THE MANAGING DIRECTOR OF GNORA COMMUNICATION CONSULTANTS TALKS ABOUT HIS LOVE OF JOURNALISM, ELABORATES ON HOW THE SOLUTION TO THE CYPRUS PROBLEM MAY HINGE ON THE PRICE OF A PACKET OF CIGARETTES, AND EXPLAINS WHY HE HAS DECIDED NOT TO CELEBRATE ANY MORE BIRTHDAYS
By John Vickers
For our lunch date, Andreas Hadjikyriacos has chosen Cookshop, a tiny restaurant on Pindarou Street, Nicosia with a deserved reputation for serving interesting dishes prepared and presented with great flair and imagination. It is a recent discovery of his and one to which he has already taken to returning. He orders a small salad, followed by Norwegian salmon with spinach, dill rice and roasted vegetables while my menu choice is herb crust chicken fillet with cheese and raisin stuffing, mashed potatoes and oven baked vegetables. Plain water accompanies the meal, while old and traditional French music provides a pleasant background to our conversation.
The first thing I discover is that we appear to be unwittingly celebrating the 25″ anniversary of our first meeting, which took place in 1990 when he returned from the United States and became a colleague of mine at the Cyprus Weekly, the first of several journalism/media posts that he has held over the years. He would later work for the Cyprus News Agency, and two Greek -language newspapers (Phileleftheros and Politis) before switching to TV, heading the newsroom at Mega before moving to Sigma and ANT1, where he was anchorman on the main evening news.
It was probably inevitable that, having gained a fairly high public profile and a reputation for serious journalism(and a conspicuous lack of self -promotion), he would eventually start his own business. The surprise was that it wasn’t a newspaper or a radio/ TV station.
“The widely held idea that every journalist has a secret desire to be a publisher was never true in my case,” he says. “I had always wanted to be involved in the media and I still miss journalism in a way, but not enough to go back.”
Hadjikyriacos recalls that, after graduation — he studied Journalism & Political Science for his BA at Indiana University, followed by an MA in Managing Media Organisations at Northeastern University in Boston — his dream was to find a journalism job in the United States. “In the end I came back to Cyprus with 45 rejection letters in my suitcase,” he tells me, noting that the main reason for failing in that particular ambition was probably that he had aimed too high: “I applied to the Washington Post, the New York Times, Newsweek, Time, the Boston globe and so on but those guys don’t hire inexperienced graduates!”
For a while he didn’t let go of the idea of eventually working overseas but, as often happens, once he started a family – his priorities changed and he set about building a successful career in the local media.
By 2003, he was ready for a change and more independence, and he founded Gnora, a communication consultancy, which originally focused on a totally new niche market: “I had always liked the idea of being involved in corporate and political image -making, which was virgin territory in Cyprus at the time,” he tells me. “So we specialized in media relations, crisis management and other areas. We also have a publishing department and we later added public affairs.”
As for why he didn’t start a newspaper or a TV station, that was mainly a matter of capital: “You need plenty of money for something like that and I didn’t have it. On the other hand, to start a consultancy, you just need rent, electricity and your brains. So it was an easy decision!”
One of the firm’s first successes was the Offsite electronic newsletter, which it sold 18 months later.
Our main course arrives just as we are about to tuck in to what turns out to be the main topic of our conversation: a likely solution to the longstanding Cyprus Problem. As a journalist, Andreas Hadjikyriacos has spent all his professional life dealing with issues arising from the island’s division while, more recently, he has been involved with some of the key players (among other projects, Gnora Communication Consultants coordinated Nicos Anastasiades’ successful campaign for the Presidency in 2012-13). He admits to having become something of a cynic, though he is quick to clarify that he does not doubt the sincerity of the leaders of both communities on the island in their desire to bring about reunification, peace and prosperity.
