History requires patience and moderation. No one should jump to conclusions before the dust has settled, before the facts can be documented with a certain degree of objectivity. Similarly, it is impossible to draw safe conclusions when passions are still running high.
I have to say that I find the current situation in Cyprus very frustrating. Having studied the issue for years and ahead of completing a relevant book, I can’t help but discern a strategic deadlock on the horizon. The island’s division has been consolidated. The Greek Cypriot side cannot expect any territorial concessions in the framework of a compromise formula. Any thoughts of a velvet divorce that would trade some form of recognition for territory are a thing of the past. Even if a deal were on the table today, it would probably be too complex and impractical (even more so than the Annan Plan was) to pass in a referendum.
The reaction from the United States has been positive and significant, unlike that of the European Union which has been rather lukewarm. That said, such statements are not going to have any meaningful impact.
If we were to assess the resolutions and the statements issued over the past 60 plus years, the balance would be positive on the Greek side. However, the same cannot be said when looking at the actual situation, on the ground. The cliche that the Cyprus issue is a story of lost opportunities is one of the few that hold true. Hellenism had several opportunities to deal with the issue that it did not seize because egos and personal rivalries got in the way, because of a perennial neo-Byzantine tug-of-war between Athens and Nicosia, and because of that accursed thing called political cost. What would certainly have been labelled a “betrayal” in 1964, would seem like a very good settlement today. The Cyprus issue was the first and most important to become caught up in the center of postwar left- and right-wing populism, leaving very little room for a clear-headed approach.
In his exceptional new book on the Cyprus problem, Giorgos Kalpadakis aptly speaks of “eternal ‘Diligiannism’,” a mix of populism and reactionism coined after the late premier Theodoros Diligiannis, to describe the situation.
There were times when, had we displayed more restraint and national understanding and less complacency, we would have achieved our national goals. Sure, the decisions and the compromises were not always easy. I would not want to be in the shoes of those who had to decide after the Turkish invasion whether to accept a settlement with a return of territories and refugees to their homes or to dismiss any such idea so as not to legitimize Turkey’s occupation. Nor can I say whether it would have been right to have accepted past proposals for a return of Varosha for recognition of the military precedent.
These quandaries are not necessarily important today, though they must be addressed – first of all by the Greek Cypriots who were the ones to pay the price and who were late in deconstructing some of the myths, but also by people here in Greece because the handling of the Cyprus issue is emblematic of how we understand foreign policymaking. It demonstrates how easily we get caught up in sentimental reactions and the classic patriots-traitors dichotomy. After all, the biggest success regarding Cyprus was the product of pragmatism and wise determination: it was the island’s EU accession, which made Cyprus secure and solid as a sovereign European state.