By Yiorgos Kakouris
Is it time for a pan-Cypriot, multi-communal party? And what would such a party look like?
It might appear counter-intuitive to explore this idea right now when the two communities seem set on a path to partition and a future of military tension and constant enmity.
Perhaps, however, this juncture is just the time to start seriously thinking about, and acting upon, radical ideas that will incrementally sidestep traditional politics, and gradually bring about change, instead of expecting the political elites to find common ground in their own sets of interests.
A multi-communal party could run for power in all elections on both sides, making it clear that it views and acts in a Cyprus that is one country, despite the current situation. In an ideal world, it could start its career with an attempt in the European Parliament elections. It could then run in the municipal elections, the Republic’s parliamentary elections, the Turkish Cypriot assembly and even, down the line, aim for the leadership of the communities. Perhaps it could even field a joint ticket for the presidency of the Republic, with a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot pledging to act as rotating presidents.
How could such a party conduct itself on the political stage if it is to be different from what has come so far?
A broad agenda
The party programme should cover all areas of policy beyond the Cyprus problem, advocating specific policies and solutions. Where possible, these solutions should address issues on both sides at the same time.
It’s not enough to talk about reunification and the relations between communities. There should be specific and actionable policy recommendations over the economy, education, innovation, climate change, agriculture and foreign policy. Voters should feel, whether they agree or disagree with it, that the party’s programme has a specific vision for the future.
A progressive force
Such a party can only be progressive in nature, in the sense that it will not be ruled by a strict hierarchy but be responsive to its members and operate on principles of direct democracy. It will be forward-looking on social and human rights issues. It will seek to protect the environment and make sure that it is not sacrificed for the sake of development. It will push forward the conversation about how the economy can and should work in order to provide both opportunity and protection for the citizens.
It will consider Cypriot citizenship a civic, secular one, decoupled from ethnicity and religion while providing a safe space for all to maintain, protect and cherish their identities. Crucially, it will operate in the context of EU politics, taking a stance on issues that affect all Europeans and advocating for the greater involvement of Cypriots in the discussion over the future of Europe.
Are there other political options such as a conservative multi-communal party, or one opposed to a federal system or one even advocating for further separation? Probably. But the argument set out here is that the very act of combining the different identities and approaches that would be necessary for creating a unified Cypriot party with realistic prospects will inevitably take a progressive direction.
Not another corrupt party
A multi-communal party should also completely avoid becoming a front for a new breed of cross-communal corruption and curtail the attempts of individuals to turn it towards their own ambitions. This might prove the most difficult task since Cypriot politics takes place in a pool of corruption, but it’s important in the long term to make strenuous efforts to avoid the mistakes of the past.
This fear is not theoretical. Those with money and influence can find common interests and work with each other while conveniently ignoring ethnic lines, but if left unchecked they will quickly forget the needs of the wider population. Which is why the finances of a multi-communal party need to be completely transparent and even avoid big donors and transactional relationships as much as possible.
Action, not just ideals
This party should not just be a party “for peace” in the manner of bicommunal idealist initiatives. Instead, it should specifically advocate adopting measures that help to integrate the two economies, increase opportunities for contacts and openly support a federal settlement based on what has been agreed so far in negotiations.
Going one step further, the party should advocate strong symbolic and practical moves that prepare the way forward, such as the adoption of a common national anthem.
Not just for the converted
The “sister parties” should operate within the political systems on each side, and in accordance with each side’s framework. The party as a whole should make sure to not only address the problems and concerns of those Cypriots who are already convinced about the need for a settlement that ends the status quo.
It should identify and reply to the concerns of average citizens who are afraid of the future and the other community or have legitimate disagreements with power sharing or the return of the jointly run Cypriot state. It should make sure to point out that the problems we are facing on both sides – mismanagement, corruption, environmental degradation, lack of opportunity, militarisation and lack of security – are made worse by division.
It should clarify that a settlement is not the magic solution to all woes, but that these are big problems can better be tackled by rational policies by a coordinated effort by both societies on the island.
From abstraction to reality
It would be naive of course to expect such bold moves to immediately upend the status quo by removing the military and political influence and occupation of Turkey, or breaking the hold of nationalist ideals by the church and the Greek Cypriot elite and their monopoly on power and politics.
What is proposed here is to bring joint political action into being, turning the abstract idea of reunification into a living and breathing organisation that will turn all the talk of federation into specific actions and proposals. The policies proposed might not be applied immediately or at the same time in both communities, but the voter will – for the first time – have the option of going to the ballot box and select identical policies that apply to the entirety of Cyprus.
Arriving at joint positions and strategies might be difficult, but it is definitely doable. Cypriots often say with an air of regret, that if they were left alone to figure out a way forward they would.
Isn’t it time to forego the comfort zone of victimisation and sit down to find these solutions?
This would prove to the world and, more importantly, to the Cypriots themselves, that they need no patronage by governments that were not elected by them, and that the time for tolerating outside interference by either Turkey or Greece is over.
Yiorgos Kakouris is a journalist at Politis newspaper