Friday, 23 April 2004

The historic failings of Papadopoulos, Karamanlis and Simitis

Greek-Cypriots would not be discussing whether or not to accept the Annan plan today, and their future would not be so cloudy, were it not for two recent shifts in the Greek political world.

Faced with an election in February 2003, incumbent Cypriot president Glafkos Klerides asked for a 16-month extension to his term in order to see through the induction of a united Cyprus to the European Union. He didn't get it. This month, from the opposition, he declared in favour of the plan. Had he still been president, his support would have done a great deal to tip the Greek Cypriot electorate towards a 'yes', 78% of which today discounts the plan along with Tassos Papadopoulos.

Papadopoulos not only took the wrong decision; there is reason to believe that he did not negotiate the plan as well as he might in Buergenstock. His spokesman rubbished it on March 29, the day it was unveiled to the two sides, with 48 hours of negotiation to go.

This was easy to do since the aggregate Greek and Greek-Cypriot media were cooped up in a hotel in Fuerigen, near Buergenstock, essentially in a news blackout. Once the negative tenor had been given to the Greeks, Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan's upbeat view of the plan seemed like confirmation that what was good for the Turks was bad for the Greeks. If Papadopoulos indeed failed to negotiate in good faith, then he is, as Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said, in breach of a Cypriot commitment to the UN and the EU.

The second political shift responsible for this turnaround is the timing of the Greek election.

Former prime minister Kostas Simitis decided to call elections for March rather than wait for the ultimate deadline of early May, partly in order to put Cyprus' May 1 accession, and the reunification talks, just into the term of the new government. It was a typical Simitis gesture. Cyprus, along with the Olympics, demanded the skills of an incumbent. But voters didn't see it that way. Angry about the economy and Pasok's chronic corruption, they threw the socialists out.

In retrospect, Simitis can be accused of having put re-election before the interests of the nation. Had he and George Papandreou been in power, they would have been less likely to accept ferocious international pressure from European and US leaders they had negotiated with in the past, and much more likely to press the sceptical Tassos Papadopoulos into accepting the plan.

The Cypriots orchestrated a demonisation of the plan in the Greek language media before negotiating it, and the Greek government had done nothing to stop this. On the contrary, Karamanlis, not wanting to upstage Papadopoulos, appeared just a few shades less gloomy at the conclusion of talks. Glafkos Klerides and George Vassileiou tried to alter this view, without luck.

Things were very different in neighbouring Zurich 45 years ago. Then, Karamanlis' uncle and namesake sidelined Makarios and negotiated independence for Cyprus directly with his Turkish counterpart Adnan Menderes. Makarios signed onto a done deal.

We now have a complete turnaround of the polling figures from a year ago, when Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash rejected the plan and the Greek-Cypriots accepted it. That turnaround will not work in Greek-Cypriots' favour.

Two crucial shifts in the Turkish political world have also helped bring about the current turnaround. Turkish-Cypriots in December voted for a more moderate government, bringing in as prime minister Rauf Denktash's sworn enemy, Mehmet Ali Talat.

Erdogan, meanwhile, sidelined Denktash and made Cyprus policy less monolithic. He did so by ending Turkish generals' binding grip on foreign policy through the National Security Council, reducing it to an advisory body. Both moves are in aid of Turkey's European orientation.

Turkey and the Turkish-Cypriots have thus made an about-turn to a pro-UN plan position, while Greek-Cypriot policy seems to be stuck in the days of Turkish intransigence. This is bound to bring kudos to the Turks and opprobrium to the Greeks.

There was no doubt international mishandling of the matter. The pressure on Greek-Cypriots from the international community to accept the Annan plan has been white hot. Greek-Cypriots are made suspicious by the fact that the EU is desperate for a solution before Cyprus' official entry, whereas a solution is perfectly possible later on.

Then there is the unfortunate timing of Bush's war in Iraq and his war against fundamentalist Islam, for which he needs Turkish support. Colin Powell's telephone call to Kofi Annan at the start of talks in Buergenstock, asking him to look out for the interests of Turkey, was the height of diplomatic indiscretion.

But ultimately, the Greeks and Greek-Cypriots have to shoulder responsibility for losing their advantage on Cyprus.

Cyprus has missed a string of historic oportunities to be happy, partly because Greek-Cypriots failed to realise the strategic interests of others in Cyprus, partly because they were unwilling to achieve their ultimate goal incrementally, and partly because they were unwilling to accept the Turkish-Cypriots as equals.

Governor John Harding offered Makarios self-determination after seven years in 1955. Makarios turned it down and condoned a terrorist campaign against the British which naturally alienated them. It was then that Britain began to arouse Turkish interest in its community on Cyprus. The days would soon be over when Makarios could claim to speak for the whole island.

