By George Koumoullis
The history of Cyprus is riven with contradictions, backtracking and transformations. Arguably the most classic example is offered by the July 15 coup of 1974.
Until July 15, 1974 most Cypriots were Makarios supporters. As soon as the news of the coup broke, masses of Makarios supporters turned into Junta champions as the 15,000 congratulatory telegrams sent to Nicos Sampson between July 15 and 22 of that year testify. In other words, the ‘national saviour’ received almost 2,000 supportive telegrams daily during his eight-day rule.
Hold your breath because there is more. On July 23, the Greek Junta fell and then – by some miracle – Makarios’ image was revived and restored and all Cypriots, with great pride, called themselves anti-Junta. If there was an extenuating circumstance for some who sent a congratulatory telegram (eg in order not to lose their job), for others there was no excuse.
Backtracking remains a basic characteristic of Cypriot politicians as we are repeatedly reminded by President Anastasiades who from 2004 to 2017 was the shining star of rapprochement and reunification. Unfortunately something changed radically in Crans Montana in the summer of 2017: the star swayed off course, found itself very close to a black hole and was swallowed up by gravitational forces. This transformation has caused confusion among foreign diplomats who are at a complete loss about the type of settlement we are seeking.
In effect, Anastasiades has torpedoed the convergences that were achieved with so much hard work and is moving outside the Guterres framework. For instance, federal powers had been agreed some time ago. What was the point then of bringing up the issue again and proposing a decentralised/loose federation without discussing this vital matter at the national council? It would be a bit far-fetched to conclude that in a decentralised federation disagreements and possible deadlocks would be fewer.
Has the president considered that in such a case the cooperation of the Turkish Cypriot constituent state with Turkey could be closer than cooperation with our state? I doubt it. But such a turnaround would run counter to Anastasiades’ declared position about reducing the dependence of the Turkish Cypriots on Turkey and in the long run could increase rather than limit the deadlocks that could undermine the functionality of the state.
I will not go into the President’s abandoning of the presidential system, another convergence, and proposing two weeks ago a parliamentary system with a rotating prime minister. I find this move by Anastasiades very difficult to comprehend as the option had been discussed in the past and rejected.
Of more interest is the issue of the single positive vote for approval of any decision by the council of ministers that was already agreed and confirmed at Crans Montana. The question is why now, all of a sudden, did the President raise this issue, adopting a bellicose style and ignoring the fact that the positive vote had already been agreed?
Anastasiades himself, in his introductory speech at Crans Montana, accepted as a manifestation of political equality the requirement of at least a single positive vote by a Turkish Cypriot member of the council of ministers of the new state for any decision. The federal constitution that was agreed stipulates that residual power would be exercised by the constituent states that will exercise fully all their powers without interference from the federal government. Consequently, no decision taken by the Greek Cypriot constituent state (for instance on family law), must be approved by the Turkish Cypriot constituent state. The positive vote would only be necessary in relation to federal laws.
The example given by the president, several times, that we would require a positive Turkish Cypriot vote to build the East Med pipeline was the worst he could have chosen as it implied that such a big issue should only be decided by the Greek Cypriots.
Even primary school children understand that the creation of such a major pipeline would have significant consequences for the economy and geo-strategic position of Cyprus as a whole and it would therefore be perfectly reasonable for a single positive Turkish Cypriot vote to be needed.
Anastasiades wonders “in which other constitution of any country, either of the UN or the EU there is provision for one community or one constituent state to decide the fate of the rest of the country because this is how political equality is supposedly secured?” First there is no other state in the world that is made up of two different zones and two constituent states. If there was one and it had a democratic system, the bigger of the two constituent states would not have taken decisions on its own.
The president’s is a naive question as it ignores the decision-making mechanism in a federal state in which population proportions are not taken into account. There is therefore no danger of one part of the federation imposing itself on the other. The magic word here is ‘consensus’. Even in coalition governments, the big party does not take decisions on its own but through consensus.
The questions relating to the president’s backtracking loom unanswered. Has he been influenced by the deep state, which according to comments made recently by the mayor of Famagusta does not want a settlement?