In the sixth and final article looking at the Cyprus problem from a diplomatic viewpoint, Andreas Pirishis, argues that we can achieve our ends through cooperation, not confrontation

During the negative political climate that followed the rejection of the Annan plan in 2004, a politically idiotic soundbite became very popular, calling for the “end of the policy of the good child”.

Although it was just a slogan it encouraged a dangerous attitude, which impacted foreign policy. Nobody explained what the policy of the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ child was, and how it affected the process of our national problem one way or the other.

It reminded me of a discussion, the president of Tanzania Julius Nyerere had with a MP of his party. During a budget debate, the MP said: “Mr President, the cost of educating our youth is very high.” The president immediately answered: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance and see what it will cost.”

In our case, ignorance cost us half of Cyprus and put the rest at risk. Have any of our “smart kids” asked themselves what would have been the cost to our little Cyprus of adopting the policy of the ‘bad child’ in the current geopolitical environment?

We tried the policy of the ‘bad child’ at least once, and the results were anything but favourable. Specifically, on December 3, 2003, at the meeting of the Committee of the Foreign Ministers of the Council of Europe, a resolution on the Titina Loizidou case was submitted to a vote.

Cyprus asked for the rejection of the resolution because it was helpful to Turkey. Despite our efforts and objections, all the members of the Council of Europe (CoE) except Cyprus, Greece and Russia voted in favour of the resolution. The Cyprus representative, in a particularly aggressive speech, addressing the member nations of the CoE, said: “It is your privileged right which we respect, but from this point on, we go our separate ways.”

One wonders where the logic of this statement is. How could we threaten the European nations that we would go our separate ways and how could we benefit from such a separation that would isolate Cyprus?

During the administrations of George Vassiliou and Glafcos Clerides, we adopted and adhered to non-confrontational policies that aimed at fostering a climate of mutual trust, dialogue and understanding with other countries. As a result, our international relations improved significantly, especially with all the European countries. With the election of Tassos Papadopoulos to the presidency, and after the rejection of the Annan plan, this policy was reversed and the Republic of Cyprus experienced the worst isolation in its history.

We expected and often demanded that foreign governments fully adopted our views, while at times we were asking them to comply with our decisions, even if these ran counter to their own positions.

When I was posted in France many years ago, I received instructions from our foreign ministry to lodge a complaint with the France’s foreign ministry because the French postal service had once delivered to a recipient in France an envelope that had stamps of the illegal ‘TRNC’.

After patiently listening to my complaint, the ministry official said to me:

“My dear, the French government proceeded to make a statement that it does not recognise Turkish Cypriot stamps as legal, and this should satisfy you. If you think that France will change its automated system of processing mail and will hire thousands of employees to manually check every envelope to ascertain they do not have illegal stamps, I am sorry to say you are out of touch with reality.

“I would also like to point out that in this country we have a long tradition of humanism and we will not prevent a mother from communicating with her son and the father with his daughter.”

Our problem, which originated in 1964 and reached its apogee with the invasion, found Cyprus unprepared to cope with the huge responsibilities dictated by the dangers we are faced with. Our diplomatic corps in 1964 had only four years of experience and we had embassies in only seven countries.

Unfortunately, while much of what followed was foreseeable, we failed to evaluate promptly the significant role that a properly staffed, well organised and well-resourced diplomatic service could play.

In Cyprus, top priority was given to defence and security. Although it was realised early enough that the international arena was where Cyprus would have to fight to safeguard its sovereignty and independence; and that it was the area where support would be needed for a viable settlement, the creation of a professional and efficient diplomatic service was neglected for years.

On one occasion, the former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard confided in me that during a meeting he and the French President Francois Mitterrand had with Turkish President Turgut Ozal they raised the Cyprus issue. He told me they pointed out to their interlocutor that the perpetuation of the problem was an aberration in Europe that could only be damaging to the parties involved, and also affected stability in the area.

Ozal said he agreed fully with them and added that, for him, the Cyprus problem was a thorn in his flesh. He told Rocard that it bothered every step he took and that was why he was the first to want a solution. But first, he said he had to prepare his public opinion. “Unfortunately, he left power and life too soon,” said Rocard.

From 2002, when it became clear that Cyprus’ path to EU entry could not be stopped, what Ozal called a thorn in his flesh became a nail in Erdogan’s. A nail that not only bothers but hurts, because it has become an insurmountable obstacle to Turkey’s road to Europe.

Turkey, then as now, does not just simply want a solution, it needs it and for this reason it is prepared to move in that direction.

By the same token, we must avail ourselves of this opportunity while the window of opportunity is still slightly open. We must make every possible effort to reach a settlement.

In our efforts for a settlement, we must always keep in mind that the power imbalance does not allow us to solve our problem at the expense of Turkey, but only in cooperation with it. Furthermore, whatever settlement may be reached, it will function within the EU framework that offers the best possible political, legal and economic environment for overcoming difficulties that will inevitably appear.

More than sixty years after its founding, the Republic of Cyprus can cease being a point of friction between Greece and Turkey but become an agent of cooperation and stability. 

Andreas Pirishis is a former permanent secretary of the Cyprus foreign ministry and a former ambassador.  Articles were translated from Greek by Chris Lazarides