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Cyprus : let the talks begin — but seriously

Wednesday 3 September 2008, by Yavuz Baydar

In less than a week, talks on a possible solution in Cyprus will take a serious turn. Dimitris Christofias, president of the Republic of Cyprus, and Mehmet Ali Talat, president of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC), will launch the essential part of the revived negotiations process as the leaders of their respective communities.

The outcome of the talks are uncertain, although observers and the international community underline that it may be the last chance to attempt reunification of the island.

Both men are comrades: They are leftists who label themselves (European) communists. They address each other as “comrade” and give the impression that if they can’t find a reasonable solution, then nobody can.

There are elements of goodwill and doubts involved in the current process. The Greek Cypriot side — not visibly in consultancy with Greece — is anxious. The possibility of losing part of the island has become real because of confrontational policies of former President Tassos Papadopoulos. Adding to the fear of loss are the recent developments that resulted in the recognition of Kosovo, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In the new cold war, partition and rule will be part of the power game. Greek Cypriots feel it in the spine.

The Turkish Cypriots, on the other hand, feel frustrated and restless. Subjected to an unjust and arguably illegal isolation, and despite having said “yes” to the so-called Annan plan, they see the option of reuniting with the south as the most logical one to become a part of the European Union. Having been recognized solely by Turkey means a painful dependency on a single state, with some good but mostly bad impacts. As the example of Kosovo shows, it may not be that bright to be recognized only by a few states across the globe. That completely aside, the international community knows that Turkish Cypriots have an undeniable right to EU membership, just as much as Greek Cypriots do.

So for prosperity, stability and security — the logic tells us — both communities should work for a solution. This is what makes Cyprus talks so unique today: As the breakaways and dubious recognitions become a trend, the Cypriots will swim, as it were, against the tide.

Wisdom is still remote, particularly on the Greek Cypriot side. Even the simplest technical issues are blocked. Most recently, an Estonian delegation sent on a mission to adjust public order implementations to EU norms on the northern side of the island was ferociously stopped by Greek Cypriots. Customs processes are also on hold, for the same reasons. Turkish Cypriots expecting basic, minor gestures in the name of confidence-building from their Greek compatriots are constantly left disappointed. Many of them believe Greek Cypriots abuse “the political superiority” granted them by the EU to suppress the Turkish Cypriots.

So does the seemingly “independent” Greek Cypriot press. Despite the fact that there is no ban in effect, the newspapers (including the Cyprus Mail) in the south refuse to print ads by Turkish Cypriots — even if those ads are about both communities and on simple commercial, cultural, sports or educational issues. It is a taboo that goes against the spirit of press freedom and editorial independency defined under EU norms.


Talks will begin in a climate of considerable mistrust. It should be noted that due to past experience, Talat does not have full confidence in Christofias. (It has to do with Christofias’ shrewd swing from a “yes” vote to “no” vote in the 2004 referendum on the Annan plan).

Nevertheless, after defining the procedural matters and timing of the steps, two leaders will set out with discussions from the middle of September. The Greek Cypriot side resists a timetable for ending the talks fiercely; they prefer it open-ended. But, given the fact that there is a linkage between Turkey-EU process and Cyprus, the negotiation are most likely to have an end date. A critical point in time is, also, the elections for European Parliament due June 2009 — a reason for Christofias to speed up the process, if he is “comradely sincere” about a solution. Secondly, the talks will have to continue where the Annan plan ended; both sides had their (dis)advantages with it and it seems to be good ground to proceed on.

So the best approach, as the talks begin in earnest, will be to be coolheaded, not choosing to be overoptimistic or over pessimistic. The strain on both leaders will definitely be high this time and their performance during the entire process will help define whether Cyprus will be a divided trouble spot or a secure gain in the eastern Mediterranean.

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Source : TDZ, 29.08.2008

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