By Nicos Rolandis
I was 19 years old in 1954 and had gone to London to study. I was thinking a lot about my country and I wrote:
Tell me, my brother, is it still springtime in Cyprus,
like in the past, and is it full of beautiful odours?
Are Gods still strolling in her skies
and nymphs haunt her forests?
Are people still so good?
does truth reside in their hearts?
Do mothers still send their sweet kisses
to the newly born babies they carry in their arms?
(“The tears of the young people”, 1958)
A few days ago my mind went back to those years, those beautiful, no-frills years, during which values were reflected in everyday life in a simple manner. In those years the God of Cyprus was smiling. Where has he gone now?
I am trying to escape the mist which has covered this country in recent years. I am trying to trace hope out of the rubble. I think we must find the way to bring a smile back on the faces of children who have gone through a “wounded Christmas”.
The seventh President of the Republic, Nicos Anastasiades, is the most unlucky of all his predecessors. He reminds me of Eleftherios Venizelos, who took over a chaotic Greece in 1928, a few years after the Asia Minor catastrophe. He inherited a country completely ruined from an ethnic, political, military, financial and moral point of view and he worked hard until 1932 for her resurrection. In exactly the same way here in Cyprus, in 2013, Nicos Anastasiades took over a crippled country. He has to bring her back to life. I wish and trust that the good God of Cyprus will help him.
I have made some assessments for the year 2014:
The national issue
Does such an issue still exist in real terms, 50 years after the debacle of 1963 and nearly 40 years after the 1974 Greek coup and the Turkish invasion? Usually national problems are “frozen” as time goes by; they become inflexible and rigid like corpses. This was proven in the cases of the “lost territories” of hellenism, Asia Minor, Pontos, Byzantium.
Personally I devoted my life to the reunification of this country. When I was in power I did whatever I could, when it was not too late, when there was still a glimmer of hope. I shouted, I warned, I argued. The scenery however was always the same. Nobody would budge even by an inch: the same words, the same stands, the same mentality, the same decisions, the same “long term struggle” from 1960 until today. And nothing will change in the future either. Probably Nicos has arrived too late.
On the other side, the Turks and the Turkish Cypriots have gradually built a world of their own, which exists and functions. They do not need us at all and they feel much safer than we do. They have changed everything: the legislation, the streets, the names, the town planning, the character of the landscape and the places of worship. The settlers from Turkey (between 300,000 and 500,000) have inundated the whole area. Is there a practical way for them to depart ever? The Greek Cypriot properties have been occupied; huge Turkish and other foreign investments have multiplied; the Turkish guarantees are considered as a sine qua non; Morphou has been deleted from the land adjustment map, partition has been solidified.
These are the consequences of the long-term struggle. And yet on our side many politicians still anticipate that they will solve the problem by singing the same old tune. These people should get on a bus one day and go and verify what is happening on the other side. They will thus at least get to know the facts. Truly, how, where, when and who will ever change all the above?
Nicos Anastasiades has made some efforts. There are difficulties over the joint communiqué. In May 1979, after the signature of the second High Level Agreement, we had a similar impasse. The matter was finally resolved through an “Opening Statement” of the UN Secretary-General on August 9, 1980. This is how the “Waldheim Evaluation” initiative commenced. I do not know whether something similar might apply at present.
I believe that, if a window of opportunity still exists, it is to discuss the problem of Cyprus in conjunction with the oil and gas reserves. I have stated this over and over again in recent years. This was also repeated by the United Nations and many governments, the Europeans, the Russians, the Americans. Do we really believe that the Turkish Cypriot side will ever agree to solve the problem, whilst the huge hydrocarbons issue is unresolved?
In September 1983, over 30 years ago, in the letter of my resignation as foreign minister, I wrote that “with the mentality we have, at the end of the day we shall be left with the U.N. resolutions and the occupation”. Taking into account the quality of many politicians in Cyprus I would not change even one comma of the above statement.
We do not need many details. In five years (2008-2013) we piled up a budget deficit of approximately €7 billion. We also had bank losses approximately as follows: Greek bonds, €4 billion; Emergency Liquidity Assistance transferred to Greece for loans of €5 billion; sale of Cyprus bank operations in Greece of €4 billion, and losses on local loans of €10 billion. The grand total is €30 billion, a cause of asphyxia in such a small country. The troika is not needed to assess these figures. They speak for themselves.
The situation for Nicos Anastasiades is not easy at all. He has to create pockets of air in a surrounding apnoea. He requires cash flow for the economy but the banks do not have it. He must create jobs whilst businesses are shrinking. He must revitalise the market at a time when incomes are curtailed and taxes increase. He must bring life back to Cyprus, which was destroyed by a coup de grace carried out by others.
In this deadlocked situation I would propose a strengthening of tourism, which is a goldmine. In the past 12 years the growth in world tourism has been staggering. Whilst international tourism from 2001 to 2013 shot up by 45 per cent, Cyprus tourism shrunk by 10 per cent, which is totally impermissible. In previous years tourism in Cyprus fared much better than international tourism. In addition, as much funding as possible must be put into existing production units and the difficult task of foreign investments must be sought. Above all these are the hydrocarbons. This is the great bet, the vision and the hope, provided we handle the matter correctly.
“Tell me my brother, is it still springtime in Cyprus
like in the past, and is it full of beautiful odours?”……..
The answer back in 1954 was “Yes”. Today, 60 years on, the answer is “No”.
The National Herald, New York’s Greek newspaper, in recent issues has been full of the following very apt descriptions to describe the situation in Cyprus and in Greece: “Unemployed”, “unpaid”, “homeless”, “debts”, “poverty”, “catastrophe”, “crisis”, “depression”, “misery”, “corruption”, “distress” and “deadlocks”. These words must be expelled from our vocabulary and from our lives.
The government has a great task ahead of it: the reconstruction of the country and the punishment of all those responsible. In parallel we must improve ourselves and get closer to virtue just as we did in the past. Then springtime will be back again. Then the good God of Cyprus will return.
Nicos Rolandis is a former foreign minister, commerce minister and member of the House of Representatives