By Nikos Skoutaris *
In the classic 90s comedy “Groundhog Day,” an arrogant and egocentric Bill Murray finds himself in a time loop repeating the same day again and again. Every time the negotiations for a settlement of the Cyprus issue are resumed, each and every student of the protracted conflict feels a bit like Bill Murray.
That is not just because the negotiations have been resumed endless times (at least three in the last 10 years) but also because their evolution follows the same pattern. There is optimism in the beginning, frustration as time passes by and sheer disappointment at the end. So the main question is whether the present negotiations can break the time loop and move us to the day after Groundhog Day, which will entail the reunification of the island.
I believe that potentially they could, as long as both communities manage their expectations as to what the negotiations may produce. According to the joint declaration that Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish-Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu released, “the settlement will be based on a bicommunal, bizonal federation with political equality.” To make a (very) long story short, this means that both communities will be participating effectively in all organs and decisions of the federal government of the reunified Cyprus. This will most probably happen through a numerical formula. For example, 7:3 was the formula in the Zurich Agreement for the government and the legislature of the Cyprus Republic while in the Annan Plan it was 2:1 and 3:1 for the government and the lower house of the Parliament respectively.
More importantly, bizonality means that there will be two constituent states – one Greek-Cypriot and one Turkish-Cypriot. And each constituent state will be administered by the respective community which “would be guaranteed a clear majority of the population and of land ownership in the area” (Report of the UN Secretary-General S/1990/21183). Given that more than 75 percent of the privately owned land in northern Cyprus belong to Greek Cypriots, it is unavoidable that the owners of property affected by the current status quo would not enjoy an absolute right to reinstatement. Thus, the future restitution scheme will combine reinstatement for some dispossessed owners, exchange and/or compensation for some others. And even those whose property rights will be reinstated might be living under Turkish-Cypriot administration.
Does this arrangement ring a bell? Of course it does. It sounds suspiciously similar to the “evil” Annan Plan and every other plan that has been proposed over the last 30 years. But this is not a result of a world conspiracy against Cypriot Hellenism, it is rather the by-product of the agreed basic parameters of bizonality, bicommunality and political equality. Those parameters were agreed in the 70s by the leaders of the two communities and they have never been reversed. Instead they have been verified, developed and incorporated in the UN settlement proposals. Most importantly, they have been accepted by all the leaders of the two communities, including the late Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos (July 8, 2006 Agreement).
In the movie, the time loop only breaks when Murray manages to befriend almost everyone in the city during the day. Somehow likewise, the time loop of the Cyprus issue will break only once the two communities are prepared to realize and accept that if the reunification is to take place, it will only take place under the framework they set almost four decades ago. Having lived apart for five decades, it is almost a mission impossible. But, as is often said, you don’t make peace with your friends but with your enemies.
* Dr Nikos Skoutaris is a lecturer of EU law in the UEA Law School and visiting senior fellow at the European Institute, LSE. He is the author of “The Cyprus Issue: The Four Freedoms in a Member State Under Siege.”