Easter Sunday was also the 18th anniversary of the 2004 referendum on the failed Annan plan, which normally passes without much ado except for some blah from the hard-line parties about how the Greek Cypriots dodged a bullet.
This year, to mark the occasion, Phileleftheros dug up a 2005 telegram from then US ambassador Ronald Schlicher, now deceased, that he sent to the state department with a ‘post-mortem’ on why the highest number of ‘no’ votes were in the 18-24 age group.
The news value of the article is a bit moot since we already knew that 90 per cent of that demographic voted ‘no’ but also because it is not relevant now. They are in their forties and today’s youth were either babies in 2004 or not born yet. They will not remember a time before the crossings were opened in 2003. It’s also likely that many more in that demographic have forged friendships with Turkish Cypriots than those who were aged 18-24 in 2004-2005.
At the same time, many of the more hard-line among the young ‘no’ voters, knowing the Cypriot penchant for government jobs, may have gone on to become teachers, thus perpetuating the cycle.
What was most interesting about the confidential telegram was the ambassador’s obvious disdain for the Greek Cypriot education system, the army and the church while offering little or no criticism of the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot sides, which would understandably raise hackles among Greek Cypriots.
After all, the north’s education system and army service could hardly be called conciliatory, especially in 2005. The impression Schlicher gives is that Turkish Cypriot youth were lost and disadvantaged while Greek Cypriot youth were spoiled and had a victim complex despite the school parking lot being “full of BMWs” and students being “dressed in the latest fashions”.
The latter may be true, but it would have been fairer to say that the youth on both sides have been victims of their upbringing and education instead of lashing out at one side only.
Granted, telegrams from an ambassador to the state department are not meant for public eyes and do not need to be diplomatic but was there no way to explain to his bosses why young Greek Cypriots voted ‘no’, without getting personal, and throwing in that they displayed anti-American attitudes built on those of their parents “to the point of wilful ignorance”.
“Greek Cypriot students can recite a list of Turkish crimes in Cyprus with the ease of an American 8th grader offering a list of the world’s longest rivers,” Schlicher said, although his comparison is debatable.
He concludes that if Greek Cypriot youth were the future, “there is cause to fear” for the Cyprus issue.
On the last point he has been proven right. A full 18 years have passed since the referendum, yet Cyprus is no closer to a solution. Maybe the education system, the army and the church are still to partly to blame but it is down to the failures of successive political leaders that the Cyprob is stuck in reverse.