Cyprus: a new era for the national question?

This article was written to be published to the magazine of Sosyalist Alternatif – the Turkish section of the CWI, sister organization of New Internationalist Left. Written by Athina Kariati.
After the election of the moderate social democrat Mustafa Akinci in the presidency of North Cyprus, a new era has started for the national question in Cyprus.

A New Internationalist Left publication

The national question, which was put aside because of the economic crisis that hit both sides of the island on the one hand, and on the other the disappointment and the lack of progress in the negotiation process combined with the prospect of significant gas reserves, in the recent gas exploratory drillings, is now once more in the forefront of the political agenda.

26 April Mustafa Akinci is elected as the president in North Cyprus

What changed the process was the election of Mustafa Akinci in the presidency of Northern Cyprus. Mustafa Akinci is a moderate social democrat, who won the elections with the exceptionally high percentage of 60.5%, the highest percentage a president has ever taken in either side of the island (with the exception of Makarios in the South and Denktaş in the North).

Akinci ran the elections as an independent candidate, however he comes from the leftist – social democratic party TKP (Toplumcu Kurtuluş Partisi – Communal Liberation Party), the predecessor of the social democratic party TDP (Toplumcu Demokrasi Partisi – Communal Democracy Party) and is a well-known figure of peace and bicommunal collaboration through his term as Mayor in North Nicosia.

In the first round Akinci was supported by TDP, as well as the leftist party BKP (Birleşik Kıbrıs Partisi – United Cyprus Party), Baraka cultural centre, and the new leftist organisation Bagimsiz Yolu (Independent road). It was the wearing off of the traditional parties and the splits among their ranks that gave Akinci the advantage in votes in the first round as the percentages of TDP and BKP (both parties long participating in elections and already have seats in the parliament) combined, were not enough to provide this victory.

In the second round, the fact that Eroglu, the previous president, and a candidate of the nationalist neoliberal UBP party (Ulusal Birlik Partisi – National Unity Party) tried to transform the elections to a referendum for Turkey and the Turkish army to stay in Cyprus, pushed CTP (Cumhuriyetçi Türk Partisi – Republican Turkish Party) the traditional left wing party, to take a pro-Akinci stance, together with the most militant of trade unions in the North; those of the primary, secondary and university teachers who made public announcements calling for a vote to Akinci, women’s organisations, human rights NGOs, even the NGO founded by Kudret Ozersay, a right wing candidate who lost the first round of elections. The NGO, called “Toparlaniyoruz” (“we get together”), despite Ozersay’s call for a vote at will in the second round of elections, called for a vote for Akinci.   It was the first time that the left, the trade unions and civil society organisations united to support one candidate.

Enthusiasm and hope in both communities

The election of Akinci was met with enthusiasm and hope in both communities in regard to the settlement of the national question.

Akinci’s declarations bred enthusiasm. It was the first time that a t/c president of North Cyprus had not mentioned the word “motherland”, referring to Turkey. On the contrary, the day after Akinci took presidency, he confronted Erdogan, supporting the notion that Cyprus is not the child of Turkey but a brother state.

Akinci also mentioned in his first speech something that no other t/c leader had ever stressed out before. That of the suffering of the Greek Cypriots (g/c) during the 1974 war, which he also compared with the suffering of the Turkish Cypriots’  of 63-74 period. That was an issue that when pointed out by CTPs MP, Dogus Derya in parliament, had all the forces of the regime against her. Not only did he point this out, but also responded to a possible future attack from nationalist forces by saying that “we will work so that such a suffering will not happen again”.

The negotiations for the national question have restarted

In mid-May the negotiations between the two sides were relaunched, after being halted for over 6 months after the Turkish NAVTEX was issued and Turkish warships entered the Republic of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The climate that is being cultivated after Akinci’s election, even from the negotiators themselves[1], is that a solution is near. Ozdil Nami, the t/c negotiator, declared that there has been more progress during the last month than what had been achieved in the last years. The two leaders are meeting regularly on a social basis in one, or both sides of the divide, to eat and drink coffee, or watch a reconciliation play in Limasol, the common hometown of the two leaders, in the company of the media.

After every meeting they are promising to implement the so-called Confidence Building Measures (CBMs). Some of the measures that have already been announced are: the discarding of the visa issued from t/c authorities when crossing the checkpoints, the opening of more checkpoints, the connection of mobile phone networks, electricity and radio frequencies, the disclosure of maps for minefields and old military areas in the North, the appointment of turkish speaking employees in all citizen’s service centres[2] in the South. The opening of Famagusta’s enclave[3], the opening of Ercan airport to direct trade, and the opening of turkish ports to g/c ships are also included in the CBMs, however they seem to be the most difficult ones to be put to practice. The actual negotiations started on the 17th of June, and will continue all through the summer with the issue of economy and property being the first ones to be discussed.

