Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

Timing is all, the lesson the president ignored

It's 12 years since Greek Cypriots voted 'No' in the referendum

By Loucas Charalambous

IT IS 12 years to the day since the 2004 referendum on the Annan plan, to which the smart Greek Cypriot people – fearing they might lose the benefits of partition (they exist for many) – said a resounding ‘no’, rejecting the settlement plan and leaving Cyprus divided.

If there was one lesson these 12 years should have taught us, it is the same one that our history has been teaching us down through the years: that it teaches us nothing. We now hear all the demagogues, who took a stand against the settlement at the time, celebrating without shame and with incredible nerve because they surrendered Famagusta and Morphou to Turkey for good, ensured the tripling of the number of settlers and kept the Turkish occupation army in Cyprus.

I will not deal again with the tragic consequences of that irrational vote. I will refer to another aspect of the issue which is also very topical. Recently we have witnessed the political developments that led to a change of ‘government’ in the north as well as the repressive style of government adopted in Turkey by President Erdogan, who is no longer the politician he was in 2004, at least in relation to the Cyprus problem.

These developments prompted all our political wizards and smart journalists to point out that the changes were adversely affecting the peace talks. Of course, none of them dares to talk about the gist of the matter – that if we had thought about the right timing, if we had made our choices and taken our decisions at the right time we would not now be worrying about these developments.

To put it more simply, if in 2004 we had reached a settlement today we would not be dealing with how much we are affected by Erdogan’s totally erratic behaviour or by his supposed loss of interest in the Cyprus issue. And today we would not be faced with Turkish Cypriots’ refusal to return Morphou, which they had voted to return in 2004; we would not be whinging today because citizenship would be granted to another 25,000 Turkish settlers; we would not be terrified of proceeding with exploration for hydrocarbons in our EEZ; and we would not have lost €3 billion which experts estimated would have been generated by tourism to Famagusta.

Among those that have expressed concern about the developments was President Anastasiades. He knows, however, that through his own hesitancy, prevarication and tactical manoeuvring he has managed to kill off all prospects of a solution now. When Mustafa Akinci was elected I wrote that Anastasiades had three to four months to strike a deal. After this time the demagogues of rejection would have succeeded in undermining the effort and wrecking the positive climate that had been created. Unfortunately he did not dare and he appears to have missed the train again.

In Glafcos Clerides’ DISY, the word that we heard him utter more often than any other was ‘timing’. He was so obsessed with timing that we considered his constant references to it excessive and often laughed at him, calling him Mr Timing.

Clerides attached vital importance to – and he was absolutely right – to exploiting opportunities when they came up. He would say that “in politics opportunities should be grabbed by the hair because they rarely re-appear.”

Anastasiades has always liked to say that Clerides was his political father. This could be true, but it is also true, unfortunately, that timing was the main thing he should have learnt from his political father. He either never learnt it, or, if he did, he has managed to lose sight of it as he engaged in his tactical manoeuvres.

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