“WE MAY HAVE A VISION OF A REUNITED CYPRUS BUT WE NEED TO BE PRACTICAL TOO”
“The UN and the two leaders have a vision of a reunited Cyprus and it’s good – essential in fact – to have a vision but it must be viable,” he says. In the end, he believes, everything is going to be about the economy and, in particular, about being able to raise the standard of living of the future Turkish Cypriot constituent state to that of its Greek Cypriot counterpart. Moreover, he illustrates his thinking by reducing the whole issue down to the price of a packet of cigarettes. “These cigarettes are sold here for €4.10,” he says, holding up a packet. “On the Turkish Cypriot side they cost the equivalent of €2. If there is a solution tomorrow, how much are they going to cost?” It will depend where you buy them, I say. “Exactly!” he responds. “And since it will be perfectly OK for everyone to buy their cigarettes at half the current price in the Turkish Cypriot part of the island, the kiosk owners and cigarette importers on this side are going to lose their customers and a lot of money. The price to the Greek Cypriots is so high because of the amount of tax that is included in the price. On the other hand,” he continues, “if the Turkish Cypriots are obliged to sell them at the same price as the Greek Cypriots, their customers will argue that it is unfair to them, especially when they may be earning only half of their Greek Cypriot counterparts’ salaries.
“We may have a vision of a reunited Cyprus but we need to be practical too. The vision will mean nothing unless very basic issues, such as the harmonisation of taxes, etc., are resolved.”
Whichever scenario is chosen, Hadjikyriacos concludes, it is going to have a negative effect on one side or the other, partly because of the imbalance in the standard of living and GDP of the two communities.
I remind him that this was precisely the situation that prevailed when East and West Germany were reunited and, in essence, the more prosperous West paid to raise standards in the East of the country. “For many Greek Cypriots, one of the problems with the Annan plan was the fact that they didn’t want to be paying for this change, even if our ridiculously high defence spending could be used to offset a percentage of the cost,” he counters. “Asking one side to subsidise the other can be a recipe for conflict. The real Cyprus Problem is this for me. Unless you find a solution to the ‘cigarette problem’, it will be difficult to make it work.”
He laughs when I suggest that the best idea would be to ban smoking throughout the island something that would not appeal to our chain-smoking president and acknowledges that while creating a viable federal republic may be difficult, nothing is impossible.
For all their problems, noone questions that countries like Belgium, Germany and Switzerland have made the federal concept work.
Andreas Hadjikyriacos considers himself lucky to have lived through the time of the Annan Plan, the referendum and Cyprus’ EU accession, describing 2004 as arguably the most significant year in the country’s history since 1974.
We reminisce about how things have changed since then, and not only in terms of whether people view a settlement more favourably now than they did 11 years ago. “Just think,” he says. “In 2004, there was no Facebook, no Twitter, no YouTube. Wikipedia was just three years old. It’s another world now and it’s one in which young people on both sides have little emotional attachment to the pre’74 Cyprus.
What they know of the others is what they have heard at school and at home, so there is also a fear factor at work when it comes to reunification.” Those who oppose any kind of settlement at all costs are fearful, he says, and if they were unable to shake off even part of their fear in 2003, when free movement began, they are not likely to change now. And then there is a huge group on this side who simply don’t want to change things, he points out: “They argue that the Greek Cypriots have shown that they are capable of recovering and rebuilding after enormous setbacks (in 1974 and 2013) and so they question why they should take on all the problems of reintegrating the other community.”
During the last exchange of views we have each ordered a slice of chocolate orange cake, which is now placed before us and turns out to be even more divinely delicious than we had anticipated. “I’m trying to maintain some kind of a diet,” my dining companion complains, only halfheartedly, before using a witty analogy to explain his inability to be overoptimistic about the chances of resolving Cyprus’ division: “We were forced into marriage in 1960 and we got a divorce in 1963. Ever since then we’ve been talking with our ex about getting together again because everybody else is saying that we should.
If we are going to do it and part of us knows that perhaps we can make a success of things if we try we need to be sure that we’re not going to face the same problems that caused us to split up more than 50 years ago!”
All this talk of the past has made Andreas Hadjikyriacos remember another much more personal milestone: his birthday. Last year he turned 50 and he decided that it was time to put an end to big celebrations and parties. “I have a few more years to persuade myself that I’m still young,” says with a broad grin. “When I was 40, younger people would always wonder if it was OK to call me Andreas. Now, I can see that there is no chance and I hate it!” We leave the restaurant, noting that we’ve lived through some interesting times and it looks as if they are about to become even more interesting. And while “Mr Hadjikyriacos” can still find comfort in the thought that he is not yet as old as the Cyprus Problem, that may not still be the case in a few years’ time.
“IT’S ANOTHER WORLD NOW AND IT’S ONE IN WHICH YOUNG PEOPLE ON BOTH SIDES HAVE NO EMOTIONAL ATTACHMENT TO THE PRE-74 CYPRUS”
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