Cyprus: Beyond the Boundary

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Why did Greek Cypriots reject the UN plan to reunite the island? Phaedon Vassiliades of Workers' Democracy looks beyond the accusation of nationalism.

Last April two separate referendums were held in Cyprus, in the Turkish North and in the Greek South of the island, over the plan put forward by UN general secretary Kofi Annan for the settlement of the Cyprus issue. The Annan Plan (AP) was presented as a unique 'balanced plan' for reunification, bringing peace and prosperity in the island.

The outcome was that 65 percent of Turkish Cypriots voted yes while 76 percent of Greek Cypriots voted no, and the plan was rejected.

Some people's interpretation is that the Turkish Cypriots' yes vote expressed an 'internationalist' vote while the no vote by the Greek Cypriots expressed their chauvinism and their refusal to accept peaceful coexistence between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

The reality is somewhat different. Most Greek Cypriots rejected the AP because they did not trust George W Bush, the butcher of Baghdad, and his accomplice Tony Blair to promote peace in Cyprus - only their own plans for Cyprus as the 'unsinkable aircraft-carrier' in the region.

Nuclear weapons

The AP is part of a wider imperialist plan regarding the balance of power and the control of oil and natural gas resources from the Middle East and as far as Central Asia. The plan seeks to reaffirm the US's role as a world superpower, in the face of imperialist rivalry with Russia and China and the US's relations with Europe, the enlargement of Nato and the EU.

Since 1960 Britain has maintained two sovereign military bases in Southern Cyprus and a further 15 reserved areas covering a total 10 percent of the island's area. The bases include a naval station and an RAF military airfield, and garrison troops, infantry battalion and reconnaissance squadron units. Even nuclear weapons were reputedly installed in the past - something that the British authorities never denied. The most important role of the bases is espionage and electronic intelligence gathering through the Echelon system - which intercepts aircraft and ship communications, email, telephone conversations and faxes as far as Pakistan. The information so acquired is shared with the US.

Also there is the giant Pluto antenna installation, part of a system of monitoring and guiding missiles, aimed at the countries of the Middle East and beyond.

In the recent war on Iraq the British bases were used extensively for air raids, fuelling US and British bombers and supplying aircraft carriers. The British bases also provided logistic support for imperialist attacks by US and British forces in the Middle East - in Lebanon in 1982, during the first Gulf War in 1991, during the war in Yugoslavia and in Afghanistan in 2001.

Cyprus is thus integrated into the wider plans of imperialism in the region. Britain's right to perpetually retain its bases is entrenched in the first article of the AP so that any change of this provision is prohibited, while any dispute about the interpretation or application of this provision 'should not be referred to any international tribunal or third party for settlement'.

With the AP, the US and Britain hoped to involve their two main allies Greece and Turkey in policing the wider region of the Middle East.

However, instead of weakening the antagonisms between them, the AP will recycle and intensify these antagonisms. This is because the AP involves Greece and Turkey together with Britain as Guarantor Powers in Cyprus - exactly as was the case back in the 1960s and 1970s. All these countries have a very bad record of interference in Cyprus. According to the AP, Greece and Turkey have the right to intervene unilaterally outside their respective 'national' constituent states of a Federal United Cyprus. All sides can use this complicated and contradictory plan to sabotage any prospect of peaceful coexistence of the two communities, should things not develop according to their 'national' interests.

The AP would also set up a complex federal system of government and a political structure of a protectorate akin to the Bosnian 'model'. The administrative system would be extremely complicated, with four legislative bodies, three governments, four to six presidents, three police forces, three flags and national anthems.

The Supreme Court would be a political rather than a judicial body - it could even vote for the budget. It would comprise nine judges: three Greek Cypriots, three Turkish Cypriots and three foreigners. The Central Bank would be managed by a three-member committee, one Greek Cypriot, one Turkish Cypriot and one foreigner.

Instead of bringing the two communities together the constitution provides for internal borders, perpetuation of the dividing lines, quotas of the number of Greek and Turkish Cypriots who will be allowed to reside in the constituent state of the 'other side'.

It is easy to imagine how these regulations and arrangements can strengthen national hatred and allow interference by the 'Great Powers'.

The imperialists never cease to draw up 'peace plans' in order to secure their own strategic, political and economic interests. In this respect the AP is no different from previous plans.

A similar 'balanced plan' for the settlement of the Cyprus issue was the Zurich-London agreement in 1959 by which the first independent Republic of Cyprus was founded in 1960.

The constitution provided for a common state with a Greek Cypriot president and a Turkish Cypriot vice-president. In 1963 the Greek Cypriot side unilaterally revised the constitution and revoked Turkish Cypriots 'privileges'. When the Turkish Cypriots reacted the 1963-64 war led to hundreds of innocent victims, missing persons and refugees - mainly Turkish Cypriots. The 'victorious' Greek Cypriot rulers pushed the Turkish Cypriots into enclaves. Britain, 'exercising its right' as a Guarantor Power, intervened and drew the 'Green Line' which for the first time divided the two communities.

'Peace mediators'

In 1974 after a military coup in Cyprus instigated by the military junta in Greece, Turkey as a 'Guarantor Power' invaded and occupied the northern part of the island. Thousands were killed or went missing, while hundreds of thousands of Cypriots were made refugees and a new dividing line was established.

The US, Britain and the EU exercised tremendous pressures on both sides in an attempt to get the Cypriots to accept the AP. In the poverty-stricken North there has been a mass movement of the Turkish Cypriots against their regime. The movement is also desperate to break the isolation caused by the embargo imposed by the Greek Cypriot side for 30 years - the imperialists tried to use this to their advantage. At the same time all these 'peace mediators' tried to use the desire of the Greek Cypriot ruling class in the South for accession into the EU.

The ordinary people of Cyprus have more things in common than things separating them. This was shown when the government in the North opened the borders in April 2003 and hundreds of thousands of Greek and Turkish Cypriots crossed the dividing line after three decades. We witnessed ordinary people expressing their mood for reconciliation and fraternisation and their willingness for peaceful coexistence and a common future.

The real concern and fear of the ordinary Greeks and Turks in North and South is a replay of the 1960s when they needed the 'protection' of their 'motherlands' and imperialism.

One should not see any fundamental contradiction between the no vote of the Greek Cypriots and the yes vote of the Turkish Cypriots.

Today in the South the Greek Cypriot Communist Party, for the first time in its history, is in a coalition government. In the North its Turkish Cypriot equivalent is also in a coalition government. Both parties follow the 'national' policy of their corresponding ruling classes.

The majority of the people who either reject or support the AP assume that after 50 years of war and conflict, a just and a lasting peace can only come through 'peace initiatives' by the US, Britain, the EU or the UN proposing an improved version of the rejected AP.

But this is not the only choice available for the ordinary Greek and Turkish people of Cyprus. In order to achieve a lasting peace in Cyprus we have to build a mass movement from below with the participation of the mass trade unions that exist in North and South, one that takes into account the interests and concerns of ordinary people and will fight against nationalism. We need a movement that will take initiatives to demand the closure of British bases, the withdrawal of all troops from Cyprus, the lifting of the embargo on the Turkish Cypriots and the complete opening of the borders.

Such initiatives have been organised for the first time jointly by Greek and Turkish Cypriot youth organisations and peace activists: for example the joint May Day celebration, the joint memorials in memory of the innocent victims of wars on both sides, the bi-communal demonstrations against the occupations of Iraq and Palestine and against the British bases.

Such a dynamic movement from below will have the support of the workers' movement both in Greece and Turkey, the resistance movement of the Iraqi and Palestinian people and the support of an international anti-capitalist and anti-war movement.