The restoration of democracy in Greece was built on the ruins of the 1974 Turkish occupation of Cyprus, the result of a criminal coup in Greece conducted by the dictator Dimitrios Ioannidis. The dictatorship eventually collapsed and a new political order emerged, focusing its energies on affairs at home. To the new ruling class, Cyprus was too far away to deal with, but the divided island was doing quite well for itself nonetheless.
Today, the economic crisis in Cyprus may prove to be a catalytic factor that puts the Greek political system to the test.
The financial crisis in Cyprus arose because Cypriot banks agreed to participate in the Greek debt write-down in order to stave off an uncontrolled Greek bankruptcy. The “homeland” syndrome prevailed even though disappointment in Greece had been building up for years.
Greek banks managed to ensure funding worth 50 billion euros for their recapitalization, in the form of a loan that placed a huge burden Greek citizens. Recently, the political leadership of Cyprus visited Athens and asked that the Greek branches of Cypriot banks be included in the recapitalization process, which would take around 2 billion euros. The request was rejected, and the concept of “homeland” was dealt another blow. As far as the Cypriots’ sentiments toward Greece are concerned, the situation may well be irreversible now.
However, there is also the decision of the Cypriot Parliament, which voted against the troika’s proposal and the memorandum, basically because the terms of the bailout would effectively destroy Cyprus’s economic model. Only a few weeks after being elected, Prime Minister Nicos Anastadiades found himself standing against the prevailing sentiment of the people. He had been in this position in the past, when he voiced his support for the Annan Plan for the resolution to the Cyprus dispute, which was rejected by 75 percent of citizens, who refused to accept its terms and did not believe in its efficacy.
The Cypriot Parliament’s “no” vote goes against the conventional rationale of the European Union. It also involves several risks. But the history of nations and states is often shaped by “irrational” decisions that are imposed by citizens in a state of agitation and imbued with a sense of purpose. It is the belief of the Greek-Cypriot people that even if an economic disaster occurs, even if Cyprus is ejected from the eurozone, there will be regrowth.
Greece stands on the opposite side, with a weak leadership and a weary people that lacks strength. Changes in Greece are voted through Parliament by frightened deputies. The result is that the prevalent feeling right now is one of subjugation rather than determination to face a challenge that is really no greater than the one the country has already been through. It is not Cyprus that should be copying Greece; it should be the other way round.