These days, the European Union is going through a very interesting process. Cyprus will be the EU term president until the end of this year.
But Cyprus is not an ordinary member country. Indeed, for the first time in the history of the EU, there is a department called the “Cyprus Issue” which essentially deals with a problem specific to a member country. Also, the EU acquis is not in force in the northern parts of the island. This is because this region has been “under the occupation of a third country” since 1974. Oddly still, the EU is conducting membership negotiations with this “third country” so that the acquis in question can be implemented in this country as well. The problem goes beyond being related only to occupation as the United Nations peacekeeping forces have been “providing security” in this part of the EU since 1963. In other words, one of the world’s richest regions and one which intends to become the “United States of Europe” (USE) in the future has a “crisis zone” in which UN peacekeeping forces -- which are normally deployed to various parts of Africa or the Middle East -- are needed. Most interesting of all is that for the last eight years, no one in Brussels has been concerned about the presence of the UN peacekeeping forces in a member country which is currently the union’s term president.
From a technical standpoint, we can say that Cyprus is performing well as a term president. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t be oracular to predict that the EU term presidency which Greek Cypriots have been waiting to assume enthusiastically for years will end up with disappointment, particularly in the shade of the ever-worsening economic crisis. Already, if the term president had been any other country, it wouldn’t have been possible to bring any major issue to the agenda. The term president does not deal with the EU’s main agenda item: the “Euro crisis,” or economic crisis. It is not because the crisis does not interest Cyprus, but because the leading actors are positioned not in Lefkoşa (Nicosia), but in Berlin, Paris, Frankfurt and Luxembourg. For these actors who are laboring hard to save the euro, Cyprus represents one -- not the biggest -- of the issues. Yet the basic problem is that the island is miles away from the end goal of a peaceful and united Cyprus and the island is not only extremely fragmented, but also there is not a single glimmer of hope on the horizon.
The well-known and deep-running Greek-Turkish rift has been poisoning the life on the island since the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus. Cyprus is still ethnically and geographically divided and a profound crisis of confidence is entrenched between the two communities. Turkish Cypriots are afraid of Greeks, who in turn are afraid of Turks. Even a brief look at the recent past is enough to justify these fears. After the rejection of the Annan plan eight years ago, not a single second chance for a solution has emerged. All statistics imply that there is no ground for serious negotiations for the coming three years. In February 2013, elections will be held in the South. The opposition’s presidential candidate, Nicos Anastasiades, is likely to win the elections. For Anastasiades, the economic crisis has political priority. More importantly, he has new ideas about negotiations. He intends to share these ideas with the Greek public before the start of the negotiations. In other words, he needs time. The elections in the North are not far away either. In 2014, election campaigns will take wing in the North. Summing it up, we can say that no serious political infrastructure for negotiations seems possible before 2015.
Political initiatives not promising
The infrastructure for political initiatives designed to build confidence and to prevent the ongoing alienation between the two societies is not promising either. Concerning the Cyprus issue, Turkey lacks any internal or external dynamics and is just buying time. To punish Turkey, the Greek Cypriot government not only imposes an embargo on the North, but also blocks the EU’s direct trade bylaws. Given these policies, it would be naive to expect Turkish Cypriots to nurture any trust in this government. As for the EU, it has shifted from being the focal point of the issue to becoming part of it. It fails to implement even its own decision to lift the isolation of the North. Accordingly, it also suffers from a profound lack of trust and credibility. Greeks view the EU with suspicion while Turks look at it with disappointment and they don’t trust the EU. There is more to the fragmentation of the island.
In the North, two parallel Turkish communities have emerged. Turks indigenous to the island and Turks who migrated from Turkey are living side by side, without mingling with each other. The world of the immigrants is rife with values created by reference to Turkey and the immigrants refer to the islanders as “these guys” and see them within the category of “Europeans.” These immigrants, who are generally from the rural areas tend to see islanders, particularly female ones as “extremely liberal” and “not like us.” And for the islanders, the immigrants are not from Cyprus, but have come to Cyprus purely for their economic interests.
This analysis is not totally wrong. Indeed, with the recent increases in wages in Turkey, those immigrants have started to return to the homeland. I think the recently rising tendency among these immigrants to return to Turkey is also a consequence of the social tension feeding on the ongoing friction between the above-mentioned parallel communities. Immigrants complain about being treated as second-class citizens while islanders are unhappy about alienation from their own homeland. Actually, Turkish islanders feel themselves to be deserted simultaneously by Turkey, the EU and Greek Cypriots. The political and economic situation, too, looks unpromising. They have difficulty even in selling potatoes to the South. The worsening economic crisis and unemployment in the South are having their toll on the North as well. In the North, the prospects of the emergence of effective “indigenous” leaders like Rauf Denktaş, Mehmet Ali Talat and Derviş Eroğlu are very low. Talat and Eroğlu have become alienated from their parties while the political profiles of new leaders are not known. The North is more disadvantaged than the South in this respect.
