By Ozay Mehmet
Solving the Cyprus problem can only occur between equal parties, that is on equal political footing. Of course, no two individuals or groups are equal in all respects, but groups still can enjoy equal political status and all are equal before the law.
It is worth remembering that the UN secretary-general’s mediation efforts are indeed based on equal treatment of the two sides: the Greek and Turkish Cypriots and their leaders have equal status.
The 1960 power-sharing, based on 70:30 ratio, is obsolete, and it is pointless to try to resurrect it with some new demographic ratio. Such ratios just do not work. Likewise, its variation, the Annan Plan 2004 would also be nonfunctional.
A decentralised, loose confederation seems the most feasible, as it would mean both sides continue self-governing, as now, with agreed borders, property settlement and cooperation agreements to handle joint interests. In a future Cyprus, the two main communities, Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot, must live side by side as two ethnic entities, not as one nation.
In confederations, demographics, or population shares, do not determine power-sharing. What counts is equal political status of communities, ethnic groups or official languages and equal treatment of citizens in law, access to public service, including equal service in official languages.
A few examples are useful. In Canada, for example, French Canadians are now less than a quarter of the total Canadian population. But no can dare claim that French Canadians are a minority or Quebec’s voice counts only a quarter.
In the Swiss case, there are 26 cantons, and each one equally represented in the running of the Swiss Confederation: Regardless of population, each canton takes turn serving as president for one year. In Belgium, no one thinks of majority-minority in relations to the three ethnic or linguistic communities.
One can go on and multiply the list. I cannot think of one peaceful, democratic and successful federal state based on majority-minority, or first-class/second-class, footing.
This does not, by any means, imply that multi-ethnic federal states are free of conflict. Far from it. Conflicts abound. Indeed, it is the very essence of federalism that these ethnic and linguistic conflicts are resolved through give and take, typically by creative and innovative remedial politics through conflict settlement machinery at the centre by political elites dedicated to preserving and enhancing federalism. The formula for resolving joint interests in con-federal systems, including the EU, is cooperation agreements, financed by equalisation transfers and solidarity payments.
In Cyprus, political elites are unique. Unlike the Canadian, Belgian or the Swiss, they are more driven by ethno-nationalism than by rationality. On rational criteria, for example, hydrocarbons around Cyprus, should be developed cooperatively for common benefit. Similarly, rationality should govern cooperative solutions in telecoms, tourism and in other sectors.
Instead, in both zones, imported nationalism dominate. Thus, Greek Cypriot politicians in all major parties, not just in extreme Elam case, have endorsed “no cooperation” with Turkish Cypriots. A byzantine church reinforces this Oxi mentality.
This is irrational because it is the product of anger and frustration at the defeat and dispossession in 1974. It punishes the Turkish Cypriot community, blaming Turkey as the source of the Cyprus problem. By so doing, the Oxi mindset puts the clock back to before 1974 and ignores realities on the ground that have emerged since then.
After half a century, cooler heads and rationality must prevail. Like it or not, the clock cannot be put back to before 1974. The demographics in the north have changed no less dramatically than the political and economic realities. At the present time, the north’s population is at least half a million, and rapidly increasing due to net immigration.
The Turkish Cypriot community is now a blend of Turkish newcomers and islanders. Political elites in the north are bound to become increasingly more nationalistic. Every time Greek Cypriots impose another embargo and further isolation (whether in sports, trade, tourism or whatever), the closer the north integrates with Turkey.
For these reasons, solution of the Cyprus problem will have to wait the day when the Oxi mentality is terminated. When that happens and rationality rules, a loose confederation in Cyprus may be feasible, with a single sovereignty, shared among political equals. In the meantime, not Ankara, but the Oxi mentality stands as the greatest barrier to the UN secretary-general’s latest call for a “result-oriented” mediation.
Ozay Mehmet is a senior fellow at the Centre in Modern Turkish Studies, Distinguished Research Professor, International Affairs (Emeritus), Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada