The Cyprus conundrum

Agora Contributor: Nikos Skoutaris
Photo by MacroPolis
Photo by MacroPolis

Brendan O’Leary and John McGarry have convincingly explained that every ethnic/religious conflict has a “meta-conflict” level. At the meta-conflict level, the conflicting sides disagree about what the conflict is about. Each side advocates their own understanding about the causes, the nature and the substance of the conflict they are embroiled in. Unless one understands this fundamental truth, it is difficult to comprehend the current stalemate in the negotiations for the settlement of the Cyprus issue.

For the Greek Cypriots, the Cyprus problem was caused by Turkey’s military intervention in 1974 and its grave consequences. In that sense, it is unsurprising that they do not welcome the preservation of a system of guarantees that would provide Turkey with intervention rights. On the other hand, the Turkish Cypriots focus on the traumatic events that took place in the aftermath of the breakup of the republic in 1963-64. So it is of fundamental importance to them that their motherland will be allowed to guarantee their security at least for a significant period of time. The contrast in the positions of the two communities could not be starker.

There is hardly any doubt that the system of guarantees is a relic of colonialism. Its past failure is more than evident. Greece orchestrated a coup d’etat against the then president of the Republic of Cyprus. As a consequence, the Turkey militarily intervened. Since then, according to the European Court of Human Rights, it has been exercising effective control over a significant part of Cypriot territory. Finally, the United Kingdom did not manage to prevent any of those catastrophic developments.

More importantly for our purposes, the preservation of that failed system will compromise the sovereignty of the reunified federal Republic of Cyprus. In that sense, the position of the Greek government to abolish this system of guarantees is, to a certain extent, understandable. If the Greek government, however, insists on its position, that might lead to a situation where its – arguably – legitimate priorities could undermine the achievement of a settlement of the Cyprus issue.

It is true that the existence of such a system of guarantees does not sit comfortably with the concept of a modern sovereign state. However, the leaders of the two communities should be free to opt for such a system of guarantees (even for a transitional period) if they believe it would lead to the reunification of the island. Instead of insisting on their own priorities, the two motherlands should aim at supporting the painful compromise that the two leaders wish to achieve.

Innocuous and noble as the priorities of the Greek government may (or may not) sound, they should not become an insurmountable hurdle to the reunification of the island. The policy of the Greek (and the Turkish) government(s) should not undermine the political choices of the constituent ethno-religious communities of the sovereign Republic of Cyprus. Differently, the scenario of the intervention of the motherlands in Cyprus that led to the tragedy of division will repeat itself as farce.

*Dr Nikos Skoutaris is a lecturer in EU law at the University of East Anglia. His website focuses ‘On Secessions, Constitutions and EU law.’

You can follow him on Twitter: @NikosSkoutaris

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