The Greek Cypriots, too, are split up. The Annan plan caused great wounds. There are some Greek Cypriots who have been penalized by their neighbors for the last eight years on charges of saying “yes” to the plan. Even relatives had not spoken to each other for years because of their stance on the plan. The “yea-sayers” have suffered from pressure from the church and ultranationalist groups. The hostile sentiments felt against Turks and Turkey have started to be felt also against “yea-saying” Greek Cypriots. As the island is small, this division occurred not as a general social or political split, but largely in private spheres and is still valid. The church helped to exacerbate this division instead of soothing it. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that the church is one of the major obstacles to the solution on the island. Even “yea-sayers” can no longer defend the Annan plan. Yet, there is also no discussion on another alternative settlement. References to “concessions” are frequently and effectively made. The “bi-communal, bi-zonal federated common state” is still in circulation, but there is extremist opposition to this idea from certain groups and, at the same time, everyone interprets “federation” from a different angle. For instance, Anastasiades says he won’t recognize the “concessions” Dimitris Christofias had made during the negotiations. Even if there are no concessions made and even if these remarks are intended as election campaign innuendo, they don’t impart much hope for future. What should be done?
Summing it up, all indications are here to tell us that even in the most optimistic scenario, we cannot expect a serious development in the negotiations until 2015. The three years in the interim may be used for confidence-building measures for the two communities.
Given the fact that the economic crisis on the island will worsen in coming months and bitter pills similar to those implemented in Greece will be brought to the agenda, we cannot expect Greek Cypriots to launch positive initiatives. Being a Greek Cypriot politician who can closely monitor the Greek Cypriot society’s tendencies and who have played an active role in the negotiations, Michalis Papapetrou is very pessimistic. During the Annan plan negotiations, he said, “Mr. Papadopoulos was negotiating with an aim to be in a position to more easily kill it. The remaining trace of hope has wasted away because “Mr. [Christofias] treated Talat as [Denktaş]” and “he had one eye on the negotiations and the other eye on what the Archbishop will say, or his allies in the government – DIKO [the Democratic Party], EDEK [the Movement for Social Democracy] -- will say.” Therefore, for Papapetrou, “The dream of federation ended in 2004” (Cyprus Mail, Sept. 2, 2012). Today, whoever visits Cyprus can feel the atmosphere that will verify this analysis. There is no hope, but complaints. As he is seeking to obtain the backing of ultranationalists for winning the elections, it is very likely that Anastasiades will share the fate of Christofias. I think the EU Commission should develop a project that will explain the reunification of Germany to Greek Cypriots in detail, particularly stressing how Germans ended isolation and promoted new initiatives in order to ensure the integrity of their country. Indeed, the current deadlock can be attributed completely to Greek Cypriots and their not knowing what they want.
EU gives impression of being a Greek-guided organization
For this reason, it is the EU’s responsibility to adopt a more rational approach to this issue. Due to its failure to implement the regulations for direct trade, the EU gives the impression of being a Greek-guided organization. This perception is not totally wrong. The EU decided to deliver the regulation for direct trade in order to assuage the isolation of the North. It is both wrong and meaningless to associate this decision with its Turkey policy. The EU may launch a process to eliminate this profound question of lack of credibility of its institutions. The political infrastructure that has emerged in the wake of the French presidential elections is ripe for such an attempt. As it will also force Ankara to open up its ports to Greek Cypriots, such an initiative would provide an additional support to Cyprus’s economy as well. Turkey and Turkish Cypriots, too, may come up with their own confidence-building measures.
For instance, if Anastasiades is elected, Turkey may put the Ankara protocol into force and open its ports to Cyprus. This politician has paid a heavy political price for lending support to the Annan plan, and deserves such a gesture. Moreover, opening the ports is no longer a big gesture as the ports had already been open until 1996. In return, Turkey may expect the EU to implement the regulation for direct trade or get promises for its implementation out of Paris or Berlin. After a harsh eight-year Cyprus policy, such a gesture wouldn’t be seen as a “concession” even by the most imbecilic Greek Cypriot politician. This gesture would also have a positive effect on the membership negotiations between Turkey and the EU.
When I visited the island 10 years ago, the streets were teeming with soldiers. This is no longer the case. But it is still possible to perceive the traces of a military-dominated culture. Giant images of flags were created on foothills and they are lit up at night as if no one knows Turks are living in the region. Visitors to Cyrus find these flags bizarre and freaky. It goes without saying that they are provocative for Greek Cypriots. Planting the foothills with trees and putting an end to such provocations may wither away the tension on the island. It would be worthwhile to soften the “border” practices in Nicosia. Border checks may still be in place, but they don’t have to be done systematically. The North’s desire for “recognition” can make progress through institutional dialogues, not by creating big flags on mountains or conducting extremely meticulous border checks. Openness to dialogue and solution is more visible in the North while the South still entertains rigid fears about their recognition. Therefore, to refrain from conspicuous behavior may help in improving international perceptions about the North.
*Ali Yurttagül is a political advisor for the Greens in the European Parliament.