Cyprus: Western powers’ reunification plan ends in failure

THE LATEST attempt by the United Nations (UN) and European Union (EU) ministers to unify the divided island of Cyprus has ended in failure, amid bitter recriminations.

In a UN-sponsored referendum simultaneously held in both Greek and Turkish areas last week, while 69% in the Turkish zone voted yes to a Swiss-style federal state, 75% of Greek Cypriots voted no, despite a US promise to provide millions of dollars in aid.

EU enlargement commissioner, Gunter Verheugen, accused the Greek Cypriot president Tassos Papadopoulos of duplicity after Papadopoulos, supported by the Communist Party (AKEL) and the social democrats (KISOS), campaigned against the UN plan. The Greek Cypriot leader said the plan "makes partition permanent".

Ironically, even though the Greek Cypriots in the south of the island rejected the plan its part of Cyprus will now formally become part of the European Union on 1 May; whereas the unrecognised (apart from Turkey) ’Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’, which overwhelmingly voted for the plan, will remain outside an enlarged EU.

Many Turkish Cypriots, particularly younger workers, who are desperate to escape the unemployment, poverty and stifling political situation in the north, voted "yes". In the months prior to the referendum several thousand had already voted with their feet and accepted Greek Cypriot passports as a means of entry into the EU economies.

This was despite an increasingly virulent campaign by Turkish nationalists, including the veteran nationalist and former TMT terrorist leader Rauf Denktash, for a no vote. Newspapers report that the Turkish mainland fascist Grey Wolves also engaged in violence and intimidation.

Although the Turkish Cypriot government was divided narrowly in favour of the plan with the president Denktash against and the prime minister Mehmet Ali Talak in favour, the Turkish government dropped its previously hardline ’non-negotiable’ stance on Cypriot reunification and had backed the UN plan. It appears that the Turkish government of Recep Erdogan is keen to join the EU, which it believes will ease its acute economic problems. Backing the plan is seen as easing entry in negotiations with the EU.

EU ministers are expected to ’reward’ the Turkish Cypriot government with an easing of the trade embargoes against the north and more favourable economic and diplomatic relations.

Many Greek Cypriots, while saying they favoured reunification, rejected the plan because it wouldn’t allow half of the 180,000 Greek Cypriot refugees, who fled from the north following the Turkish army invasion in 1974, to return nor allow them to claim their previous properties. They would have to accept financial compensation instead, even though 50,000 Turkish settlers would be allowed to remain.

Another stumbling block for the Greek Cypriots was the remaining presence of Turkish troops on the island, although they would be reduced from 40,000 to 4,000 by 2011.

Class approach

THE COMMUNIST Party (AKEL), the largest party in the Greek Cypriot ruling coalition government, was divided between its politbureau that advocated a yes vote and its central committee which called for a no vote. AKEL, which supports Cyprus’s entry into the bosses’ EU, complained that "the [Kofi] Annan plan was presented before the people with its negative elements stressed and with its positive elements understated."

AKEL’s central committee called for a postponement of the referendum and for renegotiation of the plan. But with George Bush, Tony Blair, Kofi Annan and the EU all backing the plan, clearly this wasn’t going to happen. AKEL then fell in line with Papadopoulos and urged a "no" vote.

AKEL’s non-socialist approach to the national question flows from its history of cross-class alliances with the so-called ’progressive’ capitalists.

The plan by the imperialist powers, based on an exploitative capitalist system with two competing ruling classes, would not resolve the question of reunification but would lead to a collapse of the ’common state’ and an exaccerbation of nationalism and a new political crisis.

Understandably some lefts, revolted by the chauvinism of Papadopoulos and his allies, supported a yes vote. But the CWI argued that the plan would not reunite the two communities. Only a struggle against capitalism both south and north could lay the basis for a voluntary democratic socialist federation of Cyprus.

Therefore AKEL’s leaders, instead of supporting the capitalist class, should have sought to forge links with the Turkish Cypriot left parties, trade unions and working-class organisations, (the border has been open for one year) and develop a united working-class political programme for reunification of the island.

An island divided

CYPRUS HAS been a divided island since 1974, although conflict between the Greek majority and the Turkish minority was a feature both of British colonial rule and following independence in 1960.

Atrocities were carried out by reactionary nationalists on both sides – EOKA who wanted union with Greece and by the TMT who wanted a separate Turkish Cypriot state. The current Greek Cypriot president Papadoupolos was a member of EOKA and the Turkish Cypriot president Rauf Denktash was a leader of TMT.

In July 1974 supporters of the Greek Colonels’ junta within the Cypriot national guard staged a coup against the Communist-backed liberal capitalist president Makarios. The Turkish ruling class used the coup attempt as a pretext for invasion and the island has remained divided with UN troops occupying a buffer zone between the north and south.

However, in recent years there have been strikes and protests over working conditions and living standards by trade unionists on the island. Several years ago members of the CWI helped organise a peace festival between 4,000 Greek and Turkish Cypriots staged in ’no-man’s land’.

From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales.

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April 2004