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Divided Island

The Players: Spyros Kyprianou

Spyros Kyprianou
Spyros Kyprianou

This is one of a series of articles from our new feature ‘Background briefing: The Divided Island‘. It is a comprehensive interactive information guide on the Cyprus problem which we are publishing at this critical moment in the settlement negotiations. There is a menu bar to the full package to the right of this article. Just click on any of the items.

Spyros Kyprianou: 1932-2002
President: 1977-1988



Spyros Kyprianou became acting president of Cyprus in 1977 after the death of Archbishop Makarios, was unopposed in elections the following year, and won a second, five-year term as president in 1983. He was succeeded by George Vassiliou in 1988.

In 1985 he came close to agreeing a peace plan with the Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash but he baulked at the 11th hour and rejected the UN’s proposals for a federal solution.

After qualifying as a lawyer in London, he became Archbishop Makarios’ representative in Britain during the struggle against British rule. When Cyprus gained independence in 1960, Makarios appointed him justice minister and, a few days later, foreign minister when he was just 28. He was forced to resign in 1972 in a disagreement with the military junta then in power in Athens over efforts to unite Cyprus and Greece, efforts he opposed.

In 1976, he founded the centre-right Democratic Party (Diko) which he led until the year 2000.

Here is the Cyprus Mail’s obituary of Spyros Kyprianou

He may have been small in stature, but former President of the Republic Spyros Kyprianou, who has died of cancer aged 69, will be remembered for leading the revival of Cyprus after the Turkish invasion. He was also a great political survivor in a career which spanned more than four decades.

He had been involved in politics since his twenties, serving his country in a variety of top posts. He was the Republic’s first-ever foreign minister, and also served two successive terms as president, as well as two spells, separated by almost 20 years, as president of the House of Representatives.

The founder and leader, until two years ago, of the centre-right Diko party, Kyprianou has left his indelible mark on Cyprus politics.

Born on October 28, 1932, in Limassol, he received a law degree in London. During his studies he founded the Cypriot Students’ Union in the UK, acting also as Archbishop Makarios’ special representative in Britain. He became the country’s first foreign minister at the age of 28 when the island gained independence from Britain in 1960.

During the 1955-1959 Eoka struggle, Kyprianou was expelled from Britain and moved to Athens to work with the Pan-Hellenic Committee for Self-determination in Cyprus and travelled to New York and Washington to put the Cyprus case before the United Nations and the US.

From left: Spyros Kyprianou as foreign minister, Andreas Iacovides, Cyprus’ future ambassador to the US, and Glafcos Clerides at the UN in 1964

He continued his campaigning for the Cyprus cause as foreign minister, and three years after his appointment he made a name for himself at the UN General Assembly with a passionate defence of the Greek Cypriot position during the 1963-64 intercommunal troubles that led to UN peacekeepers being deployed on the island.

In the early seventies, while still foreign minister, he was said to have fallen out with the military junta that was running Greece. The colonels reportedly singled him out and in a provocative note to President Makarios demanded that ministers unsympathetic to the Greek government be dismissed. Makarios refused to sack him but Kyprianou resigned on principle and left politics. He was working as a lawyer during the events of July 1974.

With the collapse of the Greek junta, Kyprianou returned to politics and led the Cypriot delegation to the United Nations in November 1974 for the General Assembly’s debate on the Turkish invasion.

In 1976 Kyprianou founded the centre-right party Diko, which forged an alliance with the communist party Akel and the socialist party Edek to fight the parliamentary elections. The alliance won all the seats in 1976 parliamentary election, with the right wing Disy being left out of the legislature. Kyprianou was elected speaker, and on the death of Archbishop Makarios a year later he became acting president.

Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash immediately dismissed Kyprianou as “a pale imitation of Makarios”, but the diminutive statesman was well-placed to succeed Makarios and seized this opportunity. He was elected president, unopposed, in 1978, the backing of the three parties making his entry into the presidential palace a mere formality. His main rival at the time, Glafcos Clerides, had withdrawn his candidacy after the kidnapping of Kyprianou’s eldest son Achilleas, who was serving in the National Guard; Achilleas was released a few days later, but the kidnappers were never found.

With the alliance still going strong, Kyprianou had no trouble winning a second term in 1983, defeating Clerides by a large margin. In his 10 years in office Cyprus enjoyed very high rates of economic growth, fuelled by a boom in construction and tourism. Hotels and holiday flats sprang up in the coastal resorts as demand for hotel beds increased dramatically, with hundreds of thousands of European tourists holidaying in Cyprus. During his term there were other development projects such as the building of dams all over the island, and the road network was improved.

On the political front, Kyprianou was even more successful, as he presided over the smooth transition from the civil war conditions that preceded the invasion to a period of stability and growing affluence. The fanaticism and violence of the pre-invasion years were consigned to the scrap-heap of history as Cyprus entered a period of calm and greater democracy. He strengthened his hold on power and built up his party-base by appointing and promoting his own people to all key positions in the public and semi-state sectors, an issue that constantly plagued his presidency.

But the most criticism he came under was for his handling of the Cyprus peace talks. He had two major opportunities to solve the Cyprus problem, in 1978 and 1985, and failed to seize either of them.

In 1978 he rejected a plan formulated by the western powers, because his political allies, the communist party Akel, which was under the control of Moscow, were opposed to it – there was no way the Soviet-controlled party would accept a western plan during the Cold War. In 1985, a peace agreement prepared by the UN was also on the cards and Kyprianou went to in New York to sign it. But he got cold feet at the last minute and another opportunity for a settlement vanished.

