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Can the UN peace plan bridge Cyprus’s national divide?
Last November the UN secretary-general Kofi Annan presented a plan to re-unite Cyprus, nearly thirty years after the Turkish army invaded and seized the northern third of the island following a coup aimed at effecting anosis (union) with Greece. What are the prospects for its success?
THE FOLLOWING IS an interview with Andros Payiatsos by Peter Taaffe, on a recent visit to Greece. Andros is a Greek Cypriot in origin and has participated in the struggles on the island. Now domiciled in Greece he is one of the leaders of Xekinima (the Greek section of the CWI), which has grown substantially in numbers and influence recently.
What are the main features of the Annan Plan? Will it resolve the national question in Cyprus?
THIS PLAN IS an attempt to enforce, through massive pressure on the ruling classes in the north and south of Cyprus, an agreement for the creation of a so-called ‘common state’, which would consist of two ‘constituent states’. The lever for this pressure, in reality blackmail, is the desire of the ruling classes of Cyprus and Turkey to join the European Union (EU).
The proposed ‘common state’ would supposedly unite the two constituent states through a very complicated structure which, its proponents admit, is the most complicated constitutional structure existing internationally. For example, there are three levels of veto in the common state. Also, the constituent states have their own laws and legal systems, which are above the laws of the common state. Essentially there will be two independent states, which will have the pretence of co-existence in a common state. This makes it extremely easy for the common state to collapse, to prove unworkable. The president of Cyprus will have a term of only ten months and then will change on a rota basis. This by itself is an indication that the president of the republic of Cyprus will have no real powers.
In addition, because Kofi Annan and his advisors could see that the whole thing could be unworkable, they proposed that the highest body in the state would be a council of judges comprising three Greek Cypriots, three Turkish Cypriots, and three non-Cypriots. The three non-Cypriots will decide on anything the Greek and Turkish Cypriots cannot decide between themselves. So the supreme power in the state of Cyprus will rest with three individuals, not elected by anybody, who are not even Cypriots! The whole thing could very easily collapse if one of the two sides decides to make it collapse.
There are sufficient forces on both sides, nationalists or extreme right-wing forces in the north and the south, but also in Greece and Turkey, who will want it to collapse. They don’t want Greeks and Turks to live together, and they can make it collapse. The whole thing will be unworkable. The main criticism of the Annan Plan is that it is not viable. If it is applied, in the end, it will not create the conditions for a peaceful and harmonious coexistence of the two communities. It will lay the basis for nationalism to re-emerge in the future with unpredictable consequences. It will not solve the national problem – it would only change its form.
What is the general situation in the north of Cyprus? What was it like in the run-up to the big demos in December and January – how many were involved, what was the mood, who were the leaders?
IN THE NORTH there is extreme desperation: mass unemployment, massive poverty, and with the Turkish Cypriots seeing that the standard of living in the south is three, four or more times higher than theirs. There has been a mass exodus of Turkish Cypriots from Cyprus, many migrating especially to England. As a result of this, the regime in the north has called over many Turks from the mainland, known as colonists, who are now in the majority in the north. There are about 120,000 of them compared to about 70,000 Turkish Cypriots. The Turkish Cypriots have tried the idea of independence and have lived separately for about 20 years, since independence was unilaterally declared in 1983. The result has been poverty. So they have been through nationalism, in a sense, linking themselves to mainland Turkey and depending on it, but they no longer see it as a solution.
The consequence now is that there is a massive revolt of the Turkish Cypriots against the regime of Rauf Denktash and even against Turkey. The demonstration on January 14 saw about 50,000 to 70,000 on the streets – that is more than 30% of the population on the streets. These demonstrations were organised and led by the left forces, particularly by the trade unions. There is a generalised mood of revolt in the north. But because there is no socialist, working-class, left-wing alternative, this mood is directed into support for the Annan Plan and the European Union. Turkish Cypriots feel this is the only way they can solve their problems. So there are some positive and some negative aspects to this, as regards the general level of understanding in the north.
What is the mood in the Greek areas of Cyprus?
IN THE GREEK area workers are very hesitant, very reluctant and fearful about the future because they understand that this attempt at a common state in Cyprus has resulted in proposals for a very complicated structure and they are worried it could collapse. I would say that the majority of Greek Cypriots are against the plan, mainly not for nationalistic reasons but because of a natural fear of the consequences for themselves. There is, of course, an element who whip up Greek nationalism, and a significant minority who reject the plans for nationalist reasons, but they don’t represent the bulk of the approximately two-thirds of Greek Cypriots who say they don’t want this plan to be implemented.
