Cyprus Mail
CM Regular Columnist Opinion

Embracing the second Cypriot republic

The Congress of Berlin in 1878 when the Ottoman Empire assigned Cyprus to Britain

By Alper Ali Riza

The last time Cyprus featured at a conference involving the big powers was the Congress of Berlin in 1878 when the Ottoman Empire assigned Cyprus to Britain in exchange for her engagement in a defensive alliance to defend the Ottoman Empire’s Asian territories in Mesopotamia and Syria in the event of further Russian expansion.

It was assigned to the British to be occupied and administered. But they stayed, annexed it in 1914 and made it a colony in 1925. They left in 1960 but kept two sovereign bases and became a guarantor power.

The Turks and the Russians are here too. The Turks returned in 1974 ostensibly exercising rights as a guarantor power. The Russians initially came for business and pleasure. They became politically interested primarily for mischief making after Europe showed them disrespect in Ukraine in 2014. As they are now fully engaged in the survival of Syria and have local supporters in Cyprus, they may be tempted beyond mischief making.

In 1878 Cyprus was just a pawn. The Cypriot rejectionist parties believe that although that remains true, Cyprus is now an advanced pawn and the Russians are the best chess players in the world. In chess, an advanced pawn in the hands of masters is strong because it can metamorphose into the most powerful piece on the board – normally the queen – when it reaches the last square.

The analogy with chess is all very well but chess is just a game, and we are concerned here with the serious business of forming a new post-colonial, post-modern state in Cyprus. The EU is nothing if not post-colonial and post-modern, and Cyprus is a member state with great prospects as a committed member if only she seizes the moment and avoids playing the big power game.

The first republic under the 1960 constitution was a colonial hang over. The rejectionists have latched onto the first republic as if it represents the state of Cyprus but this view is based on a fundamental misconception.

The president of France has just been and gone and so this is a good time to learn from France as the French Republic illustrates the difference between a state in international law and its internal constitutions extremely well.

After the French Revolution that ousted the ancien regime of Louise XVI in 1792 we had the first republic, which lasted until Napoleon became emperor in 1802. Thereafter there was the very brief second republic in the middle of the 19th Century followed in 1870 by the third republic, which lasted until the end of World War II.

After that very messy war we had the rather weak constitution of the fourth republic, but when President De Gaulle came to power again in 1958 he set up the fifth republic under a strong quasi-executive presidential system, which has worked well for France to this day.

Each of these republics involved basic changes in France’s constitutional arrangements but the important point is that no one has ever been in any doubt that France remained the same. The France of Napoleon as first consul; the France of Clemenceau during World War I, and of De Gaulle and Mitterrand remained the France all French people know and love despite the various republics and their different constitutions.

Constitutions have basic laws that are immutable in the sense that they cannot be changed under the particular constitution in play. In Cyprus there are a host of constitutional provisions that are basic, including the treaties of guarantee and alliance, and are actually incorporated into the Cyprus constitution. When revolutionary changes take place you need a completely new constitution and a new republic which is what is being negotiated at present.

What happened in France – and what is hopefully going to happen in Cyprus – was that as the underlying political facts changed, so did the constitutions. As John Maynard Keynes said: ‘when the facts change I change with the facts. What do you do, Sir?’ Which in effect was the question posed by President Anastasiades to rejectionists last week.

But I do not believe it is just the dynamics between the two communities that have changed in Cyprus. The 1960 constitution was based on colonial assumptions borne of a fundamentally different world than the one we live in the 21st century. Although the majority of Cypriots today are Greek or Turkish, many are neither or are of mixed ethnicity. Those who are Greek or Turkish appreciate their language and culture but unlike the Eoka and TMT generations before them they have no wish to be part of their motherlands. Cyprus is a member of the EU and a number of the basic provisions of the 1960 constitution are repugnant to many of the fundamental principles of EU law.

From 1974 onwards the government of the first republic has not been in effective control of north Cyprus although it has international legitimacy to speak for the whole of Cyprus. On the other side, the breakaway republic in north Cyprus has a people, controls territory, and has an effective government but it does not have international legitimacy.

Setting up the second republic is what the international conference to be held in January 2017 is about. The state of Cyprus will be unaffected. It will continue as before. It will still be a member of the UN and the EU and maintain the same international status as before, but it will have a brand new constitution in accordance with EU law that will reflect the state of affairs caused by the 1974 war and the way society has evolved since independence.

As the international status of Cyprus is not up for consideration, I believe very strongly only stakeholders should be present at the international conference next month.

The participation of the communities is obviously essential because they will have to approve the constitution of the second republic in referendums. A plenipotentiary from the internationally recognised government of the first republic of Cyprus will need to agree any withdrawal from existing treaty obligations and be bound by new ones. The governments of Turkey, Greece, the UK and the EU, each of which will have to agree new treaties, are also stakeholders.

I would not rejoice in the participation of the two super powers of the Security Council – the US and Russia. Judging by the exchanges between them on the crisis in Aleppo last Tuesday at the Security Council their relationship is at such low ebb their participation is likely to be obstructive. Their exchange of insults while Aleppo burned does not bode well at all.

In any case, they are not stakeholders. They are both huge far away places whose governments are usually indifferent to the plight of the people of small countries like Cyprus.

Besides it is well known in diplomacy that a successful negotiation with more than five parties is regarded as very difficult. As matters stand there will only be five parties – the EU’s involvement is uncontroversial and Cyprus is double counted. So why should we have more than five participants if they are not stakeholders and we have the optimum number of participants?


Alper Ali Riza is a queen’s counsel in the UK and a part time judge

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