FOR MANY years Cyprus’ foreign ministry posed as the diplomatic guard dog and defender of the Cyprus Republic. Its main policy objective was to safeguard the status of the Republic by, supposedly, ensuring that the internationally-recognised government of Cyprus was never questioned, undermined or downgraded.
This policy, often, took absurd dimensions, involving obsessing over the wording and punctuation of UN resolutions and over-analysing statements by the US State Department or UN spokesman. Sometimes, written protests were filed with the ministry claiming it had prevented the upgrading of the regime in the north.
The foreign ministry’s one-dimensional foreign policy sometimes appeared more like an obsession. Ministry officials have behaved more like lawyers than diplomats, spending their time reading through texts in search of wrongly placed commas or quotation marks that could imply an ‘upgrading’ of the pseudo state, which, by definition, meant a ‘downgrading’ of the Republic. They trade in bad faith and for them diplomacy is a negative activity, aimed at preventing things from happening, because of the imaginary upgrade/downgrade danger.
This is a smart way of maintaining the status quo without openly supporting partition – the anti-settlement parties back it by arguing the Cyprus Republic must be preserved at all costs – which the majority of foreign ministry employees appear to pursue in covert ways. Now, anyone would think the foreign ministry was serving a DIKO or EDEK government rather than that of President Anastasiades, whose efforts to find a settlement do not appear to have the approval of the ministry mandarins.
Out of sync with the government it is supposed to serve, the ministry appears to exist in its own world, in defiance of those it has a constitutional obligation to serve. While Anastasiades remains upbeat about the talks and always tries to set an optimistic tone – he speaks positively after every meeting he has with Mustafa Akinci – his foreign ministry continues to trade in negativity just like the opposition parties. Not once has it been the source of a remotely positive message, instead, systematically leaking negative stories to the press about the allegedly anti-Greek Cypriot goings-on at the EU in Brussels or at the UN. Not even the minister Ioannis Kasoulides – a sensible and open-minded supporter of a solution – has been able to change the ministry’s anti-settlement agenda.
With such an agenda and a DIKO-type record in bad faith, it was not a surprise that the foreign ministry had written to the education ministry to censure it for using Turkish airline Pegasus to fly Greek Cypriot students from Istanbul to Trabzon where they took part in world games for secondary schools. The foreign ministry pointed out that Pegasus “carried out flights to and from the occupied area (Tymbou airport) in violation of the relevant legislation of the Republic.” It considered “the choice of the specific airline unfortunate” and leaked the letter to the paper that would make the most of its negative publicity potential.
It was another illustration of the foreign ministry’s anti-settlement agenda and disregard for the policy of the government that it supposedly serves. At a time when the president was in negotiations to find a settlement the foreign ministry was undermining him by feeding an idiotic letter, calculated to fuel anti-settlement sentiment. We leave aside the fact that it was making a totally meaningless point as the education ministry had no choice but to use an airline that flew to Ercan for a domestic flight in Turkey.
A couple of months ago, we were informed that the foreign ministry had arranged for the CyBC not to show the advert of the sponsor, Turkish Airlines, during broadcasts of the Euro 2016 matches. It was another absurd action – the airline was advertised on the hoardings on the perimeter of the pitch which could be seen for the whole match – aimed at preserving the negative sentiment towards a settlement in which the foreign ministry seems to specialise.
Even the justification for the negativity – preventing the upgrading/recognition of the pseudo-state – and boasts of the ministry’s diplomatic victories in this regard are exaggerated. Non-recognition of the regime in the north has more to do with the US policy of supporting a re-unified Cyprus than the puerile spoiling tactics of our foreign ministry that likes to take the credit. Kosovo was recognised because the US had decided this was a necessity and not because Serbia’s foreign ministry had failed to defend the country’s national interests. Bangladesh was stopped from recognising the pseudo-state in the eighties by the threat of measures by the US and not any actions of our diplomats.
But our diplomats have always had the inclination to over-state their powers and importance, something facilitated by the existence of the Cyprus problem the preservation of which seems to be our foreign ministry mission. After all, maintaining the status quo would also ensure they would not have to share the Republic’s limited ambassadorial posts with Turkish Cypriots.