Stress test on Cyprus


Maybe it’s a good thing that we have a crisis in the Cyprus talks now and not later. If the negotiations between President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci can withstand today’s difficulties, then perhaps the Cyprus issue will be on its way toward resolution. If the negotiations cannot overcome the recent decision by the Parliament to have schools commemorate the 1950 plebiscite calling for union with Greece, it’s best we know from now that the process was leading nowhere. The past is history, but it is up to today’s leaders to overcome obstacles and to lead Cyprus toward a better future – or to confirm that the consequences of the Turkish invasion in 1974 are permanent and inviolable.

Of course, it is the Cypriots themselves who know better than anyone else whether it is in their best interests to move toward a federation or whether they find today’s situation viable and satisfactory. No one else should try to affect their judgment, but it would be useful to know whether there is a third choice, where those who oppose today’s process can see a viable solution that is neither the status quo nor a federation. Ankara might imagine that the best outcome would be its annexing the territory it occupies, but what could Greek Cypriots and Greece see as an improvement, beyond today’s division or a federation?

We often see extremists determining developments in societies with their demands and hyperbole. In most cases, though, the responsible, centrist parties try to resist. So how can we interpret the ease with which so many parties in the Cypriot Parliament sided with the extremist ELAM with its two MPs? Did they not see that in other countries whenever mainstream parties adopt the language and methods of extremists it is the latter who gain, as they gain credibility among more citizens? Or do they think that tension between the island’s two communities serves their interests? In any case, the breakdown in trust between Anastasiades and Akinci is a great loss and it is difficult to imagine how either of their communities will benefit from this.

Anastasiades has his eye on the alliances that he needs for next year’s presidential elections, whereas Akinci is under great pressure in his domestic political scene and from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Perhaps the tension around Parliament’s decision gives them a break, allowing them to temporarily avoid taking the difficult decisions needed for the negotiations to continue. If they cannot take this step, they will not restore confidence and the process will stop. If they can work together, then both will have something to take back to their communities so the talks can continue.

The sudden storm and the haste with which both sides rushed to hide behind the barricades of tension show that the charms of division are always great. Now we will see if they are also impossible to overcome.