OPINION

Separation anxiety

May 1 has come and gone, and Cyprus, with nine other countries, has joined the European Union. But Cyprus enters the Union divided – something like a divorcee at the mass wedding in Dublin last Saturday. (And like a touchy divorcee, Cyprus was treated with the mandatory politeness but the inevitable touch of condescension by the other partygoers.) As we all learned early on the evening of April 24, the Greek Cypriots, as their president had urged, voted overwhelmingly against accepting UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan for their island’s reunification. The Turkish Cypriots, who had acted the part of the runaway bride in 30 years of negotiations, were the ones who arrived all spruced up and keen to get back together with Greek Cypriots only to see President Tassos Papodopoulos, dressed like a bridegroom, enter the EU cathedral alone and close the door in their faces. This is how the world saw the Greek-Cypriot «no» and the Turkish-Cypriot «yes» to Annan’s effort to get them together in a loose marriage just before Cyprus joined the EU. Unfortunately, as in so much else, the Greek side saw something different. The majority of the Greek Cypriots voted against the Annan plan because they felt insecure. A poll by Greece’s V-PRC company found that 75 percent of those who rejected the UN plan did so because of security concerns. This was completely understandable because, irrespective of the many faults of the Greek-Cypriot side in the whole Cyprus issue, they are the ones who suffered an invasion and saw a large part of their country occupied by an alien and brutal military force. Among those polled, only 7 percent said they had heeded Papadopoulos, who had called for a «resounding ‘No’» in the referendum. This may be what the people said but it is also misleading, because a large part of the feeling of insecurity was cultivated by what Papadopoulos and the other proponents of the «no» campaign did or did not say and do. The naysayers played on people’s fears and presented the choice in the referendum as one in which «yes» would lead to unforeseen and irreversible complications whereas «no» would leave things just as they were and perhaps even allow for improvements in the reunification effort. They also did not set out to the people any of the benefits of the Annan plan, or present it as an honorable and necessary compromise. They simply claimed that it was not a good plan. Period. This was completely the opposite to what Greek Cypriots campaigning for a «yes» argued. They understood that with the Turkish Cypriots having been brought to their knees over the long years of isolation the Turkish side was ready to rush back into co-habiting with the Greek Cypriots. Supporters of the plan saw not only the benefits of the plan but the cost the Greek Cypriots would bear if they rejected it, when they would leave the Turks suddenly holding the diplomatic and moral high ground. And this is what happened. The majority of Greek Cypriots voted to stay in the same place, but the ground had shifted from under their feet. Although this, like so many great changes, did not happen immediately and dramatically, its true dimensions are becoming increasingly evident as the days pass. The waiter at the banquet in Dublin did not pass over Papadopoulos’s plate, as the Cypriot president had predicted he would not. But US Secretary of State Colin Powell did refer to Mehmet Ali Talat, the Turkish-Cypriot leader, as «prime minister» in the highest-level contact the Turkish Cypriots had enjoyed in more than a decade. And the State Department spokesman referred to the Cypriot government as the «Greek-Cypriot government.» «If these (references) were intentional and not a slip of the tongue, they must be seen as hostile acts,» Papadopoulos declared. «I would say that they are also unproductive, if the aim of all of us is to reunite Cyprus through negotiations and not to create a definite dividing line between the two sides.» Although Papadopoulos says he is still in favor of a bizonal, bicommunal federation, he has not indicated what he will do to «reunite Cyprus.» It appears that apart from saying the EU should go ahead and fund the Turkish Cypriots without questioning Nicosia’s sovereignty, Papadopoulos and his government appear to be concentrating more on weathering the storm that followed their jilting of the Turkish Cypriots. When reactions are not as bad as expected – as in the EU, so far – they say things are fine. If the reaction is negative, as in the Powell-Talat meeting, they get angry. It remains to be seen whether there is a policy behind all this or whether the «no» vote was based solely on a fear of change. Annan’s report to the UN Security Council is due by the end of the month, and is quite likely to express criticism of the Greek-Cypriot leadership. The European Commission still has to decide on details pertaining to trade with the northern part of Cyprus, so it is not clear how much this might tread on Greek-Cypriot toes. In all, it remains to be seen how much the end to the Turkish Cypriots’ isolation will be to the detriment of Greek Cypriots’ bargaining power in any future settlement talks. Now that Cyprus is a full member of the European Union, its president obviously feels that he has the full weight of 25 countries and 450 million citizens behind him, giving him the authority to blast the United States when it steps out of line. He and the other opponents of the Annan plan are also confident that, so far, the doomsday scenarios of those who campaigned in favor of the plan have not materialized. One of those fears was that rejecting what was strenuously billed as the last chance for a negotiated solution would lead to the island’s conclusive division. Annan’s report might indicate what the international community thinks it will do now, although the UN and US stress that no more negotiations are planned. The Turkish Cypriots say that the issue is not a game and they are against any further tinkering with the reunification blueprint – and as their isolation ends and their economy improves it will become increasingly unlikely that they will be willing to pay the political cost of mass removals of people from areas that were to be given back to the Greek Cypriots and the withdrawal of almost all Turkish troops on the island. Even though all this suggests that Cyprus will remain divided for the foreseeable future, there may still be enough good will on both sides to bring them together. The reassuring environment of the European Union, especially, should allay the tensions of the past which dominated the referendum. But what we did not expect was that the division that would follow the April 24 referendum would be between Greece and Cyprus. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, in his cagey acceptance of the Annan plan before the vote, had been absolutely clear on one thing: Cyprus would no longer be an obstacle to Turkey’s efforts to start accession talks with the European Union – at least so far as Athens was concerned. Yesterday, Karamanlis and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, hammered this home in the most dramatic way. In a joint news conference during the first official visit by a Turkish prime minister since 1988, neither Karamanlis nor Erdogan mentioned Cyprus in their statements, which were focused on how ties between the two countries had to improve further, freed of the burdens of the past. When asked about Cyprus, Karamanlis said only that the whole island had been accepted into the EU, with a special dispensation for the Turkish Cypriots. He added that he was pleased Nicosia was helping the Turkish Cypriots economically and that Athens supported efforts to reunify the island. As the prime ministers of Greece and Turkey glowed in each other’s presence, Papadopoulos was asked in Nicosia whether he had been in contact with Karamanlis. He replied that the two had discussed the Cyprus issue in Dublin – a week earlier. The message is unmistakable, and, if Athens does not relent, what it says is that Nicosia is free to make its own decisions and Athens will always stand by it, but that this will not stop either from going its own way. It is as if Greece is uncoupling itself from a policy in which Cyprus was always its top priority – so much so that it suffocated the island and brought tragedy upon it in 1974. If this is not a divorce then it is a trial separation or a very open relationship. In any case, the dance of history is sweeping Greece, Cyprus and Turkey along. Where each will be in a few years’ time will depend on the strength of the friendship that they develop. If Cyprus is freed from the tension between Greece and Turkey, the people of the island may just find it easier to come to terms with each other. Perhaps what the mightiest forces in the world could not do – unite the Cypriots – might just happen if they are left alone.