WHEN it comes to indignant grandstanding and self-righteous posturing our politicians are in their element. They do it very well, even if, ultimately, it is meaningless because it achieves nothing. The Cyprus problem, for decades, has been inspiring these extravagant flourishes of defiance and unrelenting moralising without any sign of a let-up.
If anything, they have been stepped up in recent years as an increasing number of politicians work on the assumption that tough talk on the national issue will eventually push them to the top of the pile.
It was very disappointing, though not surprising, to see President Anastasiades also engage this behaviour with his angry reaction to the presence of Mustafa Akinci at the Monday night dinner in Istanbul hosted by President Erdogan for heads of state and government attending the UN World Humanitarian Summit. Anastasiades could have registered his disapproval by not attending the dinner, but he allowed a free rein to his emotions, engaging in the indignant grandstanding that is the stock in trade of the rejectionist party leaders.
Through his spokesman and leaks to journalists it was said that he had been tricked by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide, whom he accused of arranging Akinci’s brief meeting with Ban Ki-moon on the sidelines of the dinner.
Phileleftheros reported that Eide was “heading towards becoming an undesirable person for the government.” On Tuesday, spokesman Nicos Christodoulides announced that Anastasiades had cancelled a planned meeting with Eide on Thursday and would not attend Friday’s scheduled talks with Akinci because the “ground was not conducive for it.”
The question we need to ask is what Anastasiades hoped to achieve with his knee-jerk reaction? Did he want an excuse to abandon the talks now that they would enter the intensive phase? Did he think there was a chance in a million Ban would publicly reprimand his Special Adviser, let along replace him? Did he want to be applauded by the political parties and the newspapers for his supposedly tough stance? The truth is that he achieved absolutely nothing, having not even prevented the imaginary upgrading of Akinci, who attended the dinner and met Ban. Should he not also have censured Ban – for the sake of consistency if nothing else – for agreeing to the meeting with Akinci, instead of putting all the blame on the Special Adviser?
On Friday, Christodoulides said Anastasiades had a telephone conversation with Ban and expressed his readiness for a return to the talks. We could therefore conclude was that his tough stance was not used as a pretext to quit the talks. On the same day the UN issued a statement offering its full support to Eide, indirectly telling the Cyprus government that it did not take its censure of the Norwegian seriously.
The statement said: “The Secretary-General expressed his full confidence in the role played by his Special Adviser, Mr Espen Barth Eide, promoting that goal (settlement), underlining that he has the support not only of himself but also that of the Security Council, the European Union and the wider international community.” The Norwegian would not be replaced as one political party ludicrously demanded, while the government’s official protest to the UN regarding his “unacceptable” behaviour (if it was ever submitted as the government intended) was completely ignored.
But the government was fully satisfied with the announcement, through which, according to Christodoulides, “answers were given to all those who had sought in Constantinople to project and promote a false picture about the upgrading of the illegal regime in the occupied areas.” He was particularly satisfied that the UN said the “the Cyprus Republic is member of the United Nations,” as if this had ever been in doubt. Even the Turkish government had treated Anastasiades as it treated all other heads of state, during his visit to Istanbul; it even flew the Cyprus flag. As for the alleged upgrading, has the slightest thing changed with regard to the status of the regime in the north because of Eide’s “trickery” and Akinci’s presence at the dinner?
In the end all that Anastasiades achieved, in practical terms, with his indignant grandstanding was the postponement of the talks for a few days. His knee-jerk reaction also showed that he may not have the cool head and mental strength that are essential for the phase the Cyprus talks are currently entering. Will he be able to take the unrelenting pressure and criticism from the parties or will he revert to the default position, witnessed in Istanbul?