Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

A declaration of independence

Thomas Jefferson

By Alper Ali Riza

The political class in Cyprus from independence in 1960 onwards has been unable or unwilling to solve the Cyprus problem. There is now also general disillusion with government and representative democracy; ‘government of the people by the people for the people,’ rings hollow these days. In the words of the bard ‘there is something rotten in the state of [Cyprus].’

At the same time, stormy weather lies almost literally on the horizon, and the bitter truth is that the political class is not up to the task of ensuring Cyprus is able to ride the impending turbulence.

In light of their proven inability or unwillingness to address and resolve the problem, and, since at some point the people are going to be consulted in simultaneous referenda anyway, the role of the political leadership in the process at this stage is not necessary, other than to agree the question to be put to the people in a referendum. If that is not too much to ask!

In the UK, the prime minister and first minister of Scotland met for a just few hours to decide on the question that was put in the referendum on Scottish independence held in September 2014. The leaders in Cyprus should agree on the question in a few hours too. It could be as simple as: Do you agree that Cyprus should become a bi-zonal federation? And the follow-up as banal as: please tick the relevant box. Yes or No.

That question, however, would need to be accompanied by a short, elegant but powerful declaration containing the reasons why the people are being consulted, but this time calculated to persuade a positive response, similar in tone, though obviously not in content, to the American Declaration of Independence. Composing such a declaration to put to the people does not have to be a long and complex process either, and should certainly not take 50 years to agree! Thomas Jefferson drafted the American declaration in under a month in June 1776, yet it is a political masterpiece and a work of high literary merit; an elegant statement of truths that pleases the ear as it persuades the mind.

The structure of the American declaration is simple. The first paragraph identifies the historical necessity for creating the new state of affairs and the second develops and explains the political necessity for the declaration. The third section provides the evidence in support of the political necessity followed by its justification in light of the evidence. The declaration ends with the nature of the political system to take the place of the old.

The language of the American declaration is beautiful and memorable and has inspired not just the Founding Fathers and every American generation since 1776, but the whole world. Together with the French Revolution of 1789, it spelt the end of the ancient regime in the US and France and ushered in the advent of individual freedom under the law in a system of representative democracy.

There is no reason why a committee of academic historians and academic lawyers from the two sides and other high calibre academics could not be jointly instructed by the two leaders to compose a Cyprus declaration in the style and structure of the American declaration for submission directly to the people. Obviously it is not going to be as great a document as the American declaration, but it has to be memorable, persuasive and command respect. As it is going to be put directly to the people so as to give the outcome democratic legitimacy, the involvement of the political class would be surplus to requirements.

Indeed the political class should be given a wide berth at this crucial stage because until now we have had ‘politics without policy’ when what is required is ‘policy without politics’. Only if the people decide to approve a bi-zonal federation, should the involvement of the political class be democratically engaged in order to agree the constitutional arrangements to give effect to the referendum and declaration. If no such popular approval is forthcoming then the people will have spoken and a bi-zonal federation would no longer be a viable option.

But if approval is forthcoming, with a bit of luck proceeding this way round should yield a solution, on pain of further referenda if the politicians fail yet again to deliver. Hitherto, the procedure followed has been back to front, which was the reason it all ended in tears in 2004.

This is as it should be since in Cyprus it is too much to ask of any political leader or indeed of any parliament to take on the responsibility for decision-making of such emotional and historical over-load. Society is too small, relationships too intense and emotions so raw, it is unreasonable to expect any single institution, let alone a single individual, to provide prior approval to something so controversial. Yet the people’s approval first would make the political task of agreeing the detail of a solution possible in a way that has eluded the political leaders in the past.

All that remains for me to do is provide a dummy run at composing the declaration. In terms of the task in hand I have had the great advantage of having had a father who was Turkish, a mother who was Greek, an English education and many years experience in the practice of the law. However, I am not a historian, do not have a degree in English and would not presume to do anything more than set the ball rolling.

Next week the Cyprus declaration

Alper Ali Riza is a Queens’ Counsel and one of HM part time judges in England


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