Time for change in Cyprus

 

Additional confidence building measures are needed
in support of the negotiations process in order to reach a viable solution

 

Mertkan Hamit

 

Following the failure of the Annan Plan in 2004 and the consequent frustration and bitterness, there is rising hope again among Cypriots that a solution of the Cyprus problem is underway. The latest –and perhaps the last - initiative in order to solve the half-century old Cyprus Problem is in top gear. The island’s two leaders agreed on a joint declaration that consists of seven points which can also be understood as a general framework agreement for the settlement in Cyprus.1

The new phase of the negotiations started when the Head of the UNFICYP Lisa Buttenheim announced the joint declaration of the leaders of Cyprus on 11 February. Instead of the “Cypriot-owned” solution, this time we observe that all the major global actors are orchestrating their support for the solution of the Cyprus Problem. Nearly every major country that is somehow related with Cyprus and the EU has been underlining the necessity for a solution and all of them concurrently encourage the leaders to find an immediate solution. Certainly, this also increased the hopes for a settlement because many people believe that the international community, after a long period of silence, has a genuine political incentive to play a key role.

But which are the reasons that have led the international community to play a more active role? The main reason is the geopolitical and geo-economic benefits that are at stake, especially after the recent discovery of natural resources in the Aphrodite gas field. These recourses need to arrive to European consumers with safety and without any problems. Additionally, the gas in the Leviathan field of Israel has tremendous importance affecting regional power relations and causing energy safety concerns.

However, the complicated international geopolitics and issues having to do with energy politics and energy safety are not the primary concern among Cypriots. The ordinary people of the Troika-worn Greek Cypriot community and the isolated Turkish Cypriot community, which also has its own “Turcoika”, have realized that there is no future for them under the existing conditions. At this moment, it is possible to observe that there is significant grassroots mobility and pressure for change in Cyprus. Particularly among the Turkish Cypriot community, it can be observed that public opinion is quickly shifting in favor for a solution. Just a week before the joint declaration, an opinion poll suggests that 58.5% of the Turkish Cypriots support a solution similar to the Annan Plan.

Having hopes and expectations, however, does not mean that there are no risks for the future of the talks especially due to the fact that the Turkish Cypriot leader is reluctant in playing a constructive role towards the solution. On the other hand, and despite the fact the Greek Cypriot leader Anastasiadis seems more enthusiastic, agreeing on a political solution in times of economic crisis can create the feeling among the Greek-Cypriot society that the whole process is not taking place in fair conditions. This might give the chance to populist leaders like George Lillikas in the South or Huseyin Ozgurgun in the North to exploit the situation and play the nationalism card.

Another risk comes from the fact the negotiations are being held in a high-politics level. There is the risk that societies might not internalize the results of the talks which may undermine their support in the referenda that will take place at the end of the negotiations.  I have been actively supporting the idea that the negotiations should become more inclusive and decentralized, which will help to compromise for the needs of the wider community.

Moreover, there is need to adopt and implement additional confidence building measures (CBM). At this stage, CBM will have an overwhelming impact in support of the negotiations process and will give a boost to the two leaders in order to reach a viable solution. More specifically, the return of the fenced city of Varosha to the Greek-Cypriot community on the one hand, and finding  ways to end the socio-economic isolations of the Turkish Cypriot community on the other, will certainly give a new momentum to the process and will increase the optimism and hopes of the people who want the re-unification of the island. At this stage securing an active support from autonomous groups, local initiatives and civil society, which can speak the language of the ordinary people in both sides, will have much more importance than the international relations jargon of the tie-wearers. 

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  ΧΡΟΝΟΣ 10 (02.2014)