By Ioanna Achilleos Zavitsanaki
We so often hear the Cyprus issue being expressed in terms of a status quo, with the implication that we are faced with a static situation. We have come to understand that this is of course not the case and that what we are actually faced with is a shifting status quo, with new fait accompli becoming established on the ground over time.
These developing fait accompli, coupled with the ongoing geopolitical developments in our area and beyond, inevitably affect the status of our situation.
Throughout and despite this shifting status quo, however, what does appear to have remained largely stagnant, is our way of thinking about the issue.
We have been stuck in a mental status quo. And while this mental status quo remains unchanged, so does the likelihood of the problem becoming resolved. The frequently quoted statement by Albert Einstein, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”, comes to mind.
But how can a transformation of the way of thinking of whole societies come about, with a view to solving their collective problems, especially when certain beliefs, feelings, perceptions and behaviors are so deeply ingrained? For us Cypriots, our way of thinking about the Cyprus problem, has been consistently dominated by degrees of historical trauma, antagonism and mistrust. Of course, there are many who support that Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots did and can coexist peacefully if left to their own devices but those same people usually go on to point out that outside players will never allow us to do so while it is not in their interest. Which brings us to another aspect of our way of thinking, the ever-familiar entrenched pessimism, victim mentality and lack of agency.
There is, of course, a further complexity. The Cyprus problem is characterized by conflicting goals at various levels, i.e. differing definitions of what the problem is and/or differing objectives for solving it. Lack of unity does not only exist between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots but even within each community itself. In addition, citizens of both communities have become increasingly disenchanted by politicians and government representatives, leading to the creation of yet another obstacle, the perceived misalignment between society and political leadership.
Following from the above, a shift in our mentality would seem practically impossible, something which would leave little or no prospects for a solution. But isn’t there anything that could help in this direction?
What about a shift in perceived prospects for a solution? Let us consider the referendum of 2004 within this context. At the time, there obviously was a shift in perceived prospects for a solution. What was missing for many Greek Cypriots, however, and what contributed to the majority rejection of the Annan Plan, was the fact that the prospects of the proposed solution were not perceived as being good or equitable enough. So, while there was some shift in mentality through the regaining of agency for example, this was not enough to counter the overpowering feelings of trauma, injustice, mistrust, pessimism and even victimhood. This, of course, did not apply for the majority of Turkish Cypriots, for whom the gains of recognition and access to the EU were more imminently visible and provided a strong incentive for change. So, it would appear that a shift in mentalities is in fact possible, when born out of a shift in perceived prospects for a good solution.
What about a shift in the perceived risks of non-solution? Taking the Annan Plan as an example again, was enough consideration given at the time to the implications of rejection? Given all the illegal but de facto developments in the occupied areas since then, which to many signal a deterioration in the risk and security profile of our situation, would a referendum on a similar plan have more favorable chances of success today?
We are faced right now with some opportunities which could possibly put into motion a shift in our way of thinking about the Cyprus problem. One is the war in Ukraine and the fear this has awakened within us of what is possible.
Another is the ensuing energy crisis and the EU’s references to the constructive role that could be played by a re-united Cyprus through the exploitation of hydrocarbons but also through bicommunal green energy initiatives. One more, perhaps less apparent opportunity, is the dead-end two state narrative insisted upon by Turkey and the current Turkish Cypriot regime, which could act as a unifying factor for genuinely pro-federation Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots alike.
The question is, how are we prepared to act when such opportunity arises? As we are well into the pre-election period, I pose the question to our presidential candidates but also as food for thought to society as a whole.
Ioanna Achilleos Zavitsanaki is a member of the board of “Neo Kyma/Volt Cyprus”