“Our refusal to give in is not a whim”

As president, Kyprianou seemed happier securing resolutions from the UN and the Non-Aligned Movement that condemned the Turkish invasion and occupation, rather than working imaginatively for a settlement. A prisoner of his own defiant rhetoric, Kyprianou preferred to play the rejectionist card, rather than ever be accused of concessionism towards the Turkish side.

“Ours is not a struggle for formalities but for substance. Our refusal to give in is not a whim,” he said in 1985 when the two biggest parties, Disy and his former allies Akel, attacked his hard-line policy on the Cyprus peace talks and forced him to hold early parliamentary elections. His party Diko emerged from the elections stronger than before, increasing its share of the vote from 20 to 28 per cent.

As he reminded his detractors at the time: “There is another achievement, which some people may describe as a failure. We have avoided a bad solution to the Cyprus problem. What this country needs is not a change but a strengthening of our current course.”

But after 10 years of Kyprianou people voted for change in the presidential elections of 1988. Kyprianou had decided to abandon his alliance with the communist party during his second term, and he paid a high price for it. He was succeeded as president by the Akel-backed candidate George Vassiliou, and was forced to spend another five years in the political wilderness during which he saw himself being marginalised and his party’s strength drastically diminished.

Others may have thrown in the towel and passed on the party leader’s baton to someone else, but not a survivor like Kyprianou who persevered and returned to the limelight five years later, in 1993. In the electoral showdown of 1993 between Clerides and Vassiliou, Kyprianou offered his party’s support to his old rival Clerides and was generously rewarded in exchange. Kyprianou not only secured five ministries for his party, but he was also given a say in all government appointments to key public posts. He made full use of this privilege, causing serious problems for the Clerides government when he disagreed with a decision.

In 1996 he was elected president of the House of Representatives for the second time, a post he held until last year, when parliament was dissolved. A year earlier he had also stepped down as leader of Diko, to be replaced by another old rival Tassos Papadopoulos, a man he fell out with 22 years earlier when he named him as the ‘brain’ behind an alleged conspiracy to topple his government.


The ‘big conspiracy’ of 1978 was one of the less flattering episodes that marked his political career. A few months into his presidency, Kyprianou announced to an incredulous public that he had quashed a plot to topple him. An Ayia Napa hotelier was arrested and later released. A West German diplomat was declared persona non grata, as was an Israeli football coach, while a little-known Cypriot was imprisoned for his alleged involvement.

The episode caused a strain in relations with Bonn and raised serious questions about Kyprianou’s ability to govern. Yet it was a testament to the man’s staying power that he survived this embarrassment – there was no conspiracy – to remain in power for another decade.

In the eighties, he made another big revelation – that a criminal group was planning to release toxic gas in Nicosia – that ended in embarrassment.

He made one last effort to return to the presidential palace but it never got off the ground. When he agreed to back Clerides in 1993, he had been promised that Clerides’ party would support his candidacy in 1998, and he was given assurances, until a few months before the elections, that the agreement would be honoured. It was not.

Clerides stood again and Diko was forced to enter an alliance with Akel once again, backing George Iacovou, who had served as foreign minister in Kyprianou’s government. The electoral defeat caused major rifts within his party and there were calls for his resignation. But he weathered the storm and announced his decision to step down as leader when he chose to do so, and not before.

During his twilight years in the political arena, Kyprianou took on the mantle of speaking out on other conflicts around the world, most notably the Nato air strikes on Yugoslavia over the Kosovo crisis in 1999 when he strongly criticised Nato, saying it was acting in violation of international law. The Kosovo conflict really threw Kyprianou into the international spotlight when he jumped on a plane in an attempt to secure the release of three US soldiers being held by Belgrade. The mission proved to be a failure, and Kyprianou laid the blame for this squarely on the shoulder of the US and its allies.

“I am disappointed,” he said on his return to the island. “Both the Americans and their allies did not take seriously this initiative, which was of a humanitarian nature. I expected Nato to stop the bombing of Yugoslavia during the mission, but on the contrary it intensified,” he said after talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade.

Kyprianou began to wind down his role in politics following a heart operation in early 2000, which was followed by further surgery a little later when complications arose. But before his departure for treatment in London he told journalists he had urged Clerides to call an early election in view of what he saw as the president’s “soft” policies on the Cyprus issue.

Soon after he stepped down as House of Representatives president, drawing the curtain on a 40-year political career, Kyprianou was diagnosed with lung and pelvic cancer.

“I will never give up the struggle for the solution of the Cyprus Problem, not for as long as I live.”

In an emotionally charged atmosphere in the House, Kyprianou officially ended his career with an address to the media, with whom he always co-operated closely.

“I left politics of my own accord. But I know that you don’t have to be a politician to serve your country. Cyprus will go through testing times. The next few years will be hugely critical with the EU accession process coming to an end. We must all be on guard at all times,” he warned.

“I thank the people for the love they have shown me and the honour they did me in handing me the most important political posts during my career. I lay no claims to infallibility, but whatever I did, I did with pure motives and intentions in order to serve our national issue and the interests of the people.

“I will never give up the struggle for the solution of the Cyprus Problem, not for as long as I live.”

Kyprianou made mistakes in his long and varied career and we will never know if the opportunities for a settlement that he scorned were real opportunities. Yet he was never given the credit he deserved for presiding over the economic miracle that followed the Turkish invasion and put the economy on strong foundations. And he achieved this by bringing domestic stability and allowing democracy to flourish.

Most importantly, it was his government that took the first step towards the European Union by signing the Customs Union agreement.

Spyros Kyprianou may have had many detractors in his long and varied career, but he was a tough politician who always knew how to get what he wanted. He may have suffered major reverses and embarrassments, but he could never be written off. He always bounced back, defiant to the last, just like his rhetoric on the Cyprus problem.

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