OPINION

Makarios: Charismatic leader or architect of catastrophe?

Makarios: Charismatic leader or architect of catastrophe?

A response to the article of Professor Evanthis Hatzivassiliou, posted in ekathimerini.gr on February 8, 2022, titled “The charismatic leadership of Archbishop Makarios.” 

One cannot deny that Archbishop Makarios III was the most popular leader in the history of the Cypriot people, nor that his presence dominated their state of affairs for decades and his decisions were decisive for their future. With his election as archbishop in 1950, Makarios took on a huge responsibility, that of the struggle for union with Greece (Enosis). This campaign, inaugurated by the first governor of Greece, Ioannis Kapodistrias, in his October 1827 public statement, was pursued by the Greek Cypriots, the island’s majority, progressively with increasing vigor. Meanwhile important events took place that affected their cause: the transfer of the administration of Cyprus by the sultan to Britain in 1878, the annexation of Cyprus by Britain in 1914, the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 – according to its Article 20, “Turkey relinquishes any right to Cyprus” – the official declaration of Cyprus as a British colony in 1925 and two world wars.

The Greeks of Cyprus claimed Enosis with memos and delegations in London and elsewhere, demonstrations, protests and strikes, but to no avail since the British authorities’ stereotypical reply from 1919 onwards was: The Cyprus question is closed.

Having inherited the legacy and tradition of his predecessors, the new archbishop carried on his shoulders three plebiscites for Enosis (1921, 1931 and 1950) and an anti-colonial movement in October 1931 in which four Greek-Cypriot demonstrators lost their lives, dozens were exiled and hundreds imprisoned. For the ideal of Enosis, for which Makarios himself took an oath four times, he undertook an international campaign from 1950 to 1954. In his political deliberations, he had at his disposal three international instruments of crucial importance for the Cyprus issue: (i) the Atlantic Charter, a joint declaration of USA (President Franklin D. Roosevelt) and Britain (PM Winston Churchill) of 14 August 1941, committing both countries to respecting the right of peoples to self-determination and self-government; (ii) the UN Charter, ratified in 1945 – Chapter 1, Article 1, Part 2 states its purpose, “The development of relations between nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples…” (iii) the Potomac Charter on June 29, 1954 between US President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Churchill defining the common principles of Anglo-American policy: Article III upholds the right of peoples to self-determination.

In the face of a firm and irrevocable British decision to keep Cyprus as a colony indefinitely, the Cypriots saw no other choice but to start an armed struggle under Colonel Georgios Grivas, demanding self-determination and, through that, union with Greece. Following the failure of his talks with Field-Marshal Sir John Harding in early March 1956, Makarios was exiled with three other Cypriots to the Seychelles.

From then on, a catastrophic sequence of events that undermined the Greek-Cypriot cause were a direct result of Archbishop Makarios’ misjudgment and bad decisions. 

At Christmas 1956, Makarios, during Criton Tornaritis and Derek Pearson’s visit to the Seychelles to brief him on Lord Radcliffe’s constitutional proposals, began contemplating the abandonment of the struggle for self-determination, despite stormy objections by his three co-exiles. With his release from the Seychelles and taking up residence in Athens in March 1957, Makarios abandoned self-determination for the sake of independence without any consultation with those involved in the struggle or his people and without anything in return for this concession. Without briefing the Greek government, through public statements (in 1957 to The New York Times and 1958 to Barbara Castle) he proposed independence as a solution, an entirely personal decision, without popular mandate or consultation, abandoning a 120-year campaign.

Furthermore, while in Athens in February 1958, Makarios attempted to bypass the Greek government’s handling of the Cyprus issue by applying for a visa at the Turkish Embassy to go to Ankara alone for direct discussions with the Turkish government. The British diplomats, immediately informed by the Turks, contacted the Greek foreign minister, who had no idea, but at the same time interpreted Makarios’ action as a divided Greek front and Makarios’ official recognition that Turkey had rights over Cyprus. 

The ratification of the London and Zurich Agreements, endorsed by Makarios’ signature, created not only an undemocratic regime but also imposed a political system that contained the seeds of division, denied the Cypriots the right to decide their future via a referendum, allowed for Turkey’s permanent military presence in Cyprus and provided for two large British sovereign military bases. Whether Makarios signed these agreements of his own will or under British blackmail over his personal life is irrelevant. They amounted to a political defeat for the Greek side and Makarios was the instigator. And this, at the moment when the EOKA struggle made the governance of the island by the British impossible and continued only via imprisonment without trial, concentration camps, hangings, human rights violations and curfews. Makarios, despite the opposition of his advisers, presented this inadequate outcome as a political victory, decisively misleading his people.

