Kofi Annan has announced that the UN is to proceed with the referendum on April 24 despite an apparent lack of agreement. One week into talks at the Swiss Alpine resort of Buergenstock, Annan has simply put his best face on the result and said that the island’s future is now up to its people.
“The chance is between this settlement or no settlement……This plan is fair and is designed to work.”
The polls, however, have regularly forecast a near certain defeat in the Greek Cypriot zone and a close finish on the Turkish side. So if these polls are confirmed the result would seem pretty clear cut given that about two-thirds of the island’s 800,000 population are Greek Cypriots. Turkish Cypriots control only one-third of the territory in the north and are only recognized as a state by Turkey.
Whilst in the long run the problem may well ‘resolve itself’ with Turkish membership of the EU, we should not lose sight of the fact that the ethnic rivalries which surround us are not noticeably diminishing, and that while many of us may now find it hard to remember what the world was like before e-mail and the mobile phone, in the world of ‘ethnic cleansing’ things move more slowly. Historic memories make a 30 year time gap (or one generation) seem but a day. (This should also not be forgotten by all those of us whose eyes today are focussed in horror on what is happening in Iraq).
Only when the first version of the plan was submitted did people get a genuine idea of what a federal settlement would be like and it was nothing like it had been described by the politicians over the years. Politicians had been misinforming people for decades about the type of settlement they could deliver, creating false expectations by setting unattainable targets. So when the plan was presented people felt cheated and wronged, not by the politicians, who immediately started slamming it, but by the UN and the international community that were seen as favouring the Turkish side. As usual, the foreigners were blamed.
Opposition to the Annan plan was fuelled by another factor ? Cyprus? imminent accession to the EU. Greek Cypriot confidence has grown ever since the signing of the accession treaty last April, people feeling that as part of the EU the free areas? security has been taken care of. Feeling that their security was guaranteed, the need of a settlement ceased to be an imperative.
And the politicians are back to playing their old games, creating unrealistic expectations about the type of settlement that can be secured after accession. The human rights of everyone would be guaranteed, there would be no exemptions from the acquis communautaire and the Turkish side would have no choice but to accept the type of settlement that Greek Cypriot side wants, politicians have been arguing. All we have to do is avoid signing a peace deal before May 1, when we will become full members of the EU.
Nobody can say whether this line of argument is correct, but it does seem to feature a large element of the wishful thinking that has always characterised our politicians? Cyprus problem discourse.
In reading this extract I can’t help being put in mind of a quote I recently took from Trichet:
there is the unfortunate phenomenon that public opinion very often discovers the problems at the moment they are tackled, when governments, parliaments and social partners carry out the structural reforms that are urgently needed.
This phrase has been haunting me rather recently, as it does seem to some up something important about the way our perception of the future may have changed. I don’t think it was always like this. I think there was a time when our political system was capable of generating visionary goals, and then working systematically towards them. It seems today that we are somewhat more retiscent in our attitudes to what the future will bring.
I also like yesterdays quote from Mathew about France being singular in that there ‘the voters lie to the politicians’. Could it be that this has a far more general application, and that a game strategy is emerging wherby each party does its utmost to keep their true objectives well concealed from the other?