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EU: a Curium spectacular
THE HISTORIC theatre at Curium, one of the island’s most spectacular archaeological treasures, has seen many a tragedy and comedy performance as well as gladiator fights through the ages. It will once again become the focal point on July 5 for the opening ceremony of Cyprus’ takeover of the EU presidency.
Small cushions emblazoned with the presidency logo to ensure the comfort of the VVIPS, deputies, diplomats and ministers on Curium’s notoriously stony steps are just some of the special touches incorporated into the plans to ensure that the exclusive night is one to remember.
“They’ll have another use too but that’s a surprise,” said Elena Stavrou, part of the logistics unit at the Cyprus EU presidency secretariat.
Musical interludes, dancing and a beautiful setting by the ocean are just some of the things that the 500 guests have to look forward to.
The most important monuments at Curium not only include the grand Greco-Roman theatre but also well-preserved mosaics, public baths, the necropolis, the House of Gladiators and the House of Achilles. The theatre is still used for outdoor musical and theatre performances and is one of the venues for the International Festival of Ancient Greek Drama.
The earliest evidence of settlement in the broader area of Curium dates to the Neolithic period (4500-3900 BC), while the most ancient remains in the area of the ancient city itself are connected with settlements and tombs of the Middle and Late Bronze Age.
Stavrou revealed that a select 500 people will be attending the ceremony near Episkopi including, President Demetris Christofias, Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk, the Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, president of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy and president of the European Parliament Martin Schulz.
Top officials will arrive in style, in BMW luxury cars while everyone else will be transported to Curium by bus from all of the main cities to ensure that they arrive on time.
Apart from top ranking officials, various ministers, all members of parliament and foreign diplomats will be invited too.
The dress code will be ‘smart-casual with comfortable shoes’, as despite the grandeur of the event, Stavrou explained that they want guests to feel comfortable without the inconvenience of a jacket in the Cyprus heat. Organisers also want their guests to be able to manoeuvre the steep steps of the ancient theatre and thus thought comfortable shoes would be the better option for the evening.
The theatre at Curium seats 1000 easily but the numbers for the ceremony are being kept at a more modest 500 – Denmark’s opening ceremony had fewer at 400 – as the organisers want to keep it a closed, exclusive affair. “It’s not something that you open up very much that’s why we didn’t go with more people,” said Stavrou. However, she said that the state broadcaster will be covering the event for those that want to watch it.
The evening will kick off at 8pm sharp, according to Stavrou, with a two-part cultural programme.
The first part will include three-minute speeches from President Christofias and from top officials such as Barroso and Schulz along with several musical interludes by the Cyprus Symphonic Orchestra.
The second part will involve more music as well as dancing, and a short video of shots of the island will be shown to the guests.
The cultural programme will end at 9.30pm to be followed by a reception until 11.30pm still on the grounds of Curium, but this time above the theatre, where Stavrou said renovations have been taking place of late in preparation for the ceremony.
The refreshments being offered appear to be another closely guarded secret, only to be revealed on the night, but Stavrou did divulge that the reception will have an open feel about it without a ‘strict seating arrangement’ encouraging ministers, top officials and Cypriot deputies to mingle with ease in the beautiful setting.
The night will come to an end by 11.30pm with the VVIPS filing out first, to be whisked away in their limos, followed by everyone else.
Choice of venue also political
ALTHOUGH Curium was chosen for the opening ceremony mostly because of its spectacular setting, the government is also making an important political point.
Cyprus’ six-month EU presidency will be launched on what is technically British rather than Cypriot territory, because Curium is part of Britain’s ‘sovereign base areas’ (SBAs).
Before becoming president four years ago, Demetris Christofias, once described the SBAs as “colonial bloodstains”.
But, like previous presidents, he accepted that with 35,000 Turkish troops still stationed in northern Cyprus, he had no intention of picking a fight with Britain, a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
Even so, he recently said Curium was chosen to send both cultural and “political” messages. The latter, effectively, is that whatever Britain says, the amphitheatre is still “the territory of the Cyprus Republic”.
Christofias said at a later stage “naturally we will look at it (the SBAs issue) and say ‘what are the English doing here and holding on to Cyprus Republic territory?’”
When Cyprus gained independence in 1960, the department of antiquities was given control, but not sovereignty, over treasured archaeological sites such as Curium that fall within SBA boundaries.
In terms of the opening ceremony, this thorny issue of sovereignty has caused more than a few headaches when it comes to who is in charge of security: the bases or the Cyprus police force. Bases police and the Republic’s have had to work together, but recent press reports suggested the collaboration is not working as well as it should with SBA police, for example, trying to prevent the Republic’s police force from carrying guns. Sources within the Cypriot police force insisted this week however that both sides were cooperating well.
Armed Cypriot police will be responsible for the safety and security of the visiting dignitaries while British police will take over security of the location both inside and outside the amphitheatre.
Police spokesman Andreas Angelides said that they could not release any figures on police officers to be used on the night as it was “a matter of security”. However the Sunday Mail learned that Cypriot police would be providing just over 200 officers and the SBA would be providing around 200.
A series of rather bizarre ironies also surround the choice of venue. The official launch of the EU presidency is taking place on territory that is not actually within the EU.
Although an EU member, Britain ensured its SBAs were excluded from the EU when Cyprus joined in 2004.
London views the SBAs, on the doorstep of the volatile oil-rich Middle East, as vital to Britain’s long-term security interests, and did not want its European partners having any chance of interfering in their operations.
Yet Britain has made compromises necessitated by expediency. The SBAs joined Cyprus in adopting the euro in January 2008, even though Britain has resolutely shunned the troubled common currency. The measure was taken for the shopping convenience of Britain’s 4,000 servicemen and their 7,000 dependents on the island.