the BRT and as a columnist for Pan Magazine, Cyprus Star and Cyprus Today. He is Middle East correspondent for Contra Magazine, Stockholm.
Editors Note: To learn more of this subect click here to read North Cyprus – Chivalry In Action In The TRNC