Cyprus Mail
CM Regular Columnist Opinion

Time for the silent civil society to speak up

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres During Interview With Reuters At U.n. Headquarters In New York
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres has called for the restart of talks
We are coming up with lame excuses to avoid negotiations

 By Christos Panayiotides

The forced segregation of the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots over the past 50 years, combined with the systematic propaganda of certain mass media on both sides, have inevitably generated a communication gap between the two communities.

Without doubt, there have been incidents which have caused wounds that have not yet healed, but in the past few years I have met many Turkish Cypriots who were genuinely keen to live peacefully with Greek Cypriots in a secular state, governed by the rule of law, free of hate and prejudice, in a state of equal opportunities, regardless of the language spoken and the cultural identity of its citizens. This is what the vast majority of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots aim at.

It appears that we will soon be called upon to make the big election between a prosperous and peaceful, reunited Cyprus and a Cyprus that is doomed to self-destruction. Making this call is the recently declared intention of the secretary-general of the United Nations, which we should welcome unreservedly and without the usual “back-tracking” that conveys the message that we do not mean business.

An example of such “back-tracking” is the Greek Cypriots’ insistence that Turkey withdraw her claims in relation to the sea she says forms part of her continental shelf/EEZ. Turkey’s position is that it is not logical to place the acceptance of the other side’s claims as a precondition for participating in such a process. It is, indeed, strange that we are willing to entertain such discussions with Turkey while 40,000 Turkish soldiers are permanently stationed in northern Cyprus, within a breathing distance of our homes. In contrast, we are unwilling to do so because of the presence of an exploratory vessel in the middle of the sea.

As a result, we are effectively prolonging the foreign occupation of our homeland indefinitely. This I have difficulty comprehending. Nor do I understand the argument that “we refuse to negotiate under threat”. In other words, if the exploration vessel goes away with the possibility of returning as soon as the negotiation process fails, will the threats vanish? It is such thoughts that induce me to conclude that this may be a lame excuse to avoid participating in the process. On the other hand, if we are merely putting our pride ahead of our national interests, then we are obviously committing a serious mistake for which we will pay a heavy penalty.

It is already abundantly clear that maintaining the status quo has become unfeasible. In the case of the Greek Cypriots, continuing the confrontation with Turkey will lead sooner or later to the fate of Smyrna (Izmir) 100 years ago as a consequence of numerous Greek blunders. In Smyrna, Greek culture was literally uprooted overnight. Some may argue that these things happened in the 20th century and it’s now the 21st century. Cyprus is also a full member of the European Union, while Smyrna was destroyed 30 years prior the predecessor of the EU. Yet, these factors did not prevent the dismemberment of Yugoslavia and Libya or the “flattening” of neighbouring countries, such as Syria, Iraq and Iran. The dystocia experienced in imposing sanctions on Turkey should make the supporters of the so-called ‘hard line’ think again. So far their efforts have failed miserably.

There is no doubt that Cyprus’ EU accession comprises a protective shield and a lever which if used intelligently could help us to reunite our homeland. However, our self-destructive tendencies and our belief that we can dictate to others what they should do and how they should behave have resulted in nullifying the value of this card. It has led us to focus on imposing sanctions on Turkey, as if this were an end in itself. In other words, we are naive enough to believe that what the United States failed to do, when Turkey decided to acquire the S-400 missiles, and what the Soviet Union failed to do, when Turkey shot down a Soviet plane, we can accomplish in no time. Oh, what wonderful naivety! As I have pointed out in numerous articles, the Greek Cypriot political leaders must urgently align themselves with the prudent line currently being followed by the Greek government, seeking a decent, practical compromise with Turkey, within the framework of international law.

For the Turkish Cypriots the continued friction and uncertainty, combined with the uncontrolled descent of settlers and illegal immigrants and Turkey’s suffocating political and economic embrace, is certain to gradually lead to increased emigration of Turkish Cypriots.

Is it possible to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution of the Cyprus problem? Some claim that it is already extremely difficult, possibly impossible. Here, I get confused, because I cannot reconcile this position with our leaders’ declaration three years ago in Switzerland that we were within breathing distance of a solution. Nor have I been able to understand what went wrong in those negotiations at the last moment. Perhaps it is does not matter what exactly happened in 2017 nor who is to blame, as long as those currently involved in the process do not make the same mistakes, because if they do, they will be committing a national crime.

Fortunately, this time the UN secretary-general, the EU and the United States, supported by the Greek government, appear determined to exercise the pressure needed to break the vicious circle. The truth is that the time has come to mobilise the silent civil society because if they remain silent, we will all end up paying an extremely heavy price.

 

Christos Panayiotides is a regular columnist for the Cyprus Mail, Sunday Mail and Alithia



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