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Divided Island

The Players: Tassos Papadopoulos

Tassos Papadopoulos
Tassos Papadopoulos

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.

 

Tassos Papadopoulos: 1934-2008
President:2003 to 2008

 

Tassos Papadopoluos rallied the Greek Cypriot community in 2004 to reject the Annan Plan (a UN blueprint) to reunify the island as a bizonal, bicommunal federation.

He argued that the UN plan was tailored to suit Turkish interests at the expense of Greek Cypriot rights and would legalise the island’s de facto partition instead of reuniting it. He promised to use Cyprus’ impending membership of the EU to secure a better deal.

Cyprus entered the bloc in May 2004, a week after a large majority of Greek Cypriots voted down the Annan plan which was endorsed by a majority of Turkish Cypriots in a separate referendum. He failed to win a second presidential term in elections in 2008 when he was replaced by Demetris Christofias, the EU’s first nominally communist leader, who was committed to resuscitating the peace process.

Tassos Papadopoulos took over the presidency of the centre-right Democratic Party (Diko) in October 2000 when Spyros Kyprianou (R) stepped down
Tassos Papadopoulos took over the presidency of the centre-right Democratic Party (Diko) in October 2000 when Spyros Kyprianou (left) stepped down

A London-trained barrister, Papadopoulos, aged just 24, was appointed interior minister when Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960. He took over the presidency of the centre-right Democratic Party (Diko) in October 2000 when Spyros Kyprianou, its ailing founder, leader and a former president of Cyprus, stepped down. In presidential elections in 2003, Papadopoulos narrowly ousted Glafcos Clerides, a veteran statesman.

Papadopoulos was born on January 7, 1934, and died of cancer on December 12, 2008, aged 74.

Below is the Cyprus Mail’s obituary of Tassos Papadopoulos, written by Jean Christou

December 13, 2008
CYPRUS will mark the passing of former President Tassos Papadopoulos with three days of mourning following his death yesterday from lung cancer.

Papadopoulos, 74, was hospitalised in Nicosia on November 22, suffering from breathing problems. His condition had been touch and go for the past week.

Diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer, reports yesterday said he had passed a difficult night on Thursday. He died at 1.05pm yesterday with family and friends by his bedside.

He will be buried on Monday in a state funeral at 11am at Ayia Sofia church in Strovolos, presided over by Archbishop Chrysostomos. Monday has also been declared a public holiday.

Papadopoulos’ death was announced by Director of the Intensive Care Unit of the Nicosia General Hospital Theodoros Kyprianou, along with Health Minister Christos Patsalides.

“President Papadopoulos faced his illness with strength and dignity throughout,” said Kyprianou. “The medical team… would like to express their sincere condolences to his wife, siblings and children.”

Reading a written statement to the press, Papadopoulos` son Constantinos Yiorkatzis, together with Nicolas Papadopoulos, his other son, and a House Deputy, said: “Our father Tassos Papadopoulos left us after an intermittent battle with a disease…a battle he fought with courage, dignity and persistence, qualities which characterised every moment of his life,” Yiorkatzis added, his voice breaking.

He thanked the Minister of Health, the doctors and hospital personnel for their efforts in easing his pain during his last days.

“Today, Cyprus lost a patriot, a tireless fighter who struggled all his life for freedom and democracy. He served Cyprus with consistency, devotion and commitment to principles and values,” Giorkatzis said.

“Today, our family lost a devoted husband, a caring grandfather, a beloved brother and a wonderful father”.

Papadopoulos, the former leader of centre-right DIKO, and a mega-successful lawyer, who was married to Photini Michaelides, had two other children Maria and Anastasia.

President Demetris Christofias, whose party AKEL was a coalition partner during Papadopoulos` 2003-2008 presidency and who defeated him in this year’s election, fought to hold back his tears during a statement he made in Brussels yesterday.

“I would like to express my deep sorrow and the sorrow of all the people of Cyprus for the loss of former President of the Republic Tassos Papadopoulos” he said.

Christofias (L) praised the role Papadopoulos played in the history of Cyprus
Christofias (left) praised the role Papadopoulos played in the history of Cyprus

“A close bond of friendship tied me to Tassos Papadopoulos. We worked together, fought battles together, and we jointly struggled for the cause of Cyprus,” he added.

Christofias praised the role Papadopoulos played in the history of Cyprus from the struggle against colonial rule to his place as the youngest cabinet minister appointed after Independence to his own term as President at one of the most crucial period in Cyprus’ history – the referendum on the UN reunification plan in 2004. Papadopoulos also oversaw Cyprus accession to the EU in May that year, and the island’s entry to the euro zone at the beginning of this year.

“Tassos Papadopoulos has devoted his whole life to matters concerning this society since he was young,” Christofias said. “He will remain in history as one of the leaders of the modern history of our country,” he added.

