Political Paralysis in the Current Cypriot Crisis

 

Yiannis Papadakis

 

Firstly, I would like to note that I believe that the rest of the EU has a large share of the mistakes made during this arduous process. For example, the recent statement by German Finance Minister Mr Schaeuble that Cyprus was accepted into the EU in the hope that it would honour the commitment to accept the Annan Plan, I interpret as indicating a sense of vindictiveness rather than rational, result-orientated thinking. One could add many other things which have angered most of the other EU states: previous accusations of Greek Cypriots of breaking sanctions during the Milosevich regime, recently breaking sanctions regarding Syria, tactically flirting with Russians as in the recent Russian loan instead of making necessary financial reforms, the discourse of the previous president Mr Christofias at EU bodies constantly accusing them, among others.

Here I focus on the Greek Cypriot society, which I am more familiar with. What this crisis has shown as far as Greek Cypriot politics is concerned is a paralysis when it came to taking difficult decisions. In addition, it indicated a misreading of the EU political scene.

Starting with the second, it has always been clear that the Republic of Cyprus, that controls the south side of divided Cyprus, is a one-issue state in the EU, interested on how it could make things more difficult for Turkey in order to yield on the Cyprus Problem. This, and the security issue vis a vis Turkey, were the main reasons Greek Cypriots wanted to enter into the EU: as a lever against Turkey in order to solve the Cyprus Problem with more favourable terms. There has never been any serious debate on the pros and cons of the EU, or of the workings of the EU in the Republic of Cyprus, or indeed any discussion on issues related to wider EU debates.

Secondly, a significant part of political practices in the Republic of Cyprus is personalised, and based on party-political patronage. This easily leads to a projection whereby Greek Cypriots believe that politics at large, i.e. in the wider world including the EU, work in this way. Both the current and previous presidents have been constantly using the term “our friends” (the current usually meaning certain european states, the previous usually meaning the Russians), a term which does not facilitate political reflection, instead of say “our allies” which describes a give-and-take, pragmatic relationship. That is why Greek Cypriots often complain of a “betrayal from our friends”. Small population size, which results in a society whereby it is indeed relatively easier to personally know people in positions of power exacerbates this tendency. There has also been a widespread idealisation of the notion of “Europe”. In ordinary conversations, anything “European” (Evropaiko) is associated with everything positive (democracy, order, riches, even cleanliness), in contrast to the “Third Worldly” (Tritokosmiko) which has been associated with everything negative (autocracy, poverty, disorder, and dirt). That many things are decided within the Republic of Cyprus outside of processes of democratic transparency also leads Greek Cypriots to project this onto the outside world, in the form of beliefs regarding conspiracy theories, which is not to say that things are always fair and transparent either.

So, how are we to explain the political paralysis when faced with a difficult decision? My view is that Greek Cypriots have lived in a political culture that has avoided taking difficult decisions, passing these on to the next government or simply avoiding them – a fairly common characteristic of politicians everywhere, but one accentuated in the Republic of Cyprus. The public space has been dominated, to a degree difficult to imagine by any outsider, by discussions of the Cyprus Problem, yet with the exception of 2004, this has not called for any great decision. Rather, Greek Cypriots have for the past 40 years been debating and among themselves, while in 2004 one could also interpret the NO vote as the postponement of a decision. Major legal reforms were made in order to facilitate EU entry, and later were once again enforced by the EU, while as everyone who lives here knows, there is a substantial gap between what the law states and what is actually enforced. This obsessive inward-looking discussion of the Cyprus Problem also explains the relative lack of serious interest in other issues, whether on the geopolitics, social issues or the EU.

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