IT’S ALMOST hard to believe but not quite since it’s the Cyprus issue we’re talking about, that nine months have passed since the negotiations collapsed in Crans-Montana, and two months have gone by since the presidential elections, and it has taken all this time to arrange a mere social dinner between the two leaders.
After weeks of to-ing and fro-ing by the UN, they will meet on April 16 but by the way they’re both talking about it, neither President Nicosia Anastasiades, nor Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci appear enthused by the idea.
Outgoing UN Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman has expressed the view that it would take “some bold leadership steps” to restore confidence in Cyprus and move towards negotiations.
Feltman said there was great distrust right now, and there had been loss of confidence after Crans-Montana. He is not quite correct on that. The trust evaporated more than a year ago, five months before they even went to Switzerland, after the hardline Greek Cypriot parties in parliament voted in favour of an amendment tabled by far-right Elam to set a date for public schools to commemorate the 1950 enosis (union) with Greece plebiscite. Akinci took a step back at that point, especially when Anastasiades took weeks to admit it was at the very least an unhelpful move.
It’s been downhill since then in terms of trust. Now Akinci says if the Greek Cypriot side’s mentality doesn’t change, there cannot be a solution. Last week he cited a number of incidents to prove his point. One was the education minister’s order to a contractor to rip out a marble floor installed at a school in Limassol after it emerged the materials were from the north and the same minister’s visit to the offices of the far-right Elam party and his comments after about shared values.
But the Turkish side is not without blame either, least of all when it comes to Ankara’s blockade of an ENI drillship in February for a period of two weeks, plus other niggling actions designed to irritate the Greek Cypriot side such as withdrawing their territorial map kept in a safe at the UN offices in Geneva, which was a historical development when the sides exchanged them in Geneva in January last year.
It’s no surprise then that neither seems to be showing the kind of leadership Feltman was talking about, and they won’t as long as it remains all about getting one over on each other. On paper the sides have never been closer to a solution, yet in reality, they’re as far away as they’ve ever been because of the ever-present lack of trust. Two people who really wanted to talk in order to put the negotiations back on track and possibly reach a solution, should not need two months to arrange a social dinner.