September 17th, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. in Nicosia
Anna Prodromou (AP)
Antonella Mantovani (AM)
AP: Antonella Mantovani, a woman, a professional a member of parliament, a wife, a mother. Quite a few identities intersecting in just one person. Which identity, or which part of your identity do you feel defines you the most?
AM: That’s a difficult question. I think what I really enjoy about my life is the many roles that I fulfil and that’s what I find most interesting about my daily existence, let’s say. When I’m at work or I’m in the parliament or I’m fulfilling the duties of any specific role, I somehow manage to be completely focused on that at that particular time, which I find very helpful to me. That also means that I have a lot of support because obviously, when I’m not carrying out that specific role, I know that, for example, my daughter is been looked after, someone is at home, or someone is in the other office and they can call me when something comes up, so I do think you need a support network in order to do that and I am very grateful to have one. But I would say that the role that I prefer is being a mother, as this is the most psychologically fulfilling. My friends are there for those moments where you just need to live a bit and enjoy life, my husband and family are there for emotional support. But I’ve always been raised to be professionally independent, to think that that’s something positive to have and it’s an important component to have as a person in your life, so that’s also an important aspect of my life. Intellectually, I need that as well.
AP: I’m sure that while you’re focusing on the task that you are doing and on your role that you’re assigned at that specific moment, all the other identities are just under the surface.
AM: Yes, you relate to people in a different way, you might meet them for a business meeting, for example, and they have a photo of their children in their office and you end up connecting with them on a different level and there are definitely different experiences that you can bring in. Even here in the parliament for example, you are more sensitive to some pieces of legislation because of your family history, your background, or your relationship with people, so there’s always the personal interest and the personal chemistry that I think comes into everything and it’s pointless to pretend it’s not there.
AP: Only last year, you were elected as the representative of the Latin community. How challenging has that been and does the fact that you’re a woman make things easier or harder?
AM: It is challenging. I mean the big decision was when I was originally thinking of running for the election; that was when I had to sit down and think about what it would entail. For example, I would change from being a private person to a more public person and I had to consciously evaluate whether that was something I could do. So, once I had taken that decision, in a way I was ready. I was ready for that next step, it was making the decision that was the complicated thing for me. And I was also talking to my family members about their support and whatever, because obviously it would entail more support from my husband, from my daughter, all these kinds of things. And I love the role to be honest, I love the work I do. It’s very varied, because you have to deal with many different situations, many different people. For example, there’s the aspect of looking at the bills that come through parliament, as well as helping institutions like the church, or the schools, the catholic schools in the country, if they need any support when dealing with the authorities or any issues they may have. Then there’s the side of the individual members, the people who comprise the community, each one might have different issues, different concerns and you try and help them as much as you can. There’s the aspect where you represent a community, so you attend various functions, you have to state some positions, make sure that you represent your community in the wider sense of the word. So, there’s different levels but that makes it interesting and because we’re essentially a religious community, the things that unite the members are not your ethnicity or your language. Obviously they are Cypriots, but they come from different backgrounds, some have settled here from Malta, generations from Italy, we have members from Poland, Hungary, South America and even Africa and Asia. So yes, they are all Cypriots, but they come from different ethnic backgrounds. That makes it interesting, we are a religious group but the only thing that we have in common is that we all belong to the Catholic Church. But other than that, it’s very diverse and that’s very interesting.
AP: Has the fact that you are a women ever been an issue? Have you faced any particular issues?
AM: Well no, it’s not an issue. It was never an issue in terms of my relationship with my voters and I think actually, the fact that I am a woman was a positive for some voters to be honest. Because there are a lot of female voters and perhaps they felt that I would be more approachable. In the parliament of course, there is no discrimination, yet the fact that I am younger than many other members means that perhaps you have to prove your worth a bit more. So the combination of being younger than many other members of parliament and also being a woman, maybe there is more pressure on you to show that you are capable.
AP: You’re representing a minority, the Latin community. Do you think that we are generally inclusive as a society in Cyprus?
AM: I do think we are inclusive, but I also think that sometimes, members of minority groups think they are younger, or a woman, or because they are thinking that they are not one hundred percent like everyone else in their school or in their immediate social circle, they isolate themselves a bit and they re-evaluate things from their own perspective, which maybe other people think is not important. So as minorities, we trip ourselves a bit or we make life a bit more difficult for no real reason. If we just stepped up and faced up to things and stopped all the naval gazing sometimes, I think we would do better.
AP: Are there any specific problems that the Latin community is facing or is struggling with?
AM: No, because the Latin community is quite integrated into the wider community. We largely have mixed marriages, so most of the marriages are with Orthodox Cypriots, we are generally well integrated and the issues that concern the Latin community are that the kinds of general social issues that concern everyone: the economy, schooling, the issues that concern the population at large, we don’t have any specifically different issues.
AP: You mentioned that the major thing that your community has in common is religion, but on the other hand, you have many mixed marriages. So in a way, religion is a common element, but there’s not a monolithic view on that, you are open and embrace others.
AM: The common element among the members is the fact that they are Catholic. Sometimes the children are raised to attend both churches; sometimes maybe they are christened in the Christian Orthodox Church. But even in those cases, if the mother is Catholic they will come to church with the mother because she is the one who attends the services, so they come with her. Just because the one spouse belongs to another church, it should not really have anything to do with the right to worship and the faith of the spouse who does not belong to the same church, so in a way we also have that duality and we have the choice to raise the children in whichever faith we want. It’s a family choice. To be honest, there are things that we do in Cyprus in order to lead a more normal family life. For example, we have a different way of calculating Easter. The date of Easter in Europe is sometimes even five weeks different to the date of Orthodox Easter day, but in Cyprus we celebrate it on the same date, whatever the date might be in Rome. In Cyprus, in the Catholic Church, the Easter service is on the same date as the Orthodox Easter service. So, we go with the majority, because we have to feel it as well.
AP: You mentioned that most of the people come from different parts of the world.
AM: We have members that have been here for many generations and we also have members who are second or even first generation, but maybe they’ve been here longer than anywhere else. I mean forty years, fifty years, so they have been in Cyprus longer than they have been in their home countries in most cases. So they do feel that they’re Cypriots, their children are raised here and they have invested in Cyprus.
AP: So you would say that the Cypriot identity is quite strong? Did you have many refugees after the war?
AM: We had some. The main areas where there were Latins were in Limassol and Nicosia, but fewer in Paphos. Traditionally, there were also several families in Larnaka there were also some in Famagusta and Kyrenia of course, but not many. We had refugees, we had schools and churches obviously in Famagusta and in Kyrenia and schools in Famagusta; it was the same as everyone else.
AP: My last question would be whether you are hopeful about the future of the island. You are a member of parliament. From your perspective, how do you see the Cyprus problem?
AM: It seems for now that we once again at a standstill. I guess we’ll have to see next year how things are going to be. We have the presidential elections and then we will see who will be in power and what the official government line will be for the next phase. For us as a Latin community, anything that has to be negotiated with the government – that will be negotiated with the president of this government – will be also for us as well, it will not be any different. Anything that happens, because you mentioned refuges and stuff, any decision that’s made in terms of how compensation should be paid or what will happen to church properties, will also encompass us. We are members of the Greek Cypriot community and that includes us as well. What we would like, if there is a solution in the future, is to remain a recognized, a constitutionally recognized, minority, to have representation and to continue to have a voice, like we have had since the 1960’s. We wouldn’t want that role to disappear.
AP: Thank you very much!
AM: Thank you!
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