By Alper Ali Riza
Oratory like advocacy is an art. The ability to move hearts and minds with words is a gift. Four great orators stand out in history for words that moved humanity. They are Pericles in the funeral oration, Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, Churchill in the blood sweat and tears address to the British parliament in World War II, and Martin Luther King in the ‘I have a dream’ speech he made at the freedom march on Washington in 1963.
Archbishop Makarios, the first president of Cyprus, was also an accomplished public speaker. He was a heavy smoker, which gave his voice a rich deep timbre. As a churchman he was well versed in New Testament Greek that enabled him to use a vocabulary far removed from the Cypriot vernacular that paradoxically made the message he sought to convey any given time more meaningful to Cypriot ears.
I remember him waxing eloquent in 1968 that ‘a solution must necessarily be sought within the limits of what is feasible which does not always coincide with what is desirable’ using the purist efikton for feasible and euktaion for desirable to justify a fundamental shift in policy away from union with Greece. Advice I would take a mild step forward today and render in the demotic as: to katorthoto den ine kata anagi anepithimito – what is feasible is not necessarily undesirable.
Although Makarios’ use of New Testament Greek was not easily accessible to the masses, they got the message and loved it for its elegance in addressing the national question in a language and style commensurate to its historical importance. I am reliably informed that like every good speaker Makarios wrote his speech all down beforehand and delivered it after learning it by heart.
How Cyprus misses him now. I know he made many mistakes and many people think he was responsible for many of Cyprus’ problems, but he talked the talk and could persuade the average Cypriot like no one else could or has been able to since. He could rise to heights of great eloquence with mellifluous musicality like his fellow churchman Martin Luther King.
Some may be wondering where I am going with this, as Makarios was anathema to many Turkish Cypriots. But in historical terms the question is, was he bad for Cyprus as an emerging state? I think not. He may have started off as a Greek nationalist, yet for all its problems his legacy has been that of resisting the dictatorship in Greece and relaunching the state of Cyprus free of the irrational pull of the motherland, which the Turkish Cypriots would do well to ponder when considering the irrational pull of theirs.
I would like to believe that if Makarios were with us in 2017 he would not only embrace the federal republic with open arms, he would also dispatch the rejectionists for the scoundrels they are. As we know, patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, and the false patriotism the rejectionists peddle day in day out against the president is contemptible.
Makarios was not just eloquent he was smart too. He would have seen at once that the acceptance by the Turkish side of the freedom of movement, residence, and establishment rights under EU law across the whole island is hugely important for the integrity of Cyprus. He would have revisited the irrational demand to dominate the Turkish Cypriots – masquerading as majority rule – not only because it is not feasible but also because it is unsophisticated, simplistic and ultimately undesirable.
Unsophisticated, because the Greek Cypriot community does not think or behave monolithically. Simplistic, because it ignores the history of bad blood among some in the two communities that goes back generations. Undesirable, because the members of the Greek Cypriot governing elite like the Turkish Cypriot elite are as corrupt as each other and cannot at present be trusted with power over the other community.
I pose this question to thinking Greek Cypriots: what is the justification for the demand to inflict their ruling class whom they despise themselves as corrupt and incompetent on Turkish Cypriots? I pose the same question to thinking Turkish Cypriots about their corrupt and incompetent elite: why do they demand to inflict them on the Greek Cypriots in the name of numerical equality?
These demands and counter demands are all nonsense; products of warped minds and woolly thinking. All we need is a breathing space of a few years under a fair federal arrangement and a fair return of land and property and people will sort things out for themselves in the future. As and when they are ready and wish to do so they will reorganise themselves into a third republic to reflect a more harmonious state of affairs if and when peace and harmony prevail. It is arrogant and undemocratic to seek to control posterity beyond the foreseeable future.
In his dream speech Luther King first tells those gathered at the march ‘this is no time to overlook the urgency of the moment’ which is followed by the ‘now is the time’ refrain that explains why there is no longer any justification for delay. He then sets the conditions of equality and freedom for black people with ‘we will not be satisfied’ before he moves to the ‘I have a dream’ crescendo and the climax, ‘free at last’. It brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it, not in any mawkish sense, but for the greatness of the human spirit his words evoke.
Alas I don’t have a dream for Cyprus at the moment. Just hope we can avoid a nightmare. Paraphrasing Luther King, this is no time to overlook the urgency of the moment, now is the time to take evasive action.
This year’s best wishes for the New Year are not just a cliché. Good luck!
Alper Ali Riza is a queen’s counsel in the UK and a part time judge