By Theo Kyriacou
THE events in Kiev and Crimea over the last few weeks bear striking similarities to events in Cyprus in the 1960s and 1970s and there is a distinct possibility that the outcome could be just as tragic for the peoples of Ukraine.
Both Cyprus and Ukraine are strategically important for the great powers owing either to their strategic location or their gas and mineral wealth or both. And in both countries there is a menacing presence of hard-line nationalist groupings which want to create mono-ethnic states and crush pan-communal/national co-operation. And in both states the actions of these groups either now or in the past have triggered or are about to trigger a disproportionate (and unlawful) response from powerful neighbouring states citing the right to protect a national minority or community to justify intervention or/and invasion.
In Cyprus fringe nationalist groups had throughout the 1960s and early 70s targeted the country’s President, Archbishop Makarios, who wanted to reach out to the country’s Turkish Cypriot community-long estranged from the political process. Makarios also pursued a non aligned foreign policy, forging links with third –world states and opening up trade and political ties with countries of the then Eastern bloc. Supportive of his foreign policy goals was the island’s influential communist party.
To sections of the Right and extreme Right on the island, this was anathema to everything they stood for. Cyprus was Greek and if the Turkish Cypriots didn’t like it they could go back to Turkey. Non alignment meant selling out to the Bolshies and Ruskies and turning the island into a Soviet colony. The territory’s future it was claimed lay with the West in a cultural, economic and political sense and a coup would need to be orchestrated to bring this about, no matter what the majority of Cypriots wanted.
So how does this compare with what’s been happening in Ukraine in recent months, differences notwithstanding.
There is a vociferous Right and ultra Right in the country which detests non-alignment and wants to see their country join NATO. Their immediate goal is to anchor Ukraine into the US funded Missile Defence Shield, ostensibly to fight terrorism, but in practice to keep Russia in check. In the longer term, the goal is NATO membership.
But it is not just over foreign policy that the radical Right in both countries have had a meeting of minds. They also have a shared history.
The roots of the ultra Right in Cyprus go back to the Second World War and the occupation of Greece by the Nazis. ‘X’ or Chi, a proto-fascist military style organisation, was headed by the monarchist, George Grivas, who first sided with the Nazis, then fought against them as the war was drawing to a close. He was later recruited by British and American Intelligence to fight the Left in the civil war which ensued. In Cyprus, where he resurfaced in the 1950s, he again expressed an intense hatred for Turks and for people with leftist leanings. Had he lived until July of 1974, no doubt he would have been the leader of the coup attempt against the island’s democratically elected President.
In Ukraine the ultra right descends from an extreme nationalist organisation called OUN (Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists) which was established in the late 1920s and which hated communists, Russians and Jews. When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, it saw in the SS a ready-made ally. The marriage however was short lived because of squabbles about who should run an ‘independent’ quasi fascist Ukraine. Stepan Bandera, one of the leaders of the organisation, was put into a Nazi prison as these differences came to a head.
But in 1944 he was released and alongside the Wermacht launched a campaign of terror which led to the killing of many leftists and Jews and anybody else who actively disagreed with his extreme nationalist ideology. After the war, and despite his unsavoury past, he, like Grivas, was recruited by western intelligence and military agencies to continue his crusade against communism.
In Ukraine there are forces in power now who are descendents of Bandera. They currently hold differing positions within the new government, including the Deputy Prime-Minister, the head of the National Security Council and the Minister of the Environment and the Ministers of Ecology and Agriculture. Conversely, the attempted takeover in Cyprus in 1974 put in place a junta that lasted just a few days.
So we come to the role of ‘near abroads’ both then and now. Invoking attacks by extremist Greek-Cypriots against Turkish Cypriots, Turkey invaded Cyprus in July and August of 1974 and went onto occupy a third of its territory. Russia, weary of the presence of Banderists in the newly formed authorities in Kiev and citing attacks against Russian and other historical (mainly left-wing) monuments and buildings, has bolstered her military presence in the Crimea and is threatening a fully fledged invasion unless the situation is ‘normalised’.
Is there a way out of the crisis, then? Perhaps there is and it lies in the creation of a government of national unity, but one which excludes right wing racist elements because they do not accept Ukraine’s multi-ethnic multi-cultural make up. Holding a referendum on Ukraine’s EU membership and starting a national debate on whether (and how) power should be devolved to the regions would further dampen unrest, and most importantly stave off partition The experience of Cyprus and long put forward proposals to turn the island into a federated state might be the key to creating a more peaceful and prosperous Ukraine.
The alternative is never ending violence and conflict as Friday’s events in Kharkiv and Donetsk, two eastern Ukrainian cities under attack from ultra-right wing groups, seem to show.