AS THE Cyprus problem has been removed from the island’s political agenda for several months now, and the two sides remain focused on dealing with the coronavirus and its consequences, we have been spared the routine bickering and exchange of accusations. Turkey is still sending its drillship into the Cypriot EEZ, but nobody is making much of an issue of it, treating it as something commonplace, a part of life we can do nothing about.
The only thing that reminds us of the existence of the Cyprus problem in the era of the pandemic are the crossing points that have been closed for some two months now, preventing all contact between the two communities. The first measures taken by the Cyprus government against the pandemic was to close half the crossings, but a little later the Turkish Cypriot regime went into complete lockdown and closed all of them. Neither side consulted the other in taking its respective decision.
Neither side has in this time discussed the possibility of opening crossings, although Mustafa Akinci proposed a couple of weeks ago that there should be consultations so that a joint decision was taken, a suggestion that was largely ignored, north and south of the dividing line. Perhaps this was what prompted Akinci to write to UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, who responded by saying the two leaders should agree the arrangement for the reopening of the crossing points, as soon as the health situation was stabilised.
The only problem is that there are people on both sides, mostly backers of partition, that do not want the crossings opened, using the danger of the spread of the coronavirus as a pretext, a pretext that can be used for the next year. There is more pressure on the authorities in the north to open the crossing, as many Turkish Cypriots work in the free areas and many Greek Cypriots take their custom there, not to mention the tourists that arrive through Larnaca. The Anastasiades government, in contrast, is under pressure to keep the crossings closed by a large section of the media and the small, hard-line parties.
On Thursday night, a television station belonging to an anti-settlement media group, carried an alarmist report, vehemently opposed to the opening of crossings, on the grounds that infected individuals would be arriving in the north from Turkey and spreading the virus south (this ignores the reality that the regime in the north imposed stricter restrictions, closing all entry points before the south). The scaremongering is bound to have an effect on people and apply pressure on President Anastasiades to keep crossings closed for as long as possible; there would not be many protesting about this.
Perhaps Anastasiades, assuming he wants the crossings opened, should heed Akinci’s call for consultations about the crossing points. They could decide certain criteria that both sides would have to meet, before the decision for reopening is finally taken. In this way the arguments being used by the partitionists of both sides would be made redundant.