Letter from Buergenstock

Switzerland is popularly known as a country of bankers and diplomats, people who prefer to conduct their business behind closed doors. Yet any visitor to the nation cannot help being struck by the sheer range of possibilities outdoors, including walks around the numerous lakes, trips to picturesque old villages and pleasant countryside, and of course the Alps. Yet the still snowy paths in the Swiss mountain resort of Buergenstock, an Old World-style resort area, 35 miles (55 kilometers) southwest of Zurich, where the late Audrey Hepburn was married, and Sophia Loren and many other movie stars have lived, is hardly accessible these days to anybody. It has been declared UN territory and closed for the duration of the last-ditch (?) Cyprus talks. The talks on the longstanding conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims in Cyprus comes as the clock ticks down to May 1, when Greek Cyprus is set to join the EU. Obsessed with the idea of conspiracy, Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash declared last Friday on television: «I don’t think the Swiss summit will reach a resolution.» He also added that a forced agreement would never produce a Cyprus deal. He was addressing himself to the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as well as to President George W. Bush. On the other hand, US Ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman said on the same day that even if the Cyprus summit in Switzerland failed, no crisis would ensue. And he should know best. And that because there is hardly any prospect of a solution. The threat that if the negotiators don’t agree on the plan by March 31, Annan will complete it himself, is not very credible. For it is not just the veteran Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash who is against the Annan plan. Both Costas Karamanlis as well as Tassos Papadopoulos know only too well that this time in Lucerne, they can be hailed as heroes – or branded as renegades, wrote Ependytis publisher Nikos Felekis on Saturday, urging both Greek leaders to resist overt pressure by the EU and the US President Bush, and not to backslide into «Zurich-like agreements.» He was referring to the knotty negotiations between Britain, Greece and Turkey in Zurich by which the Republic of Cyprus was founded. «Really, we should not be so frightened to be called intransigent,» said Ambassador Emeritus M. Dountas speaking on Saturday morning on SKAI radio. What the Annan plan really does is provide legal justification for the invasion and occupation of the island. A federation of two states – one Greek and the other Turkish – with a loose central government, as suggested by the Annan plan, does exactly that, Greek public opinion is led to conclude. Furthermore, two Thessaloniki University professors, Costas Chrysogonis and H. Kouskouvelis, on Friday night more or less insisted during an «Anichnefseis» TV talk show that a reversible republic promises no good either. Whatever proposal will be decided today (although most probably the talks will be prolonged until tomorrow) here in Buergenstock, it will go to separate referenda in each of the communities on April 20. And if either side rejects it, Cyprus won’t be reunited by the time it joins the EU on May 1. Which means that EU laws will only apply to the Greek-Cypriot part of the island, while Turkish Cypriots remain isolated and poor, and Turkey’s longstanding dream to anchor solidly in the West will become a nightmare. Apparently, many Greek-Cypriot voters also prefer to join Europe alone and leave the Turkish part of the island to dangle in their claustrophobia of isolation. Economically, there is a huge contrast between the northern and the southern parts of the island.    Greek Cypriots enjoy a gross national product exceeding 80 percent of the European Union average; in contrast, Turkish Cypriots have a per capita income of roughly one-third of their southern neighbors. The Greek part of Cyprus has become a prosperous state within the last 30 years. The economic boom has been mainly fueled by increased income from tourism. Also, although no one likes to talk about it, everyone knows only too well what the truth is about the wicked flow of money (if found out) from Russia and other Eastern European countries into real estate and offshore accounts. Several months ago, commentator Kira Poznakhirko wrote in Pravda: «As of now, over 30 percent of offshore companies registered in Cyprus are of the Russian origin. And Cyprus itself (which is by the way a surprise) is the world’s third country after the USA and Germany regarding the volume of investments in the Russian economy.» Smaller than the US state of Connecticut and with a population of Greek and Turkish Cypriots of under 1 million, the island is likely to face a sturdy bill more than double that of its gross national product after the deal to reunite the island. Last October, the Greek-Cypriot daily Fileleftheros reported that government technocrats have calculated the economic cost of reunification at $33 billion, which will be paid by the rich – the Greek – part of the island. Of course, for the residents of a country that has lived in the shadow of armed conflict for almost 40 years, money isn’t everything. Usually, it isn’t even enough. Anyway, today UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, wanting to do good, will present his fourth plan to the four protagonists gathered here on the shores of Lake Lucerne with the aim of reunifying the Mediterranean island in time for its entry into the European Union on May 1 and also in time for President Bush to get some of the credit when he attends the NATO summit meeting in Istanbul – an event that will also take place in May 2004.

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