Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Post-colonial Musings

Given the fact that it used to be a British Protectorate and was, from 1925 to 1960, a Crown Colony, a holiday in Cyprus was always likely to prompt some reflections of a historical nature, and so it proved. If I am right in saying that studies of decolonisation in general are not that common then that is something of a gap in the historiography of the British Empire; turbulent events in Cyprus in the mid-1950s certainly offer plenty of scope for serious research.

The subject gave some shape to my thoughts following a visit to the 'Museum of the Boat of Saint George', just north of Paphos. The Saint George caique was used in an attempt to run guns from Greece to Cyprus in early 1955, the shipment being intended for the nascent National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters, usually known as EOKA, under the command of Georgios Grivas (who, by way of a flippant aside, must - surely - have been nicknamed 'Grivas Bodily Harm' by British squaddies given to such mordant wit). The Museum's leaflet talks darkly of the mission's betrayal, but tellingly it does not provide any details. What ever the exact truth of the matter, it does seem that the Saint George was closely shadowed from the beginning of her voyage, and events culminated in rather ignominious confusion, mass arrests and the eventual imprisonment of most of those involved. 

Thus the events of January 1955. The Museum itself is well worth a visit; the Saint George is a fine looking craft, and there is some excellent archival material on show - mugshots, photographs, press-clippings, letters and so on, and although not everything has English captions there is enough to gain a general understanding of what happened and the main protagonists. Inevitably the place has been pressed to serve contemporary political ends, and it is now a celebrated site for Cypriots (but I suspect largely unknown to the British ex-pats who mass in great numbers along this coast), which is fair enough. But what I find most intriguing is how events that - when viewed dispassionately - are in themselves of little actual historical consequence (the weapons were never used in the cause: they were impounded or thrown overboard) somehow become so symbolically powerful; the process by which a failed gun-running mission is transformed into an unchallengeable act of heroism must involve all sorts of complex interactions - it would be well beyond my competence to unravel it all, but someone should give it a go.         

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