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Our View: Settlement could be revolution against the island’s ancien regime

Former president Spyros Kyprianou

The way the rejectionist parties are dealing with the possibility of a settlement can be likened to a modern-day equivalent of France’s ancien regime that resisted political reform in order to hold on to its powers and privileges and so brought on the French Revolution.

The clergy and nobility (the first and second estates) that made up the ancien regime fought political change, justifiably fearing this would diminish their power and social status as well as threaten their wealth and privileges.

By organising into a united front to fight President Anastasiades’ attempt to reach a deal on the national issue, the rejectionist parties have taken on the role of defenders of the Cyprus Republic’s equivalent of the ancien regime, made up of the clergy, the higher echelons of the public service – spearheaded by the mandarins of the foreign ministry – and white collar unions. The members of this powerful nomenclature have reaped huge benefits from the Republic over the last 50 years, including well-paid jobs, fat pensions and social status; they also ensure the same for their offspring.

It is understandable that they feel threatened by the new political order that a settlement would establish. All the privileges they had secured for themselves and their children would be at risk in a federal state in which power is shared with the Turkish Cypriots. They would lose the exclusive ownership of the state and their power would be restricted as a result because things would work differently and there would be greater accountability. In short, they would no longer be free to use the state to promote their interests and protect their power and privileges.

This goes some way to explaining the devotion, verging on the melodramatic, rejectionist parties exhibit for the Cyprus Republic, which, they repeatedly argue, must be preserved at all costs. They have gone as far as to set the condition that it remain in its current form even after a settlement despite knowing that this would be impossible. But this condition, often repeated by Edek, Diko et al, is code for saying that partition would be a small price to pay for preserving the Republic that served the ancien regime so well.

For instance Diko, the upholder of the Makarios legacy, built its electoral strength as a direct result of its founder and leader, former president Spyros Kyprianou, offering thousands of jobs in the public sector and SGOs to people who joined the party; he also arranged government contracts in exchange for votes. Other parties followed his corrupt example when in government but none on the scale perpetrated by Kyprianou. Is it any wonder Diko remains so emotionally attached to this Republic that it has exploited so crudely?

Fittingly, it was Tassos Papadopoulos, another Diko leader and leading member of the Makarios nomenclature, who as president led the campaign against the Annan plan so successfully. This was the ancien regime’s big triumph, having rallied the backing of the overwhelming majority of the population with a mix of alarmism, misinformation and raw emotion exemplified by Papadopoulos’ assertion that he took over a state and would not hand over a community. This remains the main argument of the rejectionist politicians who are determined to preserve the Greek Cypriot ownership of the state, which has served the country’s privileged elite so well.

While the rejectionists are entitled to defend their narrow interests, for the majority of the Greek Cypriot population (the third estate as the commoners were known in pre-revolution France) a settlement could be a type of revolution against the established political order. It will be an opportunity to make a fresh start, an opportunity to establish a new state that serves the entire population and not just a privileged minority. We got it wrong the first time, but a settlement could give us a second chance and both communities should work together to make it a success. The ‘TRNC’ might be a younger entity but like the Republic it also exists, primarily, to serve a privileged minority.

Of course, it is entirely possible that these minorities in the two communities would simply join forces to try and preserve their privileged status in the federal state. But it would be up to the people, especially the young, to stop them. Surveys repeatedly show that the main issues of concern to the young are corruption, nepotism and lack of prospects. A settlement will not only improve prospects by opening up the country and creating countless opportunities, it also allows us to build a state that is fair and treats all its citizens as equals. Without violence or the guillotine, this could be our revolution against the ancien regime.

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