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Our View: Averof throws off the abject negativity of a solution

Disy leader Averof Neophytou

Disy leader Averof Neophytou broke with a long political tradition on Tuesday when he spoke in glowing terms about the positive effects a Cyprus settlement would have on economic growth. “If there is something we will need in the event of a settlement it would be to find a way to rein in the economy,” said Neophytou, “because with the pace and dynamic that development of the economy will take, we will be talking, in the medium term, about double-digit growth rates.”

No Greek Cypriot politician ever speaks about the positive consequences of a settlement, not even its few supporters, who usually present a deal as the lesser of two evils, an option preferable to partition that, reportedly, hides many more dangers. Supporters of a settlement are usually on the defensive, almost apologetic in their support of a deal, fearful of hardliners accusing them of being unpatriotic and ready to surrender to Turkey. This has been the case since the mid-seventies when Glafcos Clerides was labelled a traitor for daring to suggest that a solution would be a federation.

Abject negativity has been embraced by most politicians, state officials, diplomats, lawyers and journalists, who cultivate the fear factor, paranoia and suspicion whenever a peace initiative is undertaken or an envoy tries to kick-start a stalled process. The negativity salesmen see traps for Greek Cypriots everywhere, devious attempts at upgrading the pseudo-state and doing away with the Cyprus Republic, efforts to acquit Turkey of her crimes, all geared towards imposing an unfair and unjust settlement on them. This approach turned into national hysteria when the UN submitted the Annan Plan in 2004 – not even the return of Varosha and Morphou or the withdrawal of occupation troops merited a mildly positive mention.

Nothing has changed. President Anastasiades fully adopted the tried and tested pessimism before he went to Crans Montana and has shown total commitment to it ever since. In fact, he has spent the last three-and-a-half years passionately telling us that a federal system with political equality was doomed to failure as it would create a dysfunctional state with the seeds of its own collapse. Political equality, involving the single positive vote for all federal government decisions would give excessive powers to the Turkish Cypriots, who would follow orders by Turkey, Anastasiades would say to justify his disinterest in a settlement.

It does not occur to any of our politicians, wallowing in unrelenting negativity and always focusing on what might go wrong if there is a settlement, this is not leadership. It is cowardice, a paranoid fear of a big challenge that would provide a secure future for the country. Of course their argument in supposedly wanting a settlement that touches perfection, which is utopian, is because the Turkish Cypriots, but mainly Turkey, could not be trusted to make it work and would exploit any weaknesses to prevent it functioning. Again, a true leader would strive to win the confidence and trust of the other community so the deal would work, and any problems could be resolved jointly, in a spirit of cooperation.

If Anastasiades is committed to reaching a deal (and it is a big if, even though he will come under pressure from the EU and US) he should abandon the rhetoric of negativity and fear and follow the example set by the Disy chief, shift from the legal technicalities, procedural details and deal with the big picture – withdrawal of troops, return of Varosha, the country becoming one again, return of properties – and the tremendous prospects for the economy. The stability that will come with a settlement will attract foreign investment in many sectors as would the rebuilding of Varosha; normalisation of relations with Turkey would be a boon for Cyprus shipping and financial services; we will even find a market for our natural gas.

Sadly, anyone who has tried to talk about the colossal boost that would be given to the economy by a settlement has been disparaged for putting money above the national interest, which is always defined by the champions of negativity and legalistic subterfuge. People though are much more likely to live peacefully and harmoniously in a prospering country that offers them jobs and opportunities. Our short-sighted, fear-peddling politicians do not even acknowledge this prospect as it does not fit in with the negativity and fear factor they have been promoting since the seventies.

Changing people’s mindsets and attitudes after 50 years of unrelenting fearmongering will be extremely difficult, if at all possible. Worse still, only the president can lead the way but Anastasiades’ ability to do so is diminished. His trustworthiness is in tatters after a succession of scandals, his approval rating is at an unprecedented low and for the last four years he has been at pains to rubbish a federal settlement. What credibility does he have to lead people to a settlement they have been made to believe over the decades is anathema? Very little is the answer, but a sincere pursuit of a settlement would be his only hope for propping up his failing presidency, which has two more years to run.

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