HOW STRANGE it is see the Cyprus negotiations progressing smoothly, with the leaders and negotiators of the two communities focused on the job at hand and shunning the dirty tricks, blame games and public showboating that were part of all previous procedures. We have not been accustomed to such a businesslike and mature approach to the peace talks, with the leaders reporting progress after every meeting they have.
This is because for the very first time the two leaders are working together and neither is trying to trip the other one up or cause difficulties in his respective community. For the first time in the history of talks, the leaders are not viewing the negotiating table as a battleground on which one side’s gain is the other side’s loss. The talks are no longer a zero sum game, but a joint effort by the leaders to resolve differences through constructive and meaningful discussions. Nobody claims this would be easy, but their approach has a much bigger probability of being successful than the sterile, confrontational style adopted by their predecessors.
It is all down to the good rapport Mustafa Akinci and Nicos Anastasiades have built since the former won the Turkish Cypriot elections, making the most of their Limassol background. The stroll in both sides of the old part of Nicosia and the play they watched together in their hometown may have been disparaged by the Greek Cypriot hard-line parties, which claimed the Cyprus problem would not be solved by the leaders drinking coffee together, but created a sense of optimism and built trust between the two men.
In contrast to the hard-line parties, the majority of Greek Cypriots saw these social meetings as positive steps. According to the Cypriot barometer survey for June, conducted by Everesis for Antenna TV, 73.5 per cent of people viewed the social meetings between the leaders positively, while 60 per cent believed these meetings would contribute to a settlement of the Cyprus problem. Ongoing attempts by DIKO, EDEK, Alliance and the Greens to poison the climate with their knee-jerk negativity thankfully are having no effect on people.
This may explain why this brotherhood of negativity intensified its rhetoric after Wednesday’s gathering, organised by the chambers of commerce of the two sides, at which Anastasiades and Akinci spoke of their vision for a post-settlement Cyprus, explaining the prospects of a unified economy from which all the people would benefit. Never before had the leaders of the two communities spoken about a shared vision, thinking big and highlighting the countless possibilities that would be opened up by a settlement. All of a sudden the mean-spiritedness and paranoid mistrust inspired by the talks has vanished.
The anti-settlement parties were at pains to revive these on Thursday with some vicious attacks on Anastasiades, whom they accused of trying to “bribe the people with hopes of economic benefits after a settlement”; these were “false hopes” that were aimed at “misleading people that any solution would bring growth”; the people should not “settle for fewer rights and freedoms for the sake of some prosperity”; Anastasiades’ vision “in reality is a nightmare for the Cypriot people”.
This abject negativity that comes across as parody is the only language the opposition parties and politicians can speak, while their over-the-top reaction to the meeting indicated they are at a loss. Their alarmist rhetoric, designed to prevent any progress does not seem to be working, as the Antenna TV poll showed. The survey also showed that supporters of the talks – Anastasiades and the DISY chief Averof Neophytou – have the highest approval ratings of all the party leaders while Nicholas Papadopoulos, leader of biggest anti-settlement party, has the second lowest. It is indicative of the changing times that Papadopoulos’ puerile fighting talk is being openly questioned by leading members of his own party.
Thanks to the continuous positive signals given by Anastasiades and Akinci public sentiment is changing fast and expectations of a deal are building up. At the same time, this public support for the process will strengthen the leaders and encourage them to be more decisive in the talks – progress on six key issues was reported after Friday’s six-hour meeting. Momentum is building at all levels, but there should be no let-up by Anastasiades who is ideally placed to go all the way. He has the support of the people while his critics, with their obsolete, cliché-ridden rhetoric are fast becoming an anachronistic irrelevance.