By Jean Christou
‘THE diplomats’ graveyard’ is a term often used to describe the effect the intractable Cyprus issue has had on the parade of UN representatives who have tried to help find a political settlement, only to depart empty handed.
A new 216-page book by Spyros Hadjigregoriou, published as the UN marks its 50th anniversary in Cyprus, is a compilation of all 25 envoys and eight Secretary-Generals who have had a shot at it.
Hadjigregoriou has used a kinder title for his book than ‘diplomats’ graveyard’, calling it The Facilitators. He says the point is not a chronology of UN failures but a “forward-looking study”.
American Gustave Feissel, who himself was one of those 25 UN representatives said the approach Hadjigregoriou used was unique in that he had structured the Cyprus problem and the efforts to find a solution around the men and women who had tried to make a difference in Cyprus.
“It sheds light on the efforts to find a solution to the Cyprus problem through a different prism,” Feissel writes in the foreword.
In that respect, the book works as a chronological account that doesn’t get too bogged down in history but it offers little insight into the envoys themselves other than a few quotes and comprehensive biographies. It is however a useful reference for initiates and Cyprob junkies alike.
Hands up, who remembers Hugo Gobbi, Ann Hercus and Han Sung-Joo?
Of course in reviewing the envoys through the prism of the Cyprus problem rather than what they brought to the table as personalities, some receive far more attention than others.
Many were involved in major developments on the island while others served during quiet periods where “nothing eventful happened”. And even when something eventful did happen, those envoys still walked away empty handed at the end of their terms.
For those whose memories of the Cyprob don’t go back the full 50 years, the every first UN official tasked with Cyprus was Sakari Tuomioja from Finland who was appointed on March 24, 1964 just weeks after the UN Security Council passed the resolution that provided the basis for the setting up of UNFICYP.
Tuomioja’s time was spent in repeated attempts by the US to promote a Greco-Turkish dialogue. However he died at the age of 53 from a heart attack before having time to submit his first report to the Secretary-General.
In cynical terms that could be seen as a having been a bad omen.
Galo Plaza Lasso from Ecuador took over from Tuomioja and remained in the post until 1965. During his period in office he viewed a solution to the Cyprus problem in terms of unfettered independence and majority rule with internationally guaranteed human and minority rights.
Today this would be the Greek Cypriot side’s dream. Needless to say it was rejected by the Turkish Cypriots.
Two more envoys in the ‘uneventful’ category followed until we reach the longest serving and most eventful, Bibiano Osorio Taffal from Spain, who held the post between 1967-74.
In September 1967, shortly after he arrived, Turkish Cypriot fighters in Kofinou tried to isolate the Greek Cypriot inhabitants and create a Turkish enclave. In November the Greek Cypriot National Guard and police surrounded the villages of Kofinou and Ayios Theodoros.
Initially the operation seemed to be a success for the Greek Cypriots but within days Turkey reacted by mobilising army and navy and by sending fighter jets.
The conflict could have escalated but US president Lyndon Johnson sent his envoy Cyrus Vance to avert it.
Then, in January 1969 at the beginning of the third phase of intercommunal talks, the Turkish Cypriots who had left their villages during the 1963 troubles asked to return but the Cyprus government came back with an impossible list of ‘ifs and buts’ despite Taffal’s efforts to help make it happen.
The opportunity, like so many others, was lost.
Taffal was replaced by Luis Weckmann-Munoz, who was the UN representative during the invasion, and he in turn gave way to a future UN Secretary-General, Javier Perez de Cuellar.
He was followed by two more ‘uneventfuls’ until Hugo Gobbi – 1980 to 1984. His time, the author says was “marked by years of intensive negotiations with new plans and ideas”.
At the time Spyros Kyprianou was president and the talks as usual drifted. “Gobbi was disappointed. Ten years after the Turkish occupation and he could not discern any sign of political will for a realistic solution of the problem”.
Gobbi once remarked that the drama of Cyprus was that there was no drama.
Gobbi was followed by James Holger who served from 1984-1988 and again from 1999 to 2000. His experience made him talk of a long process in which “targets were preferable to timetables”. But he too departed the island “without achieving his noble aim”.
Oscar Camilion came next, followed by Joe Clark and Gustave Feissel, who served from 1993 to 1998. Feissel emphasised that at different times, both sides had adopted positions which were not credibly achievable and as a result not only had little progress been made but possibilities once available no longer existed. Business as usual then.
After that along came Han Sung-Joo, Diego Cordovez and Dame Ann Hercus, which brings the long list of envoys up to the year 2000 when Alvaro de Soto appeared.
Of all the Cyprus envoys and representatives, he came closest to a solution, taking the process as far as a referendum in 2004 but also bearing the brunt of the ‘no’ campaign for being a co-author of the hated Annan plan. Next stop Western Sahara.
Zbigniew Wlosowich, Michael Moller and Taye-Brook Zerihoun followed. The most recent Special Adviser Alexander Downer, who appeared in 2008, quit while he was ahead when the new talks got underway on February 11 this year.
He was instrumental however in helping draw up the joint declaration that kicked off the current round of talks. A small victory for ‘Big Bad Al’.
Downer was also one of several of the envoys who fell foul of one side or the other, or the Cypriot media, over the years. That list also included Hercus, Moller and de Soto. The author notes: “A scapegoat is sometimes useful for all sides in a dispute”.
He suggests the fault for the failure of 50 years of Cyprus negotiations cannot be labelled ‘UN failures’. “It is the Cypriots who disappoint and fail each time,” Hadjigregoriou concludes.
Or to re-work an old piece of Irish graffiti: “If you can’t find what you’re looking for in 25 envoys over the span of 50 years, then you really need to look at yourselves”.
The Facilitators can be purchased for €20 from all major bokshops and from the author on 22357068. Email: [email protected]
Spyros Hadjigregoriou , 82, has had a long career in accountancy and is involved in educational and other organisations
The list below includes UN Secretary-Generals’ Special Representatives aka UNFICYP Chiefs of Mission, and Special Advisers whose terms may overlap in some instances
Sakari Tuomioia, Finland 1964
Galo Plaza Lasso, Ecuador 1965
Carlos Bernardes, Brazil 1965-1967
Pier P Spinelli, Italy 1967
Bibiano Osorio-Tafall, Spain 1967-1974
Luis Weckmann-Munoz, Mexico 1974-1975
Javier Perez de Cuellar, Peru 1975-1977
Remy Gorge, Switzerland 1977-1978
Reynaldo Galindo Pohl, El Salvador 1978-1980
Hugo Gobbi, Argentina 1980-1984
James Holger, Chile 1984-1988
Oscar Camilion, Argentina 1988-1993
Joe Clark, Canada 1993-1996
Gustave Feissel, US 1993-1998
Han Sung-Joo, Korea 1996-1997
Diego Cordovez, Ecuador 1997-1999
Dame Ann Hercus, New Zealand 1999
James Holger, Chile (second term) 1999-2000
Alvaro de Soto, Peru 2000-2004
Zbigniew Wlosowicz, Poland 2005-2006
Michael Moller, Denmark 2006-2008
Elizabeth Spehar, Canada 2008
Taye-Brook Zerihoun, Ethiopia 2008-2010
Alexander Downer, Australia 2008-2014
Lisa Buttenheim, US 2010-present