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Το δημοψήφισμα του 2004 – από τα αρχεία μου 3: Τι έλεγε ο Economist.

Απρίλιος 25, 2012

Greek-Cypriots will say “no” to a UN peace proposal and therefore march
alone into the European Union

ON THEIR side of the divided capital of Cyprus, young Turkish-Cypriots
wearing T-shirts stamped with Evet (the Turkish for yes) are
campaigning noisily in favour of reunifying the island. Hundreds of
blue and yellow balloons—the European Union colours—are floated at
their rallies, in anticipation of the benefits of membership, which
include some €350m ($418m) in aid which may eventually be doled out to
northern Cyprus.

Opinion polls suggest that in a referendum to be held throughout the
island on April 24th, some 60% of Turkish-Cypriots will back a UN plan
to put the island together again—even though it will oblige them to
yield control over some rich farm-land, and to send most of the Turkish
soldiers now on the island back home. But in some ways, it hardly
matters what the Turkish-Cypriots think. All signs are that the
Greek-Cypriots will reject the UN plan, and therefore exercise their
right to join the EU alone.

The buoyant mood in the north is in sharp contrast to the sullen
reaction of most Greek-Cypriots to the UN proposals. Billboards in
southern Nicosia, which normally promote the latest cell-phones,
feature the word Ochi (Greek for no) against a depressing dark
background. Television screens are filled with nationalist politicians
rehearsing the peace plan’s drawbacks. Surveys suggest that only 12-15%
of Greek-Cypriots are certain to endorse it.

This is not surprising. For in an emotional address that tugged on the
deepest impulses in the Greek nationalist psyche, President Tassos
Papadopoulos called on April 7th for a resounding rejection of the UN
blueprint. After all, he implied, Greek Cyprus will on May 1st be
entering the EU as a full member—so why should Greek-Cypriots worry if
other countries call them stiff-necked or intransigent? Several
respected Greek-Cypriots (including two ex-presidents) have warned
against a “no” vote; the Greek government said tepidly on April 15th
the plan had more “pros than cons” but Cypriots must decide. The
Greek-Cypriot voters seem more swayed by the rhetoric of Mr
Papadopoulos, who has pointed up the plan’s faults and played down the
drawbacks of rejection.

To any long-standing observer of the Cyprus question, a peculiar
reversal is going on. At least since the bloody summer of 1974, Turkey
and its Cypriot kin have enjoyed substantial power—thanks to a vast
garrison, controlling nearly 40% of the island—while the Greek majority
has held the moral and diplomatic advantage. The Greek-Cypriot
administration has enjoyed a monopoly of international recognition and
obtained a raft of UN resolutions calling on Turkish troops to
withdraw. Whatever people thought of the events leading up to the 1974
conflict, most of the world sympathised with the 180,000 or so
Greek-Cypriots who were forced to flee as Turkish troops overran the
island’s north, and voted accordingly at the UN.

In theory, both sides have been committed since 1977 to reuniting the
island as a bizonal federation. But Greek-Cypriot sincerity was rarely
tested because Rauf Denktash, the Turkish-Cypriot leader, was
obligingly prepared to act as nay-sayer when a settlement looked
likely.

Now the old balance is about to be reversed. The Turkish-Cypriots will
earn a great many moral points by voting for the UN peace plan, while
the Greek-Cypriots will make themselves deeply unpopular by their
churlish rejection. But at least in their president’s view, they can
afford to be sanguine because they will soon enjoy the substantial
benefit, which nobody can take away, of EU membership.

This is not how anyone planned things when, nearly five years ago, the
Union declared that it was ready in principle to admit Turkey—and also,
at a much earlier date, to accept Cyprus with or without a settlement
of the island’s conflict. This was a careful formula that enabled
Greece to back away from its objections to Turkish membership; and was
intended to promote a “win-win” solution in Cyprus which Mr Denktash,
wary of any threat to his well-armed fief, could not veto.

In one of its aims, the EU strategy has partially succeeded: that of
giving heart to pro-European moderates both among the Turkish-Cypriots
and in Turkey itself. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s mildly Islamist
prime minister, has devoted enormous political capital to persuading
reluctant generals—for whom Cyprus is a strategic prize—that they
should be ready to deliver their side of any Cypriot settlement.

General Hilmi Ozkok, a dove among Turkey’s top brass who is now chief
of the general staff, confirmed on April 13th that the army was,
despite its reservations, willing to yield to parliament over Cyprus.
That means that it would be prepared to scale down and virtually
withdraw its garrison of nearly 40,000 troops as it would be required
to do under a settlement.

Erdogan’s hopes

Better still, moderates in the Turkish-Cypriot community have been
emboldened to oppose Mr Denktash, whose unrecognised republic has a
habit of prosecuting his critics. That in turn has strengthened the
hand of Mr Erdogan in Ankara as he tries to overcome the foot-dragging
power of conservative generals. The prime minister hopes that in
December he will be rewarded for these efforts by a longed-for prize: a
firm date for the start of negotiations—be they ever so long—on
Turkey’s membership of the Union.

But if the EU hoped that by ushering Cyprus into its ranks, it would
encourage moderation among the island’s Greek majority, it has been
disappointed. Senior figures in Brussels are already bracing themselves
for a diplomatic train wreck if, as is technically possible, Greek
Cyprus uses its new-found membership of the Union to block any
invitation to Turkey. At that point, a half-completed virtuous circle
could become a thoroughly vicious one, with Greeks and Turks slipping
back into a game of mutual provocation.

One commission official called the present situation on Cyprus a “real
shame” with the potential to become a “real nightmare”. Mr Papadopoulos
was never going to be a popular figure in Brussels, given his history
of support for Serbian nationalism in the 1990s. But he may not care:
any decisions on further enlargement require his assent, and in theory
he can exercise that veto if he wants.

Carl Bildt, a former Swedish prime minister and UN envoy to the
Balkans, has suggested that European leaders treat Mr Papadopoulos as a
pariah. Charles Grant of the Centre for European Reform, a think-tank,
argues that the Greek-Cypriots will see a collapse in their “soft
power”—their ability to win friends and assemble coalitions—if they are
seen to abuse the privilege of EU membership.

But there is a suspicion in Brussels that if, as a result of
Greek-Cypriot folly, there is a general derailing of EU policy in
south-eastern Europe—and the invitation to Turkey collapses—some
politicians from the Union’s older states may quietly rejoice, even as
they scold the Cypriots. Leaders of France’s ruling UMP party said this
month they would oppose early talks on Turkey’s EU membership. How well
it would suit them if Greek-Cypriot hotheads did the derailing, and
then suffered the effects of the crisis which this policy may trigger.
 

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