Is a solution really near?

But will Akinci and Anastasiades manage to solve the national question? In order to answer that we need to see the actual cause of the national question which is not the incompetence of the leaders as persons, but the conflicting interests of the local and international ruling elites that have created and are sustaining an unresolved national question. These interests cannot be compromised forever, the ruling elites can compromise for a while and sign a settlement, but the conflicting interests will keep surfacing again and again, as in any other national question on the planet, that capitalism is unable to solve. The Palestinian question, the Kurdish question, have been unresolved for years. National questions such as Belgium’s, Ireland’s and the settlement between different nationalities in Spain(Catalan and Basque), even the Scottish independence issue, which are supposedly solved, all revive as soon as economic crises hit.

The class nature of the Cyprus national question

In the case of Cyprus, the ruling elites are divided in the two sides of the island. In the south a part of the ruling elite, a cosmopolitan, neoliberal section, is prepared to accept a compromise to unite the island, because it feels strong enough to dominate over t/c capital and compete with Turkish capital, in areas such as gas and services. This is the part that is represented now by the leadership of the governing party DISI (Democratic Rally, the traditional neoliberal right wing party) and president Anastasiadis. However not all of his party[4] nor all the right wing parties agree with a settlement.

Another part of the g/c ruling elite, does not want any agreement. They represent the most nationalist trends in the society, and the reason is that they will be unable to compete with the t/c or Turkish capital and therefore prefer to keep the status quo. This part of the ruling elite is partly present among the ranks of DISI[5], but mainly within EDEK (Movement of Social Democracy), DIKO (Democratic Party – centre right wing party) and the Citizens Coalition (a recently formed, centre right wing populist party) and even the small Green Party. These forces, started to regroup against the idea of a federation, only some days after the negotiation process had restarted, trying to create a climate against any settlement, alongside with the forces that could sabotage a future settlement, by spreading nationalist propaganda and creating fear of the unknown. President Anastasiades hasn’t made an active effort to stop these forces, nor is he likely to do in the future, as the ruling elite which Anastasiadis represents, knows that the moment their interests will stop being served, they can use nationalism as a backup plan in order to destroy any settlement, as they did in 1963 and during the S300 missile crisis in the 1990s under Cleridis[6].

In the North, the ruling elite is in a similar situation. Eroglu, the former president and UBP candidate, the last representative of the old nationalist t/c ruling class that was immediately affiliated with Turkish capital and Turkish army in the island, lost the elections with 39.5% in the second round, against Akinci’s 60.50%. Eroglu’s rival in the first round, Kudret Ozersay came from the same right wing neoliberal camp, splitting the right wing votes. Ozersay, a neoliberal cosmopolitan right winger, known as a technocrat negotiator from the previous Cyprus Question negotiations, in the first round of elections yielded 21% of the votes, a percentage that is fairly high, taking into consideration that it was the first time he was running in any electoral process. So even if the t/cs have got rid of the old right wing regime, the nationalist ruling elite has found a more cosmopolitan version of their neoliberalism, young in age and new in the political arena, to build on.

However, even though Akinci was supported by almost the whole of the left of the North, this does not mean that he represents the interests of working people. Of course, people have placed their hopes on him to fight for independence from Turkey and in the beginning he seemed that he will do it at any cost. Akinci was the only president to move into conflict with the Turkish government immediately after taking office, to the point where he almost said to Turkey to cut their funding to North Cyprus. However after he visited Erdogan, the conflict was over, the negotiations were again established on the basis of Turkey entering the EU, and Akinci supporting the Turkish guarrantorship on Cyprus. The other section, therefore, of the ruling elite in the North, the one that wants to break away from Turkish capital and seeks to enter the EU with the hope that it can thrive in it, wants a settlement and wants to end the isolation of the North. However, they are well aware that g/c capital is stronger than theirs, and that is why they want the Turkish capital on standby, as brother capital, in case they need a backup. It seems that Akinci represents this part of the ruling elite.

International interest in reaching a settlement is also strong, with the EU, and US government pushing in such a direction. A settlement therefore may come soon, but a settlement is different than a solution to the national question.

What about the left?

The left in both sides, is still following the stages theory, according to which the task of the “communists” is supposedly to form alliances with the so-called “progressive” bourgeoisie against the reactionary sections of the bourgeoisie. Putting this theory in practice when in power, AKEL and CTP, the traditional left wing parties in South and North respectively, negotiated the national question as any “progressive” part of the ruling elite would. Now, both in the North and the South, the traditional left and part of  the non- parliamentary left have all laid their hopes for a solution in the negotiation process and the two leaders.

