I must admit that I consider Nicos Anastasiades’ overall performance as president of the republic a successful one so far. Not only he has steered the economy in the right direction, but he has contained corruption, improved public sector efficiency and, as a consequence, raised Cyprus’ international standing. Unfortunately, this good performance has been tarnished by three rather serious mistakes he has made, and by a potential fourth mistake he is running the risk of making in his last year as president.
Anastasiades made the first tactical error shortly after his election when, on returning from a Eurogroup meeting, he declared that “they are holding us at gun point”. He made this statement despite his awareness of the fact that the Europeans were doing the right thing by forcing us to pay for our tragic errors and omissions, which were committed in the management of the economy and, in particular, in the management of Cypriot banks. The president should have had the courage to explain to the people of Cyprus that we were in a very messy situation. That the conclusion of our politicians and of numerous local economists and journalists that a thunderous no would compel other people to pay for our errors and omissions was a tragic fallacy. That we had no other option but to tighten our belts, roll up our sleeves and get down to work.
The next serious mistake the president made was the appointment to key public positions of certain people, without first ensuring that they were able to discharge their duties in an honest and competent fashion. Undoubtedly, under the then-prevailing conditions in Cyprus, the president owed the public a higher level of care and diligence in selecting these people, particularly in view of the fact that these were lifetime appointments and, in practical terms, the appointees would end up being accountable solely to their consciences.
Nicos Anastasiades’ third and very recent serious mistake was the disrespectful downplaying of the concerns voiced by the Turkish-Cypriot community concerning the Greek Cypriots’ ultimate political aim. It is a generally admitted fact that, for many years, Greek Cypriots’ goal was political union between Cyprus and Greece. The passage of a law inducing Greek Cypriots to focus on the issue of the union of Cyprus with Greece at a stage when the prospect of reaching a mutually acceptable agreement on the political future of Cyprus appeared to be in sight inevitably raised understandable concerns in the minds of Turkish Cypriots. At that stage, Nicos Anastasiades, should have reassured the Turkish Cypriots – in explicit and unambiguous terms – that the prevailing events and circumstances have rendered the goal of a political union with Greece superfluous and redundant. He could have suggested that the Turkish Cypriots should declare, in equally explicit and unambiguous terms, the rejection of their goal for partition – a statement that would have been tantamount to the annulment of their unilateral declaration of independence. Instead, he chose to present the Turkish-Cypriot leader as a not-so-honourable negotiator, who, on a pretext, has been striving to drive the negotiations into a minefield.
Why Nicos Anastasiades chose to follow these tactics, paving the way to another mistake, is a question that remains open. Admittedly, one must acknowledge the fact that, despite their relatively small size, the rejectionist parties have succeeded in dictating the content, the tempo and the volume of the political discussions in Cyprus, primarily as a result of the disproportionately large publicity that is generously extended to them by the state broadcasting network and other newspaper and radio organisations.
To date, neither the president nor the two largest political parties, which support him on the Cyprus problem, have been able to effectively confront the tight and continuous pressure that is applied by the rejectionist parties in the direction of causing a collapse of the efforts that are being made to reunite Cyprus.
Over the past couple of months, many observers have detected an apparent change in the president’s attitude and way of thinking, as well as a tendency to magnify the problems that need to be overcome to reach an agreement. A good example of this change in attitude is the case of “the four freedoms”, which the president insists that the Turkish Cypriots are claiming for Turkey’s 80 million citizens. This interpretation of what the Turkish Cypriots are asking for is probably incorrect. Converging information suggests that the Turkish Cypriots are merely seeking to accommodate certain settlers, who are already in Cyprus – the numbers will have to be quantified in advance – and to secure an arrangement that would not allow the Greek Cypriots to change the ethnic mix of the population of Cyprus by encouraging the massive settlement of Greek nationals, on the basis of the right they already have to settle in any part of the European Union. These observations, combined with what happened in Pèlerin-2, make it difficult for me to rule out the possibility that the president is looking for an excuse to bring about the failure of the negotiations. I reject any such thought outright but, should it contain an element of truth, the magnitude of the ensuing error would be comparable to the mistakes that led to the 1974 events.
There is absolutely no doubt that a decent and courageous acknowledgement of past mistakes on the part of the president will reinforce his standing and his prestige, during the tough stage of the forthcoming negotiations. This is his chance to demonstrate that he is a real leader we should all be proud of. Needless to say, Moustafa Akinci also needs to demonstrate that he is equally gifted with courage, vision and leadership qualities.
Christos Panayiotides is a regular columnist writing in the Cyprus Mail and in Alithia