THE UNPRECEDENTED, positive climate that had been created in the summer by the rapport between Mustafa Akinci and Nicos Anastasiades and their common message about the need for a settlement seems like a very long time ago. This spirit of co-operation, which created high expectations and gave the impression that a Cyprus settlement was achievable, does not appear to exist now while the so-called momentum, everyone was talking about is not leading anywhere.
Even the UN Secretary General’s Special Advisor Espen Barth Eide sounded more cautious this week after meeting Anastasiades, downplaying the urgency he had originally shown and stating that finding a good solution was more important than a hasty solution. There was not a specific timetable for an agreement, he pointed out thus agreeing with President Anastasiades who a few days earlier had said there was no way that an agreement would be put to referendums by March. Despite Barth Eide’s assurances that there was no timetable, this had been the unofficial time-frame to which the UN was working and its public denouncement was another indication that momentum has been lost.
The Greek Cypriot opposition parties and a big section of the media must be given much of the credit for this, because they have been constantly chipping away at the peace process, with daily, concerted attacks on both leaders, especially the ‘bad’ Turk Akinci and putting a negative spin on everything related to the talks. This cartoonish negativity, repeated every day by the leaders of the hard-line parties and reinforced by the anti-settlement television stations in co-operation with some newspapers has poisoned the climate. The optimism of the summer has been replaced by the old, familiar hostility, suspicion and bad faith.
We doubt the partition champions had a strategic plan for achieving their objective. They just did what they have always done, the only thing they know – disparaging any attempt to push the peace process forward by presenting it as unfair and unjust and being against the interests of Greek Cypriots. Akinci has been presented as Ankara’s puppet and repeatedly likened to Eroglu. It is difficult to know how many people actually buy this crude propaganda, but the fact that it is encountering very little resistance would suggest that it is having an effect.
Pro-settlement AKEL and DISY occasionally take a stand but they cannot be expected to the work of the government, especially when the president is not only avoiding confrontation, but on most issue is siding with the rejectionists. There have been instances Anastasiades gave the impression he had defected to the rejectionist camp. On the property issue, he presented the agreement positively, but as soon as criticism about the rights of the owner being downgraded was made he started back-pedalling until he eventually aligned himself with his critics. There was a similar knee-jerk reaction after Akinci expressed support for permanent derogations from the EU acquis with regard to guaranteed majorities.
By refusing to counter the criticism of the rejectionists Anastasiades is helping it appear legitimate and justified. With his timid stance he has given rejectionist the licence to poison the climate with their abject negativity that is left unchallenged. If the president really believes that confrontation should be avoided while the talks are still in progress, he is making a colossal error of judgment. By the time a comprehensive agreement has been reached (something looking increasingly unlikely) the propaganda of the rejectionists could have turned Greek Cypriot public opinion completely against a settlement.
His second error of judgment that plays into the hands of the opponents of a settlement is his lack of urgency. When the talks drag on, rejectionists are given more time to undermine the procedure and spin myths about unfair compromises being struck. Akinci, who has his own hardliners to deal with, does not help matters by making public statements about what is being discussed and his side’s positions on specific matter. This quest for transparency is not very helpful as it leads to public negotiations, providing ammunition to attack the process to the hardliners of both sides.
The failure of both leaders to manage the procedure has contributed to reversal of the positive climate they had created. As we have argued before, they must work together in order to develop a communication strategy for the talks – they should agree what information would be released, how to present it and how to defend it when the hardliners of the two sides attack it. It is of critical importance for them to appear to be on the same side and defend each other when the need arises. This is the only way to restore the positive climate and rebuild the lost momentum.