This stance of the left in both sides is not new. It is a usual one followed by the traditional left historically. Do they really help prepare society for peace and solution in that way? The answer, coming from the sheer reality today and the de facto division of the island is, no. Basing their hopes for a solution to representatives of the ruling elites that have no hesitation to discard an agreement like they already did in 1963, actually weakens the possibility of reaching a real solution and damages its sustainability.

A real solution will only come from working people on both sides

Working people in Cyprus, before the 1950s, when the national question actually started, had a common left party, the communist party – later named AKEL. They had common trade unions, gave common struggles, and common strikes in the mines and other workplaces, united as workers, rather than divided as communities. In 1949, under the influence of Stalinism, AKEL adopts the position of Enosis – Union (with Greece) instead of independence, something which led to the division of the working class.

Working people have nothing that divides them. On the contrary they have common interests and can build one common front to fight for themselves. This is the only possible way forward, the only prospect of a viable and permanent solution to the national problem.

This is the task of the left, and that is what the left should have been doing for years now. However AKEL, CTP the mass traditional left parties have let down working people in Cyprus. Their policies of following the ruling elites, have misled people into focusing all their hopes for a solution on the negotiation processes and into feeling small and inadequate towards actively participating and playing a determining role in the process of solving the national question.

So if the traditional left does not want to play the role that history has placed upon it and organise the working people under a common front of g/c and t/c workers for the solution of the national question, the non parliamentary left, the militant trade unions, together with grass-roots organisations in both sides of the divide, can create this common front..

This Front would go forward by organising the people, discussing with all working people in all of Cyprus about what kind of solution the people themselves want, how it would be formed, what the needs to be fulfilled are, etc. The Front would fight:

  • unconditionally against the nationalism, racism and fascism breeding in both communities so that we avoid revival of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s intercommunal conflict.
  • for real independence from Turkey, Greece, the EU, the IMF, the Troika, the US and all imperialist forces that will present themselves as  ‘saviours’, ‘guarrantor forces’ etc.
  • for a federation, respecting the needs of both communities as well as all other religious groups and ethnic groups on the island, for real political equality of both communities on all levels of the society.
  • against austerity, against privatisation, which are the main problems of working people in both sides of the divide.
  • For using all the island’s assets, like gas, for the common development and prosperity of the people and not the multinationals.
  • for the nationalisation of the banks, in order to achieve real financial independence, and for the control and management from the society of all the ports, airports, strategic sectors of the economy, and public investment in the common federal state – like Varosha[7] and other parts of the green line.

In that way, this Common Front, will be ready to take power and put in practice a solution to the national question that will come as a result of the real extensive and substantial participation of the society. In that way the working people would be able to fight for a united socialist federal Cyprus that is not any more just an ideology but the only way that the working people can survive the current crisis and not be led to impoverishment and desperation.

This struggle of course cannot exist in a void. It has to unite with the workers’ movements and forces in Greece and Turkey, and the rest of Europe, both in order to gain support and solidarity but also to build a sustainable, peaceful, united, federal socialist Cyprus in a united socialist Europe and the whole area, on a voluntary basis.

[1] Ozdil Nami, the t/c negotiator and Andreas Mavroyiannis the g/c negotiator, they are discussing the details, contact the technical committees and prepare the documents for the two leaders to sign or discuss upon.               

[2] Centres where you can issue birth certificates, id cards, passports, legal documents etc, where according to the constitution of the Republic of Cyprus  are obliged to employ turkish speakers in customer service.

[3] Or Maraş, the ghost city of Famagusta, a wire fence- surrounded enclave deserted since the 1974 war.

[4]  After 1974, DISI gave a political roof to many members of EOKA b”, as well as many fascists that participated in the coup of the 15th of July, with the slogan of “enosis” (to unite with Greece) that gave the reasoning to Turkey to invade.      

[5] As above.

[6] Ιt took place between early 1997 and late 1998 as a tense and rapidly escalating conflict between Clerides’ government and Turkey. The confrontation was sparked by Cypriot government plans to install two powerful Russian-made S-300 air-defence missile sites on Cyprus, provoking Turkey into threatening an attack or even all-out war if the missiles were not returned to Russia. The crisis effectively ended in December 1998 with the decision of the Cypriot government to transfer the S-300s to Crete, in exchange for alternative weapons from Greece.                 

[7] Or Maraş, the ghost city of Famagusta, a wire fence- surrounded enclave deserted since the 1974 war.

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