Public debate on the Cyprus problem has always tended to go off on tangents, generating platitudes about principles, obsessing over theoretical points of little value and inspiring mindless grandstanding, while conveniently ignoring the substance which, supposedly, is securing a settlement. This lack of focus could be fashioned by a reluctance to achieve the main objective or by intellectual laxness that prevents people from properly thinking through the arguments they use.
Since the return of President Anastasiades from Mont Pelerin public debate has centred on the Greek government’s uncompromising stance on the abolition of guarantees which could potentially prevent a deal despite the two sides having made unprecedented progress in the talks that admittedly suffered a setback – not insurmountable it seems – in Switzerland. The debate sparked by this issue, predictably, has degenerated into a patriotism contest that completely misses the point.
A perfect illustration of what we are talking about was given by the Diko leader Nicholas Papadopoulos who after Thursday’s national council meeting expressed his gratitude for the Greek government’s stance. “We must all welcome the robust stand on principle shown at this time by Greece, the Greek prime minister and especially the foreign minister Mr Kotzias, who considers Greece has a moral duty to protect the interests of Cypriot Hellenism and we are grateful to both for this stance,” he said.
This dogmatic superficiality is what passes as political discourse. Papadopoulos addressed the matter with a couple of platitudes, completely ignoring the consequences of the “robust stand on principle” which in our politically immature world is an end in itself. But how does this “protect the interests of Cypriot Hellenism”, by ensuring the permanence of partition and the presence of 40,000 Turkish troops indefinitely? Uncompromising stands on principle lead nowhere, which is probably where Papadopoulos and Kotzias want to lead the Cyprus talks.
Many politicians and journalists were quick to praise Kotzias’ stance, which, in a nutshell, was that his government would attend a multi-party conference on Cyprus only if the abolition of the guarantees would be signed. He wanted Turkey’s prior commitment to the abolition of guarantees and that none of the other chapters, apart from security, would be discussed in order to attend. If he thought there was a chance in a million such a ploy would work he is either extremely naive or totally ignorant about the way Turkey operates.
But this naivety was used as a mark of patriotism. “If they accept guarantees they should say so,” was the headline in a Phileleftheros column which challenged those who believed the “Cyprus problem could be solved only with guarantees to say so openly,” as if this constituted a type of treason. The reality is that the Cyprus problem could be solved only with across the board compromises and we should not be afraid to say so openly.
We all know that the Turkish Cypriots want Turkish guarantees in some form in order to accept a settlement because this would make them feel more secure. Greek Cypriots, on the other hand, would feel more secure if there were no Turkish guarantees. In short to overcome this problem there has to be a compromise with which both sides would be satisfied. Turkey had not ruled out the possibility of some new arrangement and neither had Anastasiades and both hope to agree one at the multi-party conference that would be the final stage of the peace process. The Greek Cypriot side has drafted relevant proposals.
By demanding the abolition of guarantees Greece has ruled out a compromise, thus completely eliminating the possibility of a settlement. So it has deemed it preferable for 40,000 Turkish troops to remain indefinitely in Cyprus and for the north, eventually, to be annexed by Turkey for the sake of a “robust stance on principle”. We will not win any international prizes for our stand on principle but we will lose the north forever, which is not a very rational approach to the issue.
We can argue for as long as we like that it is unheard of for a member-state of the EU to be guaranteed by another state and we would be absolutely right but what will we achieve by this? Would we be safer with 40,000 Turkish troops permanently on the island or perhaps the Russian Federation – which first turned guarantees into a deal-breaker and the only country in the world that constantly talks against them because it does not want a Cyprus settlement – would guarantee the borders with Turkey of a partitioned island?
We have been taking nice-sounding stands on principle that lead nowhere for 42 years. This should have been long enough for us to learn that long-term disputes are settled by compromise, but it seems we never fail to miss the point.