Subsequently, as the head of a newly formed microstate, Makarios made yet again a wrong assessment as the geopolitical influence of the non-aligned movement, of which Cyprus became a member. The consortium could offer him neither effective political support nor the military protection that he desperately needed.

By 1963, Makarios was aware of the Turkish separatist intentions and military preparations on the island, while USA President John F. Kennedy, Greek Prime Minister Konstantinos Karamanlis and the latter’s Turkish counterpart Ismet Inonu warned him not to carry out any constitutional amendments. Ignoring all this, he took the next catastrophic political decision. He unilaterally submitted amendments to the constitution, cunningly, when Kennedy was dead, Greece without a government and Inonu in serious trouble. The result of this disastrous political move was the partition of Nicosia and other cities, the fragmentation of the rest of Cyprus with the creation of 32 Turkish-controlled zones, the collapse of his government and the beginning of intercommunal bloody armed conflict.

After the turmoil he created, Makarios proceeded into yet another disastrous political attempt, in January 1964, by announcing to all UN member-states, except the three guarantor powers Greece, Britain and Turkey, that he would unilaterally abolish the Treaty of Guarantee, which he had ratified by signing it! He was prevented at the last moment by the British undersecretary of state who happened to be in Cyprus. His most dangerous political move, however, in the same month was his attempt to involve the Soviet Union in the Cyprus issue. Makarios, an inexperience political infant on the international scene, was attempting a dangerous political game between the two superpowers at the peak of the Cold War, and that proved to be an act of political suicide.

In the coming months, Cyprus was strengthened militarily with the establishment of the National Guard and the arrival of Greek troops and armaments. In August 1964, Makarios worsened the situation with another political move. In order to torpedo Dean Acheson’s mediation talks with Greece and Turkey, he paid a visit to Egypt and asked Gamal Abdel Nasser for weapons and missile systems, which the latter, fearing the political consequences, refused to hand over. This infuriated the Americans, who labeled Makarios as the Fidel Castro of the Mediterranean and Cyprus as the Cuba of the Mediterranean. Within three years of assuming the presidency of Cyprus, he created fierce omnipotent enemies.

On August 22, 1964, following the collapse of Acheson’s efforts and his consultations in Geneva, Makarios torpedoed a unique opportunity to “bring about instant Enosis” with Greece according to an American plan. While at a meeting of the Greek Crown Council (King Constantine II, Prime Minister George Papandreou, the ministers of defense and foreign affairs and opposition leaders), which unanimously decided to proceed with the secret American proposal, Makarios engaged in time-consuming discussions with Greek Defense Minister Petros Garoufalias, while Vasos Lyssaridis and Andreas Papandreou persuaded the Greek prime minister to give up this unique opportunity.

From 1964 to 1967, all pro-Makarios media attempted a ruthless war against the Greek officers of the National Guard and the men of the Greek Division who were in Cyprus to defend it from the threats of Turkish invasion and, if necessary, give their lives. This campaign caused great concerns to George Papandreou, who financed the circulation of a newspaper to counteract it.

In 1967 Makarios decided on military confrontation with the Turkish Cypriots in Kofinou, insisting on the involvement of the National Guard, with the secret agenda of the removal of the Greek Division and Grivas from Cyprus. Collaborating with General Grigorios Spantidakis, the royalist member of the Greek junta, who was defense minister and Chief of General Staff, Makarios worked out the details of the Kofinou plan during the latter’s visit to Cyprus in October 1967. In parallel with this plan, an attempt was made against Grivas’ life by blowing up the plane he was supposed to travel in from Athens to Nicosia, resulting in the death of 66 innocent passengers, while Turkey secretly sent Turkish leader Rauf Denktash to Cyprus to take over the leadership of the Turks in the Kofinou – Agios Theodoros canton. He landed instead in Agios Theodoros Famagusta and was arrested. Makarios, with the operations of Kofinou, which he diligently pursued, succeeded in creating a political crisis he sought, but at the same time managed both the international humiliation of Greece and the dissolution of the island’s defense shield without worrying about the consequences. The military government recalled General Grivas to Athens and withdrew the Greek Division from Cyprus. 

Makarios failed to realize that by disbanding the defensive capability of Cyprus, which was built at great financial and political cost to Greece and with hard work by the youth of the island, a military invasion by Turkey to implement partition was now a much easier task and a matter of time. 

As the absolute monarch of Cyprus, Makarios bears maximum responsibility for the internal situation from 1960 onwards. In his hands was concentrated not only the executive but also the legislature power, without tolerating any challenge to his judgment and decisions. Makarios’ and his supporters’ mentality that those who disagreed with him were national traitors and dangerous for the Cypriot state naturally provoked reactions. Every voice and every movement against his regime had to be suppressed. During Makarios’ rule, Cyprus saw abductions and beatings of journalists, imprisonments and killings of dissidents. Two days after the brutal murder of two young men and ex-EOKA fighters on August 16, 1961, Makarios knew that one of his ministers was the instigator of this horrific crime and also the identities of the killers. Instead of bringing them to justice, he offered them cover and this led to another execution of a 22-year-old man opposed to Makarios a year later.

