Cyprus: a different and unrecognisable country
The Cyprus Mail interviewed Glafcos Clerides in October 2010 to mark 50 years of the Republic
By Nathan Morley
AS THE Union Jack was lowered at Government House in Nicosia just before midnight, and 82 years of British administration came quietly to an end, former President Glafcos Clerides was on hand to witness the birth of the new republic.
“On the day of Independence I was sitting in my office at the House of Representatives, I remember that the President Archbishop Makarios and the Governor were both getting ready to sign all the documents.”
A few minutes later, at a ceremony in the Parliament building, a fanfare of trumpets heralded the birth of the new republic. A brief formal statement which announced the transfer of power was read by Sir Hugh Foot – his last official act as Governor and a 20-gun salute followed.
Clerides, a British-educated lawyer who flew with the RAF in World War II, was appointed the first president of the new House of Representatives and is one of the few living politicians that recalls the earliest days of the Republic – and a government devoid of politicians.
“There were no politicians before independence, because there was no parliament or no government elected, there was just a governor sent by the Colonial Office and he used to recruit some people round him, they were called executive councillors, – an advisory body to the government, so there was not much political life in the sense that a democracy works.”
One early consensus between new parliamentarians was a fundamental problem with the constitution, which was drawn to safeguard the rights of the nation’s 100,000 Turkish Cypriots as well as the 500,000 Greek Cypriot majority – for many it was a document that was woefully inadequate.
“There was a feeling of dissatisfaction after independence both on the Greek Cypriot side and the Turkish Cypriot side,” recalled Clerides. “For the Greek Cypriot side the struggle was not merely to get rid of colonial rule, but to unite Cyprus with Greece- that was not achieved.
“On the other side, the Turkish Cypriots thought if the British had to leave then Cyprus must be partitioned – they didn’t get that either.”
The feeling that the new nation was facing crisis even at the beginning was widespread and few were surprised that conflict between both communities arrived quickly, which then spiralled into violence and by 1964 the United Nations sent a 7,000-strong peacekeeping force to the island.
“I was always of the opinion that the constitution that was given in 1960 had great difficulties and that these difficulties would lead to tension between the two communities. I was always aware of the risk that one day the two communities would clash,” said Clerides.
The international community remained worried throughout the sixties that Cyprus’ hard-won independence settlement might be endangered by the never-ending hostilities between the two communities.
Their worries became reality when thousands of Turkish troops invaded in 1974 and the remnants of functioning government were presented with a multitude of problems ranging from refugees to a collapsing economy.
During the Vassiliou presidency, the island experienced rapid economic growth eventually joining the EU in 2004.
For Glafcos Clerides, the country he was looking at in 2010 was virtually unrecognisable from the one whose birth he witnessed more than 50-years ago.
“Cyprus has, after Independence as it is now, it’s a different country – it’s not recognisable. If you look at Nicosia, at how it was then and how it is now you think what a change. There is a lot more freedom, but it’s a little bit short of discipline,” he says with a mischievous smile.