Initially, there were two-thirds in favour but this has gradually changed. They have the experience, especially the older generation, of the Zurich constitution which established the Republic of Cyprus in 1960. The agreement then, also an attempt to reconcile the conflicting interests of the ruling classes and the nationalists in the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities, collapsed after just three years. After its breakdown in 1963, there was a period of civil strife: paramilitary organisations, murders, killings, attacks on ordinary workers and peasants by nationalist extremists from both sides, which ultimately led to the invasion of the island by Turkey in 1974 and its division. There was a period of 11 years of killings. The Greek Cypriots are worried that they might go back to this situation and lose a certain sense of security and the standard of living that they have now. It is different in the north because there is much poverty there and a feeling of desperation that anything is better than what they have now.
What is the attitude of the main parties in Cyprus and Greece to the Annan Plan, in particular the Communist Party in Cyprus (AKEL) and the Communist Party of Greece (KKE)?
THE GREEK AND Cypriot government have fallen behind the plan. You would not expect anything else from them – they are organically incapable of standing up against imperialism. But, an additional factor is that Annan blackmailed them: if they did not accept the plan, Cyprus would not enter the EU. So because EU entry has been a strategic aim of Greek and Greek Cypriot diplomacy (the ‘grand idea’) for over ten years, they were ready to give in to anything in order to get Cyprus into the EU. Of course, they are not stupid. They are worried that the whole thing will not be viable but they feel they have no choice, so they accept it. Behind the scenes, what they say is that ‘we are not sure about the future but we have to accept the proposals; if it collapses in two years time then what can we do? Then there will be two independent states in Cyprus but at least we will have got back 10-12% of the land’. (This is to be transferred to the Greek side as part of the Annan Plan).
As regards the left, the KKE in Greece is against the plan but there is a very strong element of nationalism in its rejectionist attitude. Synaspismos, the Left Progressive Party, the old Eurocommunists, accept the plan as a ‘basis for negotiations’. Actually a careful study of the plan shows that Annan does not allow for negotiations – it is a ‘take it or leave it’ package, or to be more precise, ‘take it and shut up’. They spread illusions that there can be a democratic kind of exchange to ‘make the plan better’ and that a solution to the national problem could be achieved on the basis of this plan.
The main tragedy, however, has to do with the fact that AKEL, in Cyprus the traditional party of the working class, has never provided a class analysis of the situation. They refuse to take any initiative despite having massive forces in Cyprus. They are the biggest party now with 35% electoral support and they control the unions. AKEL is the acronym in Greek for Party of the Working People but it doesn’t call on the Greek and Turkish Cypriot workers to develop a common struggle for a solution to the problem. Only this could safeguard independence, democracy and the rights of both nationalities against the right wing, the nationalists and the ruling class. As a result of its policies in the presidential elections in February, for example, AKEL is not standing its own independent candidate but is supporting Tassos Papadopoulos, a centre-right nationalist capitalist candidate.
What is the attitude of other Marxist and Trotskyist organisations to the Annan Plan? What was your opinion of the recent comments of Paul Foot in The Guardian about the ‘good news coming from Cyprus’ (22 January)?
WE THINK THAT they made a serious mistake in initially coming out openly with extreme enthusiasm for the Annan Plan. It is one thing to be in favour of a solution and fight for a solution to the Cyprus problem – it is important to be in favour of the coming together of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot masses and workers. But it is another thing entirely to support Annan’s plan because this endangers the future of the two peoples, rather than providing the basis for Greek and Turkish Cypriots to come together. The most enthusiastic supporters of Annan’s plan in Cyprus now are the non-parliamentary pro-Trotskyist left! This is a big mistake because what it boils down to is an abandoning of a class analysis of the Cyprus problem. They are just expecting and pushing the capitalists to sign the agreement and then they expect that the capitalists, or sections of them, will not undermine it or bring it down.
Paul Foot’s comments are also of this character. There is not a hint of a class analysis of the Cyprus problem, no mention of the working class, of the role it has to play as a class independently in the north or the south. His piece is full of illusions about the Annan Plan, talking in general about ‘the Cypriot people’ who want to come together and live together, as if there are no classes, no capitalists or nationalists who are responsible for the problems in Cyprus today, and no workers who have been the victims in the past and who could pay again a heavy price in the future if the initiative stays with the bourgeoisie.
