Divided Cyprus - A Rather Schizophrenic Experience

Cyprus is divided in many ways. In 1974, the Turks invaded — or liberated — the North Cyprus depending on which version of history you choose to believe in. After that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was born, while the rest of the country remained under the Greek influence. The difference between the two sides is huge. In the Northern part, life is modest while in the South consumerism has taken over.

Financial and expatriation crisis

The economic division of the South took place in 2012–13 during the financial crisis. The privileged got tipped off well in advance and managed to hide their assets, while the common folks lost all their bank savings above 100.000€. According to a few guys that offered us a lift, the crisis was triggered by the abundance of Russian mafia money combined with the local relaxed banking practises. The local administration is trying to meet the minimum EU requirements while preserving as much as possible their old, somewhat corrupt ways. Unlike in Greece, the crisis appears to be over, but it deepened the economic division of the country. At one extreme, there are the super-rich Russian residents who have bought EU passports from the government, and at the other imported Asian domestic slaves.

Another division can be seen between the huge expatriate community and locals. Many British and German people have moved to Cyprus hoping that the better climate would help to heal their mental and physical health issues, but the result is often the opposite. Like in the global expat scene, alcohol and drug abuse are common. Social isolation and abusive behaviour may lead to backstabbing, gossiping and angst. While expats blame locals to be ignorant and lazy, locals consider expats as a necessary evil that helps locals to accumulate wealth.

Hitch-hiking and living with expatriates

During our stay, we saw many different faces of Cyprus. When hitch-hiking through the South, we got lifts from foreigners and locals, the rich and the poor. All of them were very positive experiences. It was nice to be in a country where people are not afraid of strangers. On the other hand, the expatriate community was much like everywhere in the world — in a word depressing.

For a short 1-2-week holiday, Cyprus is a great place, but if you stay longer, you will soon start to see the social problems beneath the surface. For us, the best part of our visit in Cyprus were cheap flights to charming Beirut.

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