By George Koumoullis
Hearing our politicians discuss the Cyprus problem, you come to the conclusion that many of them are either ignorant of the precise meaning of political equality or simply do not accept it.
President Nicos Anastasiades complicated the matter by calling on Mustafa Akinci to “point out a state similar to the one he wants to set up in Cyprus, of a similar federal model, in which one of the constituent states must dictate the fate of the other”. In other words, the President of the Republic is indirectly rejecting political equality because, according to him, implementing it would render the Greek Cypriot constituent state hostage to the Turkish Cypriot constituent state.
The confusion increases as Diko officials reject political equality on the grounds that it is incompatible with the principle of “one man, one vote”. In short a bizarre chorus, with the president as its maestro, is singing the ode to rejectionism. I suspect a social psychologist would attribute the happiness enjoyed by the members of this chorus is dictated by financial interests, self-interest, libido dominandi, nationalist hysteria and Elamite ideology.
I will try to explain accurately in Cyprus’ context, what political equality exactly means. The first and most important premise is that for political equality to exist, neither of the constituent states is able to dominate the other: neither of the constituent states is able to amend the constitution of the Cyprus Republic unilaterally. The principle of “one man, one vote”, might be the cornerstone of democracy in a unitary state, but it cannot be implemented without the risk of violating human rights in a federation. Otherwise, in the case of Cyprus, the state with the bigger population, that is, the Greek Cypriot, could do whatever it liked – declare union with Greece or exile all Turkish Cypriots.
Perhaps, in order to make this point clearer, I will quote Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, who said: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!” Just imagine what would be on the table for lunch in a country consisting of two wolves and one lamb? This why, in order to protect the minority (the lamb) and help it feel free, its effective participation in the decision-making of the federal government is imperative. More contemporary thinkers, such as the Canadian political philosopher Will Kymlicka, argue that deviation from the “one man, one vote” principle, strengthens democracy. (See his Multicultural Citizenship: a Liberal Theory of Minority Rights.)
To ensure effective participation, the 1960 constitution, provided the Turkish Cypriot vice president with the right of veto on vital affairs of state. As regards the future Cyprus settlement (if it ever materialises) the negotiations came up with the provision of the single positive Turkish Cypriot vote for any decision by the executive to be legally valid. Whether we like it or not, the right of veto is the quintessence of political equality and if we reject it there will never be a settlement.
The effective participation of the minority would not be unique to Cyprus. Article 2 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities explains and supports the importance of effective participation. Article 15 of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities also underlines effective participation.
President Anastasiades fears that the Turkish Cypriot veto would render the new constitution unworkable and this was why he has recently voiced support for a loose federation that would ensure fewer disagreements between the two sides. Anastasiades has opted to focus on relieving the patient’s symptoms without looking to cure the causes of the illness, which is the Turkish Cypriots’ complete dependence on Turkey. We are to blame for the development of this illness because we pushed the Turkish Cypriots into the arms of Turkey.
Of course their constituent state will be strongly influenced by Turkey. But what have we done to persuade the Turkish Cypriots that we have a common course to follow? That their interests coincide with ours? This effort must come from the top. As a first step, the Turkish Cypriots must feel that the President of the Republic is also their president and that with the Greek Cypriots, Maronites and Armenians they should build a common future inside the EU.
Anastasiades could have won the hearts of the Turkish Cypriots if he had his New Year address translated into Turkish, if he attended the memorial services for the Turkish Cypriots murdered in the Famagusta district and if he had accepted the joint exploitation of the hydrocarbons.
There are many ‘ifs’ which emphatically confirm that the president’s policy is cowardly and without vision.
It is with actions and not rhetorical pleas, Mr President, that the Turkish Cypriots’ dependence on Turkey will be cut. Then, and only then, would you find that convergences can be easily achieved and the state function smoothly. You must note, however, that this radical remedy must commence immediately, because in a few years there will be no Turkish Cypriots left.
George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist