‘Repeatedly erring on the same issue is typical of unwise men.’ Paraphrasing the well-known ancient Greek dictum is intended to emphasise to the Greek Cypriot side the need to avoid the mistakes of the past at the forthcoming critical meeting in Geneva and the referendum which may follow.
Thirteen years ago, the Greek Cypriots rejected the celebrated Annan Plan by an impressive 76 per cent, a majority that exceeded – by a wide margin – what was forecast by opinion polls.
A retrospective analysis of the choice made in the 2004 referendum suggests that rejecting the plan was a logical act, which should have been anticipated. The reasons could be summarised as follows:
- The then president, Tassos Papadopoulos, in his nationwide address to the Greek Cypriots, told them – in no uncertain terms – that it was in their interest to vote down the Annan Plan because within a short period of time they would be presented with a much better one.
- The message transmitted to the electorate by the then leader of one of the two large political parties of Cyprus, Demetris Christofias, was equally clear and summarised in his statement “we say ‘no’ to cement ‘yes’.”
- The then newly elected prime minister of Greece, Costas Karamanlis, terrified by the potential consequences of taking a position on his political career, distanced himself from the dilemma confronting the Greek Cypriots. The Greek prime minister’s refusal to take a stand was understandably misinterpreted by the Greek Cypriot voters to be the result of his doubts as to whether voting in favour of the plan was an appropriate course of action.
- The conversion of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots in the last stages of the process to supporters of the Annan Plan was a brilliant tactical move on their part, which absolved Turkey of its sins. The move was perceived by Greek Cypriots as evidence that the Annan Plan was a bad solution for them.
- The disagreements and objections expressed by a segment of Disy (the other large political party) against the Annan Plan contributed towards increasing the “no” votes. These were the people who found it extremely painful to accept the consequences of a war they had paved the road for but lost and which resulted in strengthening Turkey’s negotiating position.
- The abandoning by the Cyprus government of all efforts to improve the Annan Plan in key areas, such as that of security and guarantees, particularly in terms of securing the fair and prompt application of the implementation steps stipulated in the plan, reinforced Greek Cypriot concerns that they would be taken for a ride.
- The failure of the state and of the mass media to adequately brief the electorate on the provisions of the Annan Plan and to objectively analyse those provisions so that the public could form their own opinion on the merits and the shortcomings of the plan. In fact, numerous qualified persons (such as the EU commissioner responsible for handling Cyprus’ entry negotiations and was instrumental in seeing Cyprus joining the European Union) offered to explain to the Greek Cypriots the reasons for which, on balance, they should view the Annan Plan positively. Regrettably, these people were advised by the Cyprus government that this would constitute interference in the internal affairs of Cyprus. The end-result was a deficient understanding of the terms of the Annan Plan on the part of most voters.
- The positions adopted by numerous senior civil servants and Cypriot entrepreneurs who had casually concluded that accepting the Annan Plan would jeopardised their positions, their grip on power and their general interests. These people pushed many Greek Cypriot voters, who were concerned by the possibility of losing their jobs or their prospects for advancement, to take a negative stand.
The aggregate effect of these negative factors was the transmission of a clear and loud message to the Greek Cypriot voters: “The approval of the Annan Plan would be an act of sheer stupidity given that, within a short period of time, you will have the opportunity to approve a much better plan, within the framework of the European Union.”
Of course, the above advice was based on an incorrect assessment of the situation. This misjudgement clearly transpires from the fact that in the 13 years which has followed the rejection of the Annan Plan, it has not proved possible to find a solution to the long-lasting political problems confronting Cyprus.
Even worse is that during this time, the turkification of northern Cyprus, including the Morphou and Famagusta areas, continued and has intensified. Ordinary Cypriots cannot be blamed for what has happened. The blame rests entirely with the Greek Cypriot leaders whose misjudgements, overstatement of their negotiating skills and lack of foresight as to the adverse consequences of their failure to resolve the Cyprus problem led to the absolution of Turkey and the turkification of northern Cyprus. These mistakes should not be repeated.
Christos Panayiotides is a regular columnist writing in the Cyprus Mail and Alithia