The way he talks about his father Sir Hugh Foot, who was the last governor of Cyprus appointed by British imperialism (from 1957-1960), is also unbelievable. He says that his father’s ambition was to see the two peoples live together in peace – "he was happy to haul down the British flag, but was determined that Cyprus should not be partitioned between Greek and Turkish areas" – yet the reality is that his father shared responsibility for the policies of ‘divide and rule’ that were applied by British imperialism on the island, and which helped arm the nationalists on both sides. British imperialism was responsible for torturing and hanging fighters in the anti-colonial struggle of 1955-59, including the execution of 18-year old school students! Paul Foot seems to think that British imperialism should be condemned for the crimes it committed on the island, but not its appointed delegate and governor of Cyprus.
What is the programme of Xekinima and the Marxists in Cyprus towards the Annan Plan?
THERE ARE A number of measures that we think the working class in the south should take. The first thing is that it should respond to the fantastic mobilisations of the Turkish Cypriots. So the first thing is to mobilise on the Greek side in support of the demands of the Turkish Cypriots in the north against the semi-military regime of Denktash and for a solution to the Cyprus problem. Secondly, the Turkish Cypriot masses, through their mobilisations, openly called for the creation of a council of peace elected by and coming from within the popular movement, to undertake negotiations with the Greek side for a solution. This could be the starting point for an attempt to get rid of Denktash. We call for similar mobilisations in the south to elect corresponding committees from within the Greek Cypriot masses. We then call for negotiations and talks between these ‘peace councils’ of both sides. In other words we call for the working classes, through their elected committees or councils, to sit down and talk to find a solution to the Cyprus problem because we have no confidence in the capitalists. We are confident that the working class can find a solution to the problem, to agree first of all on real democracy and real independence, which are not provided by the Annan Plan. The only lasting solution to the national problem in Cyprus is a socialist one.
An important point to make is that the kind of independent state envisaged by the Annan Plan means that the British army presence in Cyprus will continue, as will a Greek army and the Turkish army. The NATO bases will remain but there will be no Cypriot army! So this state will not even have its own army, it will be dominated by the armies of foreign powers. This island is now being used as a military base to attack neighbouring peoples: it is being used as a base to prepare the attack on Iraq by the United States and, in general, it is used to attack the Arab people who have been extremely friendly historically to the Cypriot people. One of the main things that workers can agree on – this is something the capitalists in Cyprus can never agree to – is that Cyprus should be really independent and democratic, and not a puppet or caricature in the hands of imperialists to use for their own interests.
We are also confident that talks between delegates and representatives of the workers from both sides on the island would find a solution to the land problem – how much would be handed back to Greeks and how much would remain with Turkish Cypriots – and also the refugee problem. The security of the Turkish Cypriots must be very carefully taken into consideration by the Greek Cypriot workers because they fear being an oppressed minority again. Therefore the Greek Cypriot workers should provide the Turkish Cypriots with freedom to choose their own state – this is the right of self-determination for the Turkish Cypriots. Concrete measures against nationalism and neo-fascist groups on both sides should be taken. These measures cannot be applied by the capitalists on either side: they can only be applied by the working class on both sides, in collaboration with the working class in Greece and Turkey.
At a meeting in Athens which I attended, a northern Cypriot journalist, in answer to arguments that any agreement would break down, as in the 1950s, replied that youth were behind the current demos and had no responsibility for the past and would make the agreement work. What is your answer to that?
OUR ATTITUDE IS that we have confidence in the rank and file of the mass movement, that they want a solution to the problem, they want peace and they want to be able to satisfy the basic needs of life. They don’t want nationalism. But history has proven that small minorities of fanatics, when they are supported by even small sections of the ruling classes, can cause huge catastrophes. The experience of the 1960s in Cyprus proves this, because until then Greeks and Turks used to live together in peace and were very friendly in common villages. It was a minority on both sides that wanted to put forward nationalist aims. These forces, despite being a minority and despite going against the general mood for peace, were able to impose their opinions because they carried guns and because they had political parties. So long as the working class parties do not fight for power, then these reactionary forces will be able to take the upper hand at a later stage. This is the danger we shall face in the future. We can only erase it if we link the struggle for a solution to the national problem in Cyprus with the struggle for the overthrow of capitalism and a socialist federation of the North and the South on, of course, a completely voluntary basis.
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