Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

Politicians won’t solve the Cyprus problem, but individuals can

By Alper Ali Riza

Political leaders in Cyprus cannot agree the time of day let alone how to share a small island surrounded by a sea bed brimming with hydrocarbon wealth. They are like fish in a small bowl; small island potentates enthroned by dint of a deferential population that kowtows to persons in positions of power.

The Cyprus problem is not that complex or difficult to resolve. With a little bit of give and take it could have been sorted many times over. It is kept alive because it propels local small island politicians and their officials onto a higher plane of international relations, which they do not deserve and from which they now need to climb down before they blunder into another war like a previous generation of politicians.

What happened last time was that small island politicians failed to solve the problem and left it hanging from 1963 until the summer of 1974 when all hell broke loose and people lost their lives, communities were destroyed and half the population was displaced – Greek Cypriots moved south in fear of their lives and Turkish Cypriots moved north in fear of their’s.

I hope I do not sound too alarmist but according to the German military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz ‘war is the continuation of politics by other means.’ So in theory when politics fail – as they have after the UN’s hapless Ms Jane Holl Lute left Cyprus last week mission unaccomplished – war as a policy option is beginning to raise its ugly head.

It would be unforgivable if there were another war because of a conflict over hydrocarbon wealth beneath the sea bed. But let’s not be naïve, hydrocarbon wealth is the sort of thing for which nations go to war. Why else is the Middle East permanently in turmoil?

It used to be said that if you want peace you need to prepare for war, but that’s nonsense. It is a glib phrase used by war mongers last century to justify rearmament. It led to two world wars and the death and destruction of millions. I prefer Kemal Ataturk’s peace at home and peace in the world as a principle of foreign policy because in nature only mugs and thugs like war. Ataturk fought in many wars and like many great military commanders he grew to hate its pointlessness.

So what is to be done to avert disaster a second time? I believe the time is ripe for people to give up waiting for politicians to sort the Cyprus problem out and start conducting their lives in accordance with the laws of the constitution and the laws of the land, as if Cyprus were one state whichever side of the divide they inhabit.

When all is said and done we each possess citizenship of the Republic of Cyprus (RoC), which Cypriots need to understand is an entity distinct from its government. Citizenship is hugely important as it determines the state to which people belong nationally and internationally. Most citizens acquire citizenship by operation of law. The government of the RoC cannot say you are not a citizen if you satisfy the requirements of the constitution.

The government is the conduit through which citizenship rights emanate, but it does not confer and cannot deny citizenship to those entitled to it as of right.  Most Turkish Cypriots enjoy citizenship of RoC. They are treated differently when it comes to being issued with passports but that should die out as the passport office becomes more conscious of the anti discrimination articles of the EU treaties and the regulations and directives that underpin equality.

Citizenship of the RoC confers citizenship of the EU automatically as of right, which means that all citizens of RoC have the protection of the EU’s equality laws within other member states and consular protection of other member states in third countries. Citizens of the EU have access to the whole of the European Economic Area with very little immigration control. For this reason nationals of China and Russia, not to mention Turkey and the Middle East, would give an arm and a leg for the same privilege; indeed many have already invested millions to become EU citizens.

EU law is suspended in northern Cyprus because it is not under the control of the government of the RoC, but the EU has an economic relationship with the Turkish Cypriot community under special accession arrangements pending a comprehensive settlement. Now that a settlement is definitively no longer pending or in prospect, the hope is that the EU will revisit its obligations under Cyprus’ temporary accession arrangements and devise a more efficacious relationship with the Turkish Cypriot community in accordance with the equality provisions of the treaties.

RoC and Turkey are both members of the Council of Europe and parties to the European Convention on Human Rights. They are subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice whose decisions on the property aspects of the Cyprus problem led to the setting up of a property commission in northern Cyprus for anyone wishing to claim compensation. So people have access to a body set up at the behest of the European Court should they wish to make a claim concerning their properties.

Besides citizenship and international protection there is also the constitution of the Republic of Cyprus. The rights of the Turkish Cypriots as a community are in suspended animation under the law of necessity, but the application of the doctrine of necessity is not immutable. It has been more than half a century since it was first invoked and there may be aspects of the application of the doctrine which Turkish Cypriots could avail themselves as private individuals or as a community.

I suppose what I am saying in a roundabout way is that people need to be well versed about their rights and the conduct of policy carried on in their name to enable them to take steps as individuals and as civil society to prevent another war that last time destroyed lives and communities in two terrible months in the summer of 1974.

Then as now people were enjoying the good life; not in the ethical sense but in the sense of having a good time: kaloperasis in Greek. Kaloperasakes is the collective noun in Greek for those who love the good life and Cypriots are the world’s greatest kaloperasakes.

The sun and the sea have always been free, but by the early 1970s love became free too and nowhere more so than on the island of Aphrodite.

In 1974 Cyprus was full of tourists and people were swimming and sunbathing by day and clubbing and wining and dining and dancing and having fun by night, when all of a sudden war struck like a thunderbolt out of the blue. The same could happen again: Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

So if the respective leaders and their cohorts can’t solve the problem, civil society and individuals need to act privately to avert another catastrophe.

Alper Ali Riza is a queen’s counsel in the UK and a part-time judge

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