This is what really matters
Christos P. Panayiotides, CM Regular Columnist
It is a fact that most Cypriot politicians have a legal background. Therefore, it is not surprising that they view the political problems of Cyprus through a distorting legalistic lens. As a rule, they believe that all problems can be tackled and can be resolved by merely enacting a piece of legislation and, very often, that is where they exhaust their efforts, without going into the trouble of asking why – going on the basis of the end-result – they invariably fail to achieve much.
This line of thinking is of particular relevance to the process of resolving the Cyprus problem. As you have probably all noted, the political discussions concerning the Cyprus problem invariably revolve around the axis ‘two states’ (partition)-‘federation’-‘unitary state’ and focus on the form and the process of government. For example, great emphasis is placed (positive emphasis on the part of the Turkish Cypriot leadership and negative emphasis on the part of the Greek Cypriot leadership) on the ‘political equality’ and ‘effective participation’ of the two communities, in a manner that inevitably leads to a confrontational negotiation, which is based on a zero-sum-game presumption, that is a game where what one player gains is, by definition, what the other player loses.
The irony is that the real objectives of both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots are identical. Because I suspect that many of the readers of this article will question the validity of my conclusion, I hasten to explain my position. In an (admittedly very rough) opinion survey, when members of the two communities were asked to prioritise the elements of a “good solution” of the Cyprus problem, they both set out the following goals as those having the greatest importance for them (in descending order):
Freedom from fear and their physical and economic security
Living without fear and attaining a satisfactory level of physical and economic security was the foremost objective of all those who were asked. This explains the insistence of Greek Cypriots on the withdrawal of the Turkish troops and the abolition of the ‘guarantees’, while Turkish Cypriots insist on the opposite. Cyprus is not a vast country. It should be relatively easy to find a formula that would keep both sides happy. The Turkish Cypriots should be directly asked. Given the withdrawal of the Turkish army and the abolition of the “guarantees”, what are the arrangements that would make them feel adequately secure and content? This should then be the basis on which to build a mutually acceptable arrangement.
Political and economic independence from the ‘mother’ countries
The next important objective of Greek Cypriots appears to be the political and economic independence of Turkish Cypriots from Turkey. Here, Greek Cypriots, assisted by the European Union, must offer Turkish Cypriots what is currently being offered by Turkey, but in a manner which will gradually enable them to stand on their feet. In finding a solution to this problem, the contribution of the EU will be of decisive importance. In my ‘quick and dirty’ survey, the Turkish Cypriots have not placed much emphasis on securing the independence of southern Cyprus from Greece, presumably because they realise that there is no such dependence worth talking about.
Personal financial independence and self-sufficiency
The next objective of both communities is personal financial independence and self-sufficiency, through the attainment of a satisfactory standard of living, in an environment of economic and monetary stability, with the free movement of goods, the free movement of persons and their right of establishment throughout the federal territory, with good career prospects, under conditions of full employment. Obviously, this goal cannot be attained overnight. It can, however, be met over a period of 5-10 years, once the majority proves, in tangible terms, its good intentions, particularly in respect to the free establishment throughout Cyprus.
Right to expression in a tolerant society
Another common goal appears to be having the right to express oneself in a tolerant society, free from fanaticism and nationalistic extremism, where the cultural and religious diversity could become the glue holding people together rather than pushing them apart. Of course, it is clear that the need to neutralise the extremist elements of society must be addressed. Tackling this problem would entail a specific detailed plan and specific proposals, which, regrettably, have never formed the subject matter of discussions held between the ‘negotiators’.
A good educational system, a good healthcare system and a viable retirement scheme
A good, internationally competitive educational system combined with a good, internationally competitive healthcare system and a viable retirement scheme is also a common goal of Greek and Turkish Cypriots. In particular, the educational system, as it currently functions at its middle level, does not promote social tolerance and, in certain cases, it cultivates intolerance and polarisation and is in an urgent need of revision and reshaping.
I am not sure whether I should express surprise at the fact that the compensation of the losses suffered by both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, as a result of the war and the occupation of Cyprus, appeared (in my very rough survey) to be an important issue but not the most important one. In this sphere, too, there is a pressing need to formulate comprehensive proposals, which should, at last, satisfy the need to see war burdens being spread out and shared equitably.
In contrast, I really was surprised when I realised that the type of government to be adopted appeared to be an issue of secondary importance, in the sense that it was not considered to be a goal in itself but simply the vehicle that would facilitate the attainment of the goals set. In this sense, there appears to be a pressing need to refocus the thinking of those involved in the negotiation process for resolving the Cyprus problem. Today, the thrust of the discussion is on the choice between two states, a federation or a unitary state. If we eliminate the two states (because the objective and the obligation of the Republic of Cyprus is to secure the best possible living conditions for all Cypriot citizens, without exception) and if we eliminate the unitary state (because the traumatic experiences of the past render such a solution unacceptable to the minority community) then the only available option is that of the federation.
However, when the pollsters ask Ms Tallou of Pyroi (the Cypriot woman in the street) what she would choose between a unitary state, tight or loose federation or the two-state solution, I wonder what sort of a response they expect to get. When lawyers understandably have difficulty defining a federation (for the simple reason that there are no two federations in the world, which are identical), how do they expect Ms Tallou of Pyroi to understand the question and to respond in a manner, which would permit the drawing of meaningful conclusions?
I, therefore, suggest to our negotiators that they put aside their legalistic approach to the negotiation process and that they focus on the issues, which matter to the common people.
Christos Panayiotides is a regular columnist for the Cyprus Mail, Sunday Mail and Alithia