Gregoris Ioannou. Interview to the Turkish Cypriot newspaper Yeni Bakis
Is the federation idea now dead or not?
The idea of federation is certainly not dead. However after the collapse of the negotiation process at Crans Montana, the federal model as a potential arrangement has suffered a major blow. This is because the failure to reach an agreement has resulted in a number of things. First it has strengthened the idea that the problem is unsolvable. Second it has led to further disappointment and exhaustion of the forces believing in a federal solution within the Greek Cypriot community. Third in the context of justifying the failure and managing the aftermath in a damage control operation, Anastasiades’ government has encouraged the re-establishment of a nationalist atmosphere, whereby anybody disagreeing with the official Greek Cypriot narrative is being seen as suspect of holding a pro Turkish stance.
At the level of the international and local political system dynamics things are even worse. The international community in general and the UN in particular will begin to re-conceptualize the Cyprus problem less as an issue that needs to be resolved and more as a frozen conflict that needs to be bypassed while dealing with other issues related to it. This will inevitably push through a process of further normalization of the de facto situation without however regulating it in total as this will require again an agreement. The dynamics in the Greek Cypriot political system have also become more negative towards the federal prospect as previously ambivalent forces begin to orient themselves towards the management of the status quo as a goal and not only as a means. The open and tacit opponents of a federal solution were strengthened in the last parliamentary elections in 2016 and these comprise effectively all the political parties except the two major ones, AKEL and DISY. In addition to that there are also some tacit opponents of a federal solution within AKEL and many more within DISY. On the other hand there is a substantial section of the Greek Cypriot society both at the level of the most party elites and at the level of the population that remain indifferent and their stance is and will be shaped by the context and the framing of the situation as it unfolds.
So the question whether the prospect of federal solution has died cannot be conclusively answered today although we can safely say that it has been very severely injured. What is worse is that it seems that there is no political force that is strong and determined enough to break the impasse that has been created. Although AKEL is standing its ground very well, neither it nor its presidential candidate Stavras Malas seem to have the power and will to fully step outside the Greek Cypriot – centric narrative and lead a counter hegemonic movement that can produce a paradigm shift. Anastasiades and DISY have lost all credibility with respect to the Cyprus reunification project in the last year while the rest of the political forces and candidates are staunch and open status quo supporters. Thus prospects indeed look dim in the next years.
What is the Greek Cypriot perception of the failure in Crans Montana? Who do they hold responsible for failure?
The official narrative promoted by the government is that the whole blame rests squarely on Turkey’s intransigence and maximalism and that Akinci was irrelevant in the negotiations. This narrative is used by the rejectionist forces in the Greek Cypriot community instrumentally to claim that it is what they have been saying all along and now Anastasiades comes to their words. AKEL, without challenging this narrative in the sense of a frontal attack on it, adds that while that may be the case, Anastasiades is to blame for his tactics in the negotiations and for his sincerity since Mont Pelerin 1 as his stance was characterized by reluctance to proceed to say the least. While the official narrative was initially accepted by the Greek Cypriot public opinion to which Anastasiades has been focused all along, in less than a week after Crans Montana it has suffered severe blows as more information came in and the availability of alternative interpretations increased in the public sphere. As the EU and the UN refused to support in any way the official Greek Cypriot narrative, while in fact insinuated that if one was to move beyond the notion of “collective failure” then the finger was not to be pointed to the Turkish side, the pro-solution forces in the Greek Cypriot community begun to criticize Anastasiades in harsher terms.
The difficult position in which Anastasiades found himself, despite having the biggest communication team and the friendliest media that any government had for decades, was revealed with his recent conflict with Eide. After Eide’s interviews what was previously unofficial and indirect became quite formal and direct. Although balanced and careful, Eide spelled out that the Greek Cypriot side was the more reluctant one to proceed to a compromise agreement. This was heard by the Greek Cypriots since this was also in line with what they had seen in Anastasiades’ stance in the last nine months. What is being counter-argued by DISY loyalists and mild rejectionists alike is that there were slim chances of such a compromise agreement being approved in a referendum. Thus the discussion is shifted to an evasion of responsibility position though reference to secret and questionable premature polls and hypothetical scenarios away from the actual developments on the negotiating table.
And what comes next in your opinion?
That is always a very difficult but also challenging question. There is definitely not going to be any negotiations before the Greek Cypriot elections. While a lot will depend on who will win this election, this election unfortunately in my opinion, will not be a quasi referendum for either federation or a two state solution in the Greek Cypriot community, like one might say about the last presidential elections in the Turkish Cypriot community. It seems that the Greek Cypriot community will continue to operate in a blurred political environment with the elites preaching solution in theory and not doing anything to bring it about in practice. I believe that unless there are significant developments externally or internally driven, there cannot be an overturn of the dynamics within the Greek Cypriot community even if AKEL wins the presidential elections which is an unlikely, yet the only hopeful, scenario for having negotiations again before the end of Akinci’s term.
What is most probable to happen is developments on the ground emanating from forces bigger than the Cypriots, such as the EU and Turkey. In the absence of negotiations for a comprehensive solution, what is left to be solved will be effectively the status of northern Cyprus and its relationship with the EU and Turkey, an issue upon which the Greek Cypriots will probably have little say. Thus unless there are overturns, whether positive towards an agreement for the establishment of a federal state or negative towards further tension and militarization related with the offshore gas fields, it seems that the soft partition without an agreement and through the passage of time is the most likely scenario. Having said that, I need to add that in my opinion the formalization of the partition of Cyprus is not a viable solution in the medium term and will not ensure peace in the long term as it will keep the two communities trapped in an antagonistic relation and it will continue to in-breed the destructive nationalisms that have brought us to this mess.
Thus I believe that what we need to do is to step up bi-communal peace activism from below, strengthen our relationships across the dividing line and increase the pressure to the political elites to come to an agreement. This cannot take place merely through words, protests and votes. What is really needed is the establishment of federal structures from below in different levels, realms and fields and attempt to operate within in them despite and against the existing partition. Pushing that is the limits of the status quo towards the progressive reunification direction not only at the political level but in all the aspects of everyday life. This is already possible in Nicosia and it could be made possible in Famagusta as well if Varosha is opened to Greek Cypriots. If a critical mass of Cypriots manages to cooperate systematically in the economic, cultural and social realms while politically continuing to advocate for a comprehensive federal settlement, not only the idea of federation will remain alive but most importantly the goal of a united Cyprus will be more firmly rooted on a more mature federal consciousness and a lived social experience of a sort of “federation from below”.