Meanwhile, in Cyprus

It’s generated amazingly little discussion in the international press, but the Greek and Turkish Cypriots are sitting down and trying to resolve their 35-year-old-and-counting conflict.

The talks started about three weeks ago. They are moving slowly — the negotiators just took a break for two weeks, and they don’t expect to complete the discussions until early next year — but they’re serious.

Cyprus-watchers will recall the Annan Plan, negotiated five years ago in 2003-4. It was supposed to provide a fair and reasonable framework for reunification under a loose federal system. In March 2004, both sides subjected it to a referendum. The Turkish Cypriots approved it by about 4 to 3, but the Greeks rejected it by almost 3 to 1.

That killed reunification for the next four years, but in the last six months it’s jumped up and come to life again. The prime mover here is Greek Cyprus’ new President, Dimitris Christofias. I wrote about his election back in February:

Christofias has said that he hopes to restart talks with Turkish Northern Cyprus, which have been stalled since Greek Cyprus rejected the Annan Plan in 2004. I wish him luck — he’ll need it. Even with goodwill on both sides, reaching a settlement will be difficult; the Turks are still resentful that the 2004 deal was rejected, a lot of Greeks are either apathetic or actively hostile to any negotiation with the north, and both sides will be vulnerable to nationalist attacks on their flanks. I’d say Christofias’ victory raises the chances of a successful settlement from “zero” to “very slim”.

Still, it’s an interesting development. Let’s see what happens.

I still think it’s unlikely this will succeed. Even with good will on both sides, reunification is horribly complicated. Refugee return, property compensation, voting rights for Turkish immigrants, apportionment of power… it’s a real mess.

On the other hand, it’s moved farther and faster than I would have thought possible. And the lack of media attention may be a feature, not a bug: both sides seem to be taking the negotiations seriously, so neither is interested in making a spectacle.

And a successful reunification… well, damn. That would be awesome in about six different ways.

Watching with interest.

Communist takeover in Cyprus!

Well, okay — they just elected a Communist as their President.

And AKEL, Cyprus’ sort-of Communist Party, isn’t exactly a bunch of ragged proletarians. Excepting some fiery rhetoric, a tendency to wave red flags, and a proliferation of pictures of Che, it’s not too different from a standard European party of the left. AKEL supporters range from headscarf-wearing grandmothers to latte-sipping yuppies. New President Dimitris Christofias did get a degree from Moscow University, but he comes across as a pretty typical Balkan elected official. Attempts by his opponents to paint him as a slavering radical and an atheist enemy of Christendom seem to have backfired; he won the Presidential runoff yesterday by a comfortable margin, 53%-47%.

Still, he’ll be the first Communist head of state in Europe in… oh, a while now. Will he be the first Communist head of state in the EU? I can’t think of another offhand. Anyone?

Christofias has said that he hopes to restart talks with Turkish Northern Cyprus, which have been stalled since Greek Cyprus rejected the Annan Plan in 2004. I wish him luck — he’ll need it. Even with goodwill on both sides, reaching a settlement will be difficult; the Turks are still resentful that the 2004 deal was rejected, a lot of Greeks are either apathetic or actively hostile to any negotiation with the north, and both sides will be vulnerable to nationalist attacks on their flanks. I’d say Christofias’ victory raises the chances of a successful settlement from “zero” to “very slim”.

Still, it’s an interesting development. Let’s see what happens.

Austria Would Prefer Not To

Earlier this year, Eurobarometer started asking members what they thought about future EU expansion. The results (which can be found here, as a pdf) were pretty interesting.

52% of Europeans support membership for Croatia, while only 34% oppose it. (War criminals? What war criminals?) And 50% support membership for Bulgaria. But only 45% support Romania coming in. Which is a bit embarrassing, given that the EU has already firmly committed to Romanian membership, even if it might be delayed for a year.

Still, the Romanians can take comfort; they’re well ahead of Serbia (40%), Albania (36%) and Turkey (dead last, with 35% of Europeans supporting Turkish membership and 52% against).

Where this gets interesting — in a Eurovision-y sort of way — is when you start to break it down by country.
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It’s Election Time in Europe

So Greece has a new government, Haider seems to be staging a comeback and next Sunday Spain is going to the polls. On this latter I will post something during the week, meantime, since I confess to knowing next to nothing at all about the significance of the Greek results, or the real state of play with Haider: anyone out there feel willing and able to give us some insight? Especially with those tricky and potentially significant Cyprus negotiations looming right in front of us.
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Cyprus and Iraq

I’m certainly no expert on the Cyprus question. But John Quiggin at Crooked Timber has made the claim that the upcoming referendum on the reunification of Cyprus is of monumental importance for the future of Europe, the EU, and the Middle East–so much so that the eventual fate of Iraq (very likely “an imperfectly democratic Islamist government dominated by Shiites,” in John’s opinion) will “fade into insignifance” in comparison. This has sparked a bit of a flame war between commentators, which I don’t intend to wade into. But it’s interesting to think about, nonetheless, and I’d be delighted to hear from Europeans who might have a different grasp on this issue than idea do. From my perspective (perhaps unconventional for an American), Turkey has of course always been more important, for the future of the Middle East, than Iraq or any other of the regions many deplorable criminal states. If the settlement of the Cyprus issue removes one of the most significant–perhaps the most significant–roadblock to Turkey’s joining the EU, then the referendum is of vital importance, because Turkey is more culturally locked into either working