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H.E. Mr Marios Savva Kountourides
Ambassador of the Republic of Cyprus to the Republic of Bulgaria
Days of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Cyprus (19 April – 2 May 2021)
Cyprus is a very interesting country with rich cultural heritage. It has 5 elements of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) inscribed in UNESCO. What motivates your nation to be so active in ICH / intangible cultural heritage safeguarding?
In addition to the hundreds of archaeological sites and monuments, the cultural landscape of Cyprus includes a wealth of traditions and customs that have been preserved through generations and are directly linked to the lives and activities of its inhabitants. All these reflect key milestones of the island’s eight-thousand-year history and shed light on the formation of the Cypriots’ cultural identity through constructive and the interaction with people of different religious and cultural practices of the broader region.
In February 2006, acknowledging the importance of ICH as a mainspring of cultural diversity, international cooperation and a guarantee of sustainable development, Cyprus ratified the “Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage”. So far, Cyprus has inscribed five elements on the Representative List: “Lefkara lace” in 2009, “Tsiattista – poetic duelling” in 2011, “Mediterranean diet” in 2013 (in collaboration with Greece, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Morocco and Portugal), “The art of dry stone walling, knowledge and technique” in 2018 (in collaboration with France, Switzerland, Greece, Spain, Italy, Croatia and Slovenia) and “ Byzantine chant” in 2019 (in collaboration with Greece).
Do you have a favourite ICH elements from Cyprus which is not inscribed in UNESCO?
My mother was born at the beautiful village of Lapithos in the occupied areas of Cyprus, a place where I spent my childhood amongst the lemon trees and the wonderful beach of Ayirkotissa. My uncle was the famous ceramist Aristofanis. It is for this reason that the “Lapithos Glazed Pottery”, an element inscribed on Cyprus National Inventory of ICH in 2016, holds a special place in my heart. The technique of making the Lapithos glazed pottery, commonly known as “alifta” (varnished) pottery, is similar to medieval practices discovered in the area and dates back to the 16th century. A characteristic feature of the clay pots is the use of a special glaze, called “gialoman”, which makes them suitable for domestic use. Today, the craft is practised by experienced ceramists from Lapithos in their workshops in Nicosia and other towns of the island.
How could culture strengthen the international relations between Cyprus and Bulgaria?
The relations between countries will remain incomplete if they are limited to political leaderships and civil servants. Cultural interaction between artists, people and the civil society in general can give the opportunity to citizens of the two countries to have a direct contact and get to know each other. Investigating the similarities as well as our differences through cultural exchanges is the best way to bring our countries closer together. Common cultural projects and joint ventures can achieve this purpose in the best possible way. For this reason our Embassy is open to suggestions and ideas which aim to enhance our cultural relations.
Which Bulgarian ICH element do you think it is the most impressive?
We recently celebrated the cultural practises associated to the 1st of March and the beginning of Spring. In fact, these traditions were inscribed in 2017 by Bulgaria, North Macedonia, the Republic of Moldova and Romania on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The main practice consists of making, offering, and wearing a red and white thread, which is then untied when the first blossom tree, swallow or stork is seen. Similarly, it is customary in Cyprus to wear a bracelet on the wrist, made of twisted white and red thread. It is called “Martis” or “Martia” or “Martitsi” and it is made it on the last day of February and wore on the first day of March, before leaving the house. According to the tradition, this bracelet is worn by children and young people to protect their skin from the first sunny days of March. It is also believed that it can protect against mosquitoes and fleas and can even ward of diseases and other evils.
It is highly interesting for us to observe and compare the traditions of our respective countries and to try to understand why some of those traditions are similar but also what makes us different and unique.
What policies shall be implemented in the region of South-East Europe with the aim of promoting ICH and its values among the youth?
Through ICH we can connect to the past, understand our identity, relate to our ancestry, and shape our future. It is of key importance that youth is involved in the protection and management of ICH. In our contemporary societies in the region of South-East Europe, youth is a highly heterogeneous group with different backgrounds, skills, and needs. We should be designing and implementing policies that can build commitment and strengthen action among youth for the safeguarding of ICH. Our present day’s efforts will benefit not only the present generation, but also the generations ahead.