From then on, in Britain's mind there was always the guiding principle that any new arrangement on Cyprus necessarily had to be bi-communal. In 1956 Britain presented the Radcliffe Plan, which allowed some self-government to the Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots separately. It was the first to introduce the idea of separate referenda for the two communities on acceptance of the plan. If this seems somewhat harsh, one needs to remember that Britain had just been through the humiliating experience of Suez, for which Cyprus was its base of operations. It had been demoted as a major power by the United States, and was stiffened in its resolve to preserve the strategic power it had left.

Britain's awakening of the Turkish factor on Cyprus is surely its greatest disservice to the Greeks, and if the Foreign Office felt it could use the Turks to control the Greeks it was soon to prove mistaken. The Turkish-Cypriots began to create their own terrorist group, Volkan, which they threatened to use against the British.

The new prime minister, Harold MacMillan, presented his plan in 1958, which essentially foresaw the gradual division of Cyprus into two communities and led to possible partition. Its most cunning feature was that it could be enforced with either the Greek-Cypriot or the Turkish-Cypriot community separately. This feature was designed at least partly to overcome the intransigence of Makarios.

In the end it was not Makarios who saved the day but Greek foreign minister Evangelos Averoff, who negotiated the outline of a constitution for a unified Cyprus with his Turkish counterpart, Fatin Zorlu. This led to the Zurich and London agreements of 1959 and Cypriot independence in 1960.

Makarios may have had good reason to suspect that Turkey was consciously trying to undermine Cypriot self-government, but he did nothing to try and separate Turkish-Cypriots from Ankara by winning their trust. On the contrary, he tolerated or condoned a campaign of intimidation against them. When he presented a bid to change the constitution in November 1963, he should not have been surprised that this did not go over well in Turkey. His desire for union with Greece was well known, and his declaration of the constitution as unworkable could only be interpreted in that light.

Makarios' notorious 13 points sparked intercommunal clashes, largely orchestrated by Turkey, which led to the deployment of Turkish troops along the Kyrenia-Lefkosia road and deprived Makarios of parts of the island for the first time.

Makarios had demonstrated admirably what the Turks wanted to prove - that Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots could not live together. From 1964 on the Cyprus problem moved away from Greek control another notch. There was no longer any question of whether the communities could trust each other enough to form a single state.

Even now Makarios failed to appreciate the gravity of the situation. He turned down an American proposal to unify Cyprus with Greece, as he had always wanted, allowing Turkey a small military base to be leased for 50 years. (That lease would now be due to expire in ten years' time).

It was left to the Greeks to commit one last act of idiocy, an attempt to dispose of the insufferable Makarios, to invite the Turks in as a restorer of Cypriot order.

There was nothing legal about Turkey's invasion. It had declared the constitution of 1960 null and void, and could therefore not lay claim to its Treaty of Guarantee. Even if it could have done, the Treaty allowed Guarantor power only the right to intervene to restore security and order, not to maintain an occupation. In the event, the Turks carried out a surreptitious invasion well into August, after the UN had ordered its cessation, and stopped when they reached a line of division marked out by the British in 1964. The US Sixth Fleet allowed this invasion to proceed, while turning back Greek ships trying to come to Cyprus' assistance.

Thus ended Greek errors and began Turkish ones. Realising that it would now be negotiating with a dominant military power, Greece did not seek bilateral talks with Turkey as in 1959. Instead it sought to internationalise the issue, which it did with great success through the UN and the EU.

The good aspects of the Annan plan, eventual freedom of movement and establishment; and the reduction of armed forces to 650 Turkish and 950 Greek troops - the numbers suggested by Karamanlis in 1959 - are thanks to these organisations.

Meanwhile Turkey has its own champion, the US, and an advantage of proximity. These have allowed it to keep its occupation, and to finally impose on the Greeks a federation - something originally proposed by Denktash in 1975, and rejected by the Greeks for more than two decades.

But the Greek-Cypriots have failed to realise that it is not their compromising over federation that has won Turkish and US agreement to the Annan plan. It is Turkish desire to join the European Union and end an illegal, not to mention highly unjust, state of affairs, and US desire to promote Turkey as a regional ally. The Greeks have done well to win as much as they have through the UN and EU, and would be forced to accept a much worse state of affairs were it not for these.

Twentieth century history may not have been fair to the Greeks, but the Greeks have made matters worse by being too introspective and egocentric. The current state of Cyprus is much more the result of Greek and Greek-Cypriot mistakes than of Turkish cleverness. Cyprus alienated the British and the Turkish-Cypriots, and could not hope to win independence or enosis with Greece as its only ally.

With hindsight, the lessons seem obvious. A small nation, Greece is relatively powerless on its own. Its hope is in alliances, and regional and international organisations. Greece can only make gains by painstaking diplomatic preparation. This task was difficult enough in 1919, when Greece invaded Asia Minor. But it is much harder today, when Turkey is a favoured power and Greece is not. The Greeks therefore need to dissociate compromise from defeat, and settle for the fact that strategic national gains are made gradually, through agreement rather than force, and with a standing strategy.

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