First in a series of articles by retired ambassador and former permanent secretary of the foreign ministry, Andreas Pirishis who looks at the Cyprus problem from the viewpoint of a career diplomat

There is a widespread conviction among Greeks that we have been treated unfairly by foreign powers and this explains our failures in the Cyprus problem and other national issues.

The supporters of this view attribute it to the cynicism of governments, the role of interests in policy formulation, and the belief that Hellenism has neither friends nor allies. It is often said that the Greeks are a unique nation, one of a kind, and as a result Greece is condemned to confront its internal and external problems on its own.

I do not intend to present a political or scientific analysis of this phenomenon. Instead, I will give my personal views, based on the experiences of a lifetime and of my active involvement in the different phases of the Cyprus problem, a period that exceeds half a century. My interest is in how over the years we viewed most things with suspicion and mistrust and how these evolved into confrontational foreign relations.

My personal involvement in the Cyprus problem started at a time of conflict. I joined Eoka in 1955 at the age of 15. I have never regretted it for a moment. That was the battle ground for the liberation of Cyprus.

After independence, I joined the diplomatic service, where I served for 35 years in different positions and rose through the ranks to the position of permanent secretary of the foreign ministry. Over these years I had many direct contacts and interactions in the field of foreign relations which gave me a different perspective.

In my view our malaise is largely down to our inability to rationally evaluate the cause and effect of our failures, which led to the tragedy that has been torturing Cyprus and its people all these years.

Αfter every one of our failures, exclusive blame was automatically placed on the international factor. It was a naive, emotional reaction without basis in reality. Emotional reactions make us lose touch with reality and can only be damaging to us.

Montaigne, the French philosopher, wrote that “when a crisis leads us to blame a third party, it should not relieve us of the responsibility for soul searching to find possible errors on our part.”

There is truly little we can do about the mistakes of third parties, but there is a great deal we can do to put things right when the mistakes are ours.

Our first job must be to identify our mistakes and investigate them and then, if justified, look at what third parties have done. This is the only way we can identify the real causes, find ways to overcome our weaknesses and avoid repeating the same mistakes. But every time something went wrong, we did not look for possible mistakes committed by us. We only looked for outsiders to blame.

Invariably, our first port of call was always foreign interference and foreign interests; it conveniently led us away from our own surroundings and to foreign lands. Without concrete evidence, without identifying motives or proof, we accused, tried and sentenced third parties, fictional or real.

The paradox is that our suspicions and accusations were always directed at countries with which we share the same political and cultural values and which belong to the same regional and international organisations. Even more of a paradox is that we are bound together with these countries economically, politically and culturally.

And, ironically, when the chips are down, we always turn to these countries for help. We seek their help to deter dangers that threaten our wellbeing. We seek their political support, economic aid, and even their help to heal the wounds of the Turkish invasion.

There is a well-known saying that “between states there are no permanent friendships, only permanent interests.” To be more precise, I would say that government policy on international problems is guided by three basic considerations: national interests; bilateral or multilateral relations; principles and values of international law.

After World War II, these are the criteria that are taken into consideration in the formulation of the positions of democratic governments for dealing with international conflicts. The order in which I set them is not accidental. It reflects the importance of each of the criteria in the decision-making process of states.

Those who advocate that the only thing that matters in international relations is interests must realise that history is littered with examples to the contrary.

It is not at all rare for interests to be subordinated to the special relations between states or even to principles and values, no matter how strange it may sound to some people in our country.

When, for example, the USA offers absolute support to Israel, the criterion is not the interests of the USA in Israel, but the special relations between these two states. When President George W Bush decided to invade Iraq, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair followed, even though this may have been against the interests of Britain, or the principles it officially stands for.

The same happens in the relations between Greece and Cyprus. When the Greek or Cypriot government takes a position on a particular issue, the special relations between them ensure the other follows, even when it is not in its interest.

Andreas Pirishis is a former permanent secretary of the foreign ministry and a former ambassador