Yesterday afternoon, the cabinet announced three days of mourning –to honour the former President. Government Spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said all flags would fly at half-mast while a book of condolences was to be opened at the Foreign Ministry and also at Cypriot embassies abroad. Monday was declared a public holiday with all schools and all official events cancelled. A white rose is to be put in the spot where Papadopoulos used to sit at the National Council meetings.

House President, and DIKO leader Marios Garoyian chaired the extraordinary cabinet meeting and led a one-minute silence after which he paid tribute to his mentor.

“President Papadopoulos honoured the office of President of the Republic, and honoured the homeland in all of the struggles and challenges it faced,” said Garoyian.

“I know that you are all shocked at his untimely death. You all knew him as President and as a human being as well. Many of you have served in his Cabinet and others have been his close associates and friends.”

Below is an obituary of Tassos Papapdopoulos in The Times (London), written by By Michael Theodoulou

December 13, 2008
Tassos Papadopoulos was a shrewd British-trained barrister who became Cyprus’s youngest ever minister nearly half a century ago. He made it to the top in politics late in life when he became President in early 2003.

As President, his term marked one of the defining moments in Cyprus’s often turbulent modern history. Papadopoulos rallied the Greek Cypriot community in 2004 to reject a controversial United Nations plan designed to resolve the long-running Cyprus problem.

In an emotional television address, the usually steely conservative politician catalogued the flaws in the plan, which aimed to reunite the estranged Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities under a loose federation of two largely autonomous areas.

He argued that the bulky UN plan was tailored to suit Turkish interests at the expense of Greek Cypriot rights and would legalise the island’s de facto partition instead of reuniting it. His tough public persona melted towards the end of his 50-minute speech as his eyes moistened with tears.

Within weeks, 76 per cent of Greek Cypriots rejected the plan in a referendum. The Turkish Cypriots, hoping to end their international isolation, endorsed the plan in a separate vote by a majority of 64.9 per cent. They did so against the urging of Rauf Denktas, their long-serving hard-line leader, whose obduracy was blamed for the failure of most previous UN-sponsored settlement efforts. Despite backing the UN plan, the smaller Turkish community was sidelined when Cyprus, represented internationally by the more prosperous Greek Cypriots, entered the EU on May 1, 2004, precisely a week after the twin referendums.

Washington and London were aghast at Papadopoulos’s stance on the UN plan, which they maintained was the best chance in a generation to reunite the strategically located island. There was also dismay in Brussels. The EU was relying on an eleventh-hour Cyprus deal to save it from absorbing a divided country. There were fears that Greek Cypriots might also wield veto rights over Turkey’s hopes of joining the Union.

Opprobrium abroad left Papapodoulos unruffled. He had support where it counted — at home. He was admired as a steadfast champion of Greek Cypriot rights who had the gutsy strength of character to resist Anglo-American pressure to accept an unworkable and unfair peace deal. Many of his supporters thought that the rejected arrangement was shaped to suit the strategic interests of outside powers more concerned to smooth Turkey’s EU path than to achieve a just solution for Cyprus.

Papadopoulos, his supporters believed, had saved Cyprus from Turkish dominance.

We averted turning Cyprus into a Turkish protectorate

Critics at home and overseas, however, saw him as a hard-line veteran rejectionist who squandered an historic opportunity to reunite Cyprus. For Greek Cypriots who supported the UN plan, Papadopoulos was also a deeply divisive figure who did little to disguise his contempt for their opinions.

Yet Papadopoulos bristled at the rejectionist tag and appeared equally aggrieved by suggestions that he was disliked and distrusted by Turkish Cypriots. He insisted that he had rejected a particular plan, not the idea of a settlement, and would use Cyprus’s membership of the EU to secure a better deal. Peace talks, however, remained moribund for his remaining four years in office.

Apart from presiding over a buoyant economy and navigating Cyprus into the eurozone last January his main appeal was his determination to resist any big power pressure to accept a bad reunification deal akin to the previous UN plan.

“Despite the threats and blackmail, we saved our state,” he proclaimed during the election campaign, referring to his championing of the “no” vote four years earlier. “We averted turning Cyprus into a Turkish protectorate.”

Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since 1974, when Turkish troops seized the northern third of the island after the Greek junta engineered a short-lived coup in Nicosia by supporters of “enosis”, or union with Greece. Deep scars were left by fierce intercommunal bloodshed in the 1960s.

Papadopoulos failed to win a second term in elections last February when he was defeated unexpectedly. He faced two moderate candidates who successfully argued that his uncompromising stance was entrenching the island’s division and isolating Cyprus in the EU.

