Cyprus haunted by past

Feverish discussions in Athens and Nicosia, and their counterparts on the Turkish side, before the first deadline for negotiations of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s proposal for solving the Cyprus issue once again reveal internal historical disagreements. In the face of this great challenge, which is fraught with unfulfilled national desires and strong emotions over historical events which were painful for Greeks, Greek policy seems to be wavering. Though 28 years have gone by without any progress being made since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, Greek policy doubts the viability of another solution which will not reinstate pre-1974 conditions, but which is an opportunity to revive the island and, above all, is a step toward removing the tremendous burden on the still crisis-ridden Greek-Turkish relations. More than a few people are resorting to the defense that the Greek part of Cyprus has made economic progress, and are proposing partition as a solution. What dominates this evaluation of Annan’s plan is the past, the clash of Greek and Turkish nationalism. Many are looking at the present challenge from the vantage point of the 1960s, without taking into consideration changing circumstances which have completely altered the scene. The background to the new proposal for solving the political problem of Cyprus is totally different from that of previous decades. The European Union is a new qualitative element in the proposal. Europe is the supporting mechanism, and this makes a difference. The great challenge of the new plan lies precisely in the opportunity for both communities to coexist harmoniously under the umbrella of the EU, which incorporates a rich culture and long experience of dialogue. The Turkish Cypriots are being asked to work in this new environment, which Turkey is keen to join, knowing that its participation will entail many obligations. The Greek side has nothing to fear from this environment. This country is the envy of many of its neighbors for its position in the EU, it has incorporated EU acquis communautaire, it has experience of European conditions and could be said to be in a position of power. The Greek-Cypriot side has also followed European procedures closely, become the prime candidate for EU accession, and has a European culture. It too has nothing to fear. The challenge is for the other side. The Turkish-Cypriot regime of Rauf Denktash will have to show that it can operate within the demanding EU environment, which will act as a catalyst for the island, regardless of the transitional arrangements. Turkey will also have to adapt its republic, accept new institutions, recognize rights and undertake obligations on its path toward the EU. This adjustment on the part of our neighbors is what changes circumstances and makes Annan’s proposal worth discussion and evaluation. Apart from that, the plan does have many vulnerable points, which must be improved so as to make it functional. The Cyprus issue is linked to the other side’s adaptation to the model of dialogue imposed by the EU. At the same time, one must not ignore American intervention and the role of what is now the leading power, which has many reasons to desire stability in the region. Currently, the American government is demonstrating in practice its desire for an overall solution, apparently with the aim of closing fronts in the region. This is borne out by the personal interest of US President George W. Bush in the Cyprus issue, the turn toward support for Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the winner of the Turkish elections, and the insistence of the American government on setting a starting date for Turkey’s EU accession negotiations. It is time to summon the courage to put an end to 28 years of inaction on the Cyprus question and bilateral relations. If it fails, Cyprus may be partitioned, as some believe it already is. But if it succeeds, and the two communities operate together under the EU umbrella, there will be huge benefits, which may prove decisive for the country’s future progress, since it will have a chance to act with greater ease in the region and with the prestige of a peaceful, democratic, stabilizing force which will be a good example and set the tone for developments.

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