While Makarios was alive, none of his followers dared question the correctness of his thoughts, decisions and actions. As absolute despot of the media, he brainwashed both the public servants and the general public. Those who had a different opinion and dared express it faced persecution, general contempt and disapproval, threats against their lives, dismissal from their jobs and, in some cases, criminal prosecution. The name of Makarios had to be protected at all costs, not only when he was alive but also after death. During his presidency in 1967, the authoritarian law on “Insulting the Head of State” was passed. Article 46A of the Penal Code provided for the imprisonment for up to three years of anyone who dared to say anything critical of the President of the Republic, namely Makarios. And this law applied not only to the president’s term of office, but also following his resignation from the presidency and even after his death. Such laws only exist in totalitarian and dictatorial regimes, and yet almost four decades after his death, this undemocratic law was still in force.

On November 7, 1973, the report of the International Commission of Jurists was published, which in August sent its president, British QC Jeffrey Garrett to Cyprus to investigate allegations of ill-treatment of political prisoners by the police. The general conclusions of the Garrett report amount to condemnation of the Makarios regime: 1) Acts of violence and intimidation against suspects were committed by members of the security forces. It cites beatings, cigarette burns, execution threats and car bombings as examples of ill-treatment. 2) The means of investigating lawsuits against these forces were insufficient and ineffective. 3) The security forces should be subject to stricter control and discipline. 4) Judicial proceedings available to citizens to defend their rights needed improvement.

Serious were Makarios’ misjudgments and political decisions that preceded the 1974 coup against him: a) Knowing, from intelligence and events such as those at the Athens Polytechnic, that Dimitrios Ioannidis and other military rulers in Greece were ruthless, he risked open conflict with them. He exacerbated further tensions by attempting the junta’s public humiliation with his letter to President Phaedon Gizikis. b) As early as Friday, July 13, 1974, he was aware from businessman Kostas Maglis’ briefing, sent by Nicos Kranidiotis, that on Monday, July 15, the junta would carry out a coup against him, yet he decided not to take any precautions, as he had done in February 1972.

His actions in the aftermath of the coup when his sole concern was his return to power were catastrophic for Cyprus. On July 17, during his deliberations in London with Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Foreign Secretary James Callaghan, Makarios endorsed a “limited” military operation by Turkey, under the illusion that they would bring him back to power. His public statements in London and his speech at the UN Security Council on July 19 gave the legal basis for the Turkish invasion. On July 17, 1974, the British won the political game by leaving the execution of the invasion and the implementation of partition to the Turks. The working dinner hosted by Wilson and Callaghan in honor of Bulent Ecevit and the large Turkish delegation accompanying him that evening sealed the beginning of the implementation of that plan. Of course, it would be naive to suggest that the Turks planned the invasion and partition of Cyprus between July 17 and 20, 1974. Makarios was convinced that the Turks would bring him back to power, telling Callaghan, “I think the Turks prefer me to [Nikos] Sampson.” The culmination of this delusion was his speech at the United Nations, which, according to the minutes, he also discussed with the British prime minister. The two tragic points of that speech, which for years were covered with a veil of silence, were: a) He repeated many times that the junta had invaded Cyprus, and b) that not only the Greek Cypriots but also the Turkish Cypriots were in danger from the new regime. Of course the Turks kept their promise and brought Makarios back, but in a forcibly divided Cyprus with 38% of its land under army control, thousands dead and missing, and close to 200,000 refugees.

The tragic finding from the whole affair is this: Cyprus and Greece from 1950 to 1974 did not have the politicians (with the possible exception of the old George Papandreou) who could deal with the political and diplomatic power of Britain and Turkey. The political inadequacy of Makarios and the then politicians of Greece was not limited to the fact that they seemed incapable of claiming the just and democratic demand, of self-determination, at a time when Turkey had renounced any of its rights over Cyprus through the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. On the contrary, they were unable to prevent a racist, anti-democratic, unjust and inhumane plan of partition, which emerged in 1956 and finally came into force in July 1974.

For these tragic realities, huge responsibility falls primarily on Makarios’ shoulders as the only political and ecclesiastical leader and master of the internal and external affairs of Cyprus from 1950 onwards until his death. In summary, the above events show a lack of proper and adequate political assessment and acumen that led Makarios to disastrous decisions, resulting in catastrophic consequences for his people.

Finally, history will judge Makarios, not according to the volume, height and the number of his statues, but of his achievements, which were catastrophic for his people.


Leonidas Leonidou is an author, researcher and biographer of General Grivas, based in London.