He was replaced as President by Demetris Christofias, the EU’s first nominally communist leader, who was committed to resuscitating the peace process and is currently involved in negotiations with Mehmet Ali Talat, the Turkish Cypriot leader, aimed a securing a reunification deal by the middle of next year. For the first time in decades there is a conciliatory leader on both sides of the Cyprus divide.

Tassos Papadopoulos was born in 1934, in Nicosia. His father was a teacher who mixed with lawyers and judges that were influential in steering the young Papadopoulos towards his future career. He was schooled at the prestigious Pancyprian Gymnasium, Nicosia, whose prominent alumni include two other former presidents of Cyprus. Lawrence Durrell, the author of Bitter Lemons, which is set in Cyprus, taught English there in the early 1950s.

Papadopoulos went on to study law at King’s College, London and trained as a barrister at Gray’s Inn. As a student in London in the early 1950s, he shared rooms with Spyros Kyprianou, who later became President of Cyprus (1977-88), and a charismatic law student, Lellos Demetriades, who served as a popular mayor of Nicosia for nearly three decades.

Papadopoulos was remembered as a clever and hard-working student who spoke his mind forcefully. He had a good sense of humour and engaged in heated debates with British students about Cyprus. Like his two ambitious roommates, he was heavily involved in Greek Cypriot community matters in London, which was then absorbing many workers from Cyprus.

Papadopoulos returned to Cyprus to practise law early in 1955, shortly before Eoka, an underground, largely right-wing Greek Cypriot movement, launched a violent campaign to shrug off British colonial rule and unite the island with Greece. He was soon a key member of Eoka’s political wing.

After four years of guerrilla revolt by Greek Cypriots, a compromise settlement was reached that was designed to accommodate both Greek and Turkish Cypriot aspirations. It gave Cyprus independence rather than union with Greece. Papadopoulos took part in the London conference in 1959 that, together with one in Zurich, formed the basis for Cyprus’s independence in 1960. The agreements were negotiated by Greece, Turkey and Britain.

There was little input from the island’s Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities and many Greek Cypriots felt that the deal had been imposed on them. Papadopoulos was one of the few delegates who voted against signing the treaties, which was seen later as an early indication of his refusal to compromise.

Nevertheless, as a high-profile young lawyer, he served as one of the four representatives of the Greek Cypriot side that drafted the constitution of the fledgling Republic of Cyprus. Under the wing of his charismatic mentor, the late Archbishop Makarios, who was President of Cyprus from independence until his death in 1977, Papadopoulos was appointed Interior Minister at the age of 24 and eight months.

President Makarios greeting his young ministers, Polykarpos Yiorghadjis (centre) and Tassos Papadopoulos
President Makarios greeting his young ministers, Polykarpos Yiorghadjis (centre) and Tassos Papadopoulos

It was a few months short of the legal age limit, but he said later that no one bothered to ask him his age at the time. Despite his youth, he played a major role in developing the machinery of the nascent state. He held a wide variety of cabinet posts for 12 years as Minister of Interior, Minister of Finance, Minister of Labour and Social Insurance, Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Minister of Health and Agriculture.

In 1970 he was elected to parliament as a representative for Nicosia of the Eniaion (United Party), which he had co-founded the previous year. From 1976 to 1978 he served as the chief negotiator of the Greek Cypriot community in intercommunal talks with the Turkish Cypriots. He was re-elected to Parliament in 1991 as a member of the centre-right Democratic Party (Diko), which historically has taken a hard line on the Cyprus peace process.

Papadopoulos took over as Diko’s president in October 2000 when, Kyprianou, its ailing founder leader, stepped down.

In presidential elections in 2003, Papadopoulos narrowly ousted Glafcos Clerides, a veteran statesman. The new President had been backed by his own party, Diko, and a social democrat party. But the key to his victory was the support of the large communist party, Akel, even though Papadopoulos had been seen as a dedicated anti-communist for most of his life. He declared at the time: “I want to take a united Cyprus into Europe, and I am ready to negotiate a better settlement which is viable and functional.”

I want to take a united Cyprus into Europe, and I am ready to negotiate a better settlement which is viable and functional

As well as being closely involved in politics for half a century, Papadopoulos established and led one of the island’s most successful law firms. In recent years, his law practice was dogged by controversy over registering offshore Serbian companies in Nicosia that were allegedly used as a conduit for illicit funds channelled out of the former Yugoslavia by the former Serbian dictator, Slobodan Milosevic. Papadopoulos always denied involvement. “Lawyers who establish companies do not get involved in what the companies’ activities are,” he said.

Throughout his life Papadopoulos was staunchly loyal to friends but could bear grudges against opponents and was sometimes prickly. Even his critics, however, acknowledged that his keen legal mind made him hard to best in an argument.

Papadopoulos is survived by his wife, Fotini, who is a member of the wealthy Leventis family, and four children: Constantinos and Maria, from his wife’s previous marriage; and Nicolas and Anastasia.