By George Koumoullis
AS WE have done every year on this day, today we will celebrate the anniversary (60th) of the start of the EOKA struggle with triumphal events of ‘national elation’ and fiery patriotic speeches.
Contextually, these speeches take me back to my school years when teachers taught labyrinthine and exhausting lessons with an emphasis on rote learning. Critical thought, questioning, evaluation and the development of a personal understanding were considered alien and of suspect origin and therefore rejected.
The same, more or less, applies today with regard to the EOKA struggle. It is considered a big taboo for someone to claim, even by using rational arguments that Hellenism lost out from this struggle. This is why I would like to believe that I am addressing people that see the history of Cyprus not as a description of feats and ordeals but as a living source of lessons, and an opportunity to evaluate events.
It constitutes a paradox to christen the struggle for union with Greece as a struggle for ‘liberation’. Greece with which we wanted to unite was run by fascist or dictatorial governments from 1936 to 1974 (with the possible exception of the 1963-‘65 period). If Enosis was achieved in 1950, when the Enosis referendum was held, a Cypriot would have been faced with unfortunate surprises.
He would have immediately realised that in Greece there was no freedom of speech, thought, expression and action. He would have also realised that his name would have been entered in police files and if he wanted to become a public servant, an Olympic Airways pilot or a road-sweeper he was obliged to present a ‘suitable’ certificate of social/political beliefs. And he would have been deemed ineligible, as a ‘national traitor’, if he or a relative or a friend of his had left-wing beliefs.
What would have devastated him would have been the realisation of the existence of a concentration camp – the notorious Makronisos which was the Greek version of Dachau, Auschwitz. There would also have been the nightmare that the Security Force (known as ‘asfalia’ and the equivalent of the SS in Nazi Germany) could knock on his door in the middle of the night in order to arrest him and throw him into Makronisos, where he would run the risk of dying from torture, starvation or thirst.
So how could you see the Enosis movement as a liberation movement in such a context? Are the two notions not a lamentable contradiction which, in the absence of any objections, has been used ad nauseam by politicians, teachers and the media? One of the reasons that EOKA did not enjoy international support was this contradiction – that in the name of freedom it was demanding union with a tyrannical regime.
There could not have been a worse timing for the struggle. Even a 16-year-old who learned about the decade of the 1950s in history O-level – not one with a PhD in history – could have told the then Greek Cypriot leadership that the British empire was collapsing and that by the end of the 20th century no British colonies would exist and therefore the armed struggle was unnecessary.
Instead of fighting, it would have been wiser to have sat with our arms crossed, as other colonies had done e.g. Malta, Bahrain, Hong Kong. Even without the help of a 16-year-old student the leaderships of Greece and Cyprus should have captured the messages of the times.
In 1945, for the first time in Britain’s history, the elections were won by the Labour Party, which was on the far left at the time and its ideology was incompatible with colonialism. During its time in government, from 1945 to 1951, it granted independence to India, Burma and Sri Lanka and declared that the gradual liberation of all British colonies was a matter of time. Two of the Labour Party’s leaders – Ernest Bevin and Herbert Morrison – continuously stressed that the existence of colonies was an ‘embarrassment’ for a left-wing party in government.
Unfortunately for Cyprus, the Labour Party lost the elections in 1951 and stayed out of government for the next 13 years. The message of the Labour Party, however, was significant but we did not have mature leaders with the astuteness to evaluate it correctly so that we could gradually achieve real independence, without any blood being shed, as was the case with most other British colonies.
Another big mistake committed by EOKA was the complete marginalisation of the Turkish Cypriots who made up 18.2 per cent of the population. The armed struggle was waged as if there were no Turkish Cypriots. However the Turkish Cypriot leadership had made it clear, on many occasions and long before 1955, that it would never consent to Cyprus being united with Greece. The Turkish Cypriot leaders were aware of the ethnic cleansing that took place in Crete and it was understandable they did not want the same to happen to Cyprus.
When the Ottoman occupation of Crete ended in 1898, Cretan Turks constituted 31.4 per cent of the population. With the establishment of the autonomous Crete it started becoming clear that, sooner or later, union with Greece would become inevitable and this sparked a mass exodus from the island of Cretan Turks. This trend intensified after 1913, when union with Greece was realised. From 1912 to 1922 almost all the Cretan Turks sold off their properties and left Crete, fearing how they would be treated by the new rulers – the Christian Cretans.
Completely ignoring the Turkish Cypriots and their fears, EOKA, on the one hand, strengthened the nationalism of the Turkish Cypriots and the radicalisation of their leadership and, on the other hand, gave Britain’s ruling Conservative Party the excuse to resort to divide and rule and play the partition card.
In the end, what did EOKA achieve? A struggle should always be judged by its results and not its intentions. We all bow to the bravery and courage of our young men who gave up their lives for their ideals, but bravery per se does not necessarily fulfil the dreams of a country.
In the case of the EOKA struggle, not only was there no Enosis, but we did not achieve proper independence either, becoming instead the protectorate of three other states, something that the Cyprus establishment conveniently ignores.
George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist