One of the most interesting aspects of 2018 was watching the creeping U-turns made by President Nicos Anastasiades on the Cyprus issue, especially in the second half of the year.
When Anastasiades was re-elected in February, the Cyprob was on ice in the wake of the Crans-Montana failure in 2017, and there was no whiff during the presidential election campaign of what might have been going on behind the scenes.
Post-election analysis appeared to show that voters wanted continuity and entrusted Anastasiades for the second time to carry on Cyprus talks on the agreed basis of a bizonal, bicommunal federation.
Not that his competition for the presidency was much to write home about. The also-ran from the left Stavros Malas and the ‘inbetweeners’ backing of Nicolas Papadopoulos who suffered a humiliating defeat were no real competition for the incumbent.
During the campaign Malas and Akel, the party that backed him, had dubbed Anastasiades untrustworthy following the collapse of the Crans-Montana talks. Akel leader Andros Kyprianou accused Anastasiades of putting his personal ambitions for re-election above the Cyprob. Kyprianou has not let up since, as he believes Anastasiades lied over what happened in Crans-Montana on the night the negotiations collapsed when it seemed like Turkey was closer than it ever was to agreeing a deal on guarantees.
The president spent the best part of the first six months of the year engaging in doublespeak and confusing the issue over who said what to whom in Switzerland, and obfuscating on timelines until the whole issue faded back into oblivion for another while, despite his obvious disingenuity that was contradicted by UN accounts.
Enter UN envoy Jane Holl Lute, who came here in July and there was no longer any excuse to carry on as if the talks would be in the deep freeze indefinitely on the grounds of the fall-back ‘Turkish intransigence’ as true as that might be for the most part.
The UN wanted to know if there were prospects for talks and Lute was sent to find out.
Before she filed her assessment at HQ, the two leaders met separately with UN chief Antonio Guterres in September in New York and after that things got a bit weird.
It took a couple of weeks before it emerged that Anastasiades had had a ‘secret meeting’ in the US with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. Then, senior Greek Cypriot officials, including chief negotiator Andreas Mavroyiannis and Disy boss Averof Neophytou began warning that the end was probably nigh for the Cyprob and Unficyp. Even Guterres was proposing the leaders come back to him with alternative ways to move the talks forward.
Last month things went haywire when Anastasiades started talking of a ‘decentralised’ or ‘loose’ federation but seemed to be unable to say exactly what that meant other than ‘it might be good to bring in some outside experts to explore it’. Despite this, he is insisting he wants the talks to go ahead where they left off although there is mounting pressure on him to come clean and be honest with people on what he is really seeking.
Akel’s Kyprianou has accused him of acting like a one-man band on the Cyprob, not consulting anyone and wheeler-dealing behind the scenes with Ankara while side-lining the Turkish Cypriots entirely. Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci even accused him recently of saying one thing in private and another in public. He said he had learned that Anastasiades had mooted the idea of a decentralised federation to Cavusoglu as far back as Crans-Montana. Critics argue that this new approach would essentially mean confederation, which would eventually lead to permanent partition.
In any case the ‘next big thing’ was to be Lute’s visit in December to help come up with the elusive ‘terms of reference’ for new talks. Well not much happened there and by late last week Anastasiades was publicly saying Greek Cypriots would be at a disadvantage if the island was reunited under the current provisions of a federal model, as there were no signs in sight of a resumption any time soon.
So the next time you hear the president saying he is ‘working tirelessly for a solution’, it must be happening in his dreams. But Anastasiades can’t keep stalling forever so maybe 2019 will actually be the year of a solution, but it’s looking more likely that it will not be the long-agreed federal model.