EFFE Laureate - Buffer Fringe Festival
Location: Nicosia, Cyprus
Director: Charalambia Theophanous
Dates: 2017/11/07 – 2017/11/12
Art Disciplines: Theatre, Dance, Street Arts
Find out more about the festivals on their EFFE Profile and the Buffer Fringe Festival website.
There are very few events which symbolise the role of the arts in a divided society as succinctly or as effectively as the Buffer Fringe Festival. There are even fewer where the security (and the bureaucratic hurdles) are provided by a UN Peacekeeping Force. Every request must be granted permission before any show can happen, and the UN can close the gates at any moment if tension rises.
It is not surprising, then, that funding is scarce and that this is not a fringe festival in the Edinburgh sense, where anybody can book a slot and perform. Here it the festival itself that is on the fringe – the fringe of conflict, the fringe of normal life, the fringe of accessibility. The Buffer is the 'green' zone between the Turkish and Greek speaking areas of Cyprus, separated and irreconcilable since a military backed declaration of independence by the North of the island in 1974: 43 years of stalemate, despite referendums, EU membership for the South, plenty of peace talks and the rise and fall of numerous unsavoury regimes on all sides.
The festival is an initiative of the Association for Historical Documentation and Research (AHDR) which was set up in 2003 when people from either side were allowed limited crossing rights through the barriers for the first time in 30 years.
In 2011 AHDR succeeded in establishing a permanent community centre, the Home for Co-operation, in the neutral space at Nicosia's Ledra Palace crossing point. Its activity has always centred on the arts but it also hosts several NGOs, courses, conferences, discussions and fellowships. That sounds bland but the reality could not be more energetic. The Home for Co-operation is a dynamic space where people, especially the young, from both sides can experience something that the rest of Europe would regard as normal cultural life and, more importantly, each other.
The idea for a festival came in 2014. A call for applications was issued. It read, “Home for Co-operation invites performance groups to participate in the Buffer Fringe Performing Arts Festival, happening in Cyprus this October in the Medieval Moat by Ledra Palace, Nicosia. The Buffer Fringe will offer the opportunity to performance groups and actors to present their creative works in the Buffer Zone... The Home for Cooperation will cover all technical costs, support, promotional material, stage and place setting. Performances for the Fringe will be selected by an evaluation committee. The Medieval Moat inside the Buffer Zone is one of the most interesting sites across the island to host artistic expression.”
It's Director, Charalambia Theophanous, says that even after 3 years, “the authorities are still wary. There is no funding from anyone official authority on the island”. The 2017 festival takes place in November. 10 main stage acts and 6 smaller shows have been selected. The emphasis is not, though, on worthy presentations advocating peace. The applicants were specifically asked to submit their most experimental ideas. “Experimental artists can fall foul of the propaganda and Buffer Fringe is often the first time artists from either side have had a chance to meet.”
They have also been asked to offer as much as possible in a non-verbal art form, to try to reach across the divide that speaking either Greek or Turkish instantly creates. “However,” says Charalambia, “a lot of people really want to speak so we've had to move on our non-language demand. Instead we ask for more languages than one and try to avoid that meaning just Turkish and Greek.”
The political atmosphere in Cyprus is tense and throws the exceptional work of AHDR and the Buffer Fringe Festival into sharp relief. There is, quite apart from the island's own divisions, the proximity of the Syrian conflict, with NATO using the UK's Sovereign Bases (more sizeable enclaves than airfields) to launch its attacks on ISIS targets. There is fear on both sides too about Turkey's slide into autocracy with increasing concern in the Northern community that they will be drawn into the totalitarian rhetoric.
That fear, though, is repeated in the South and raises the resistance to all things Turkish in the Greek speaking community. “Young people on both sides are very afraid,” says Charalambia, “and the South is even more wary than usual. There is a big problem with those in the 17 – 25 age group because they have just come out of the very biased public education systems. We try to target them at the Home for Co-operation and the festival because they have had no experience of living together and those older people who do remember peaceful shared communities before partition in 1974 are not being listened to. We offer contact and hope.”
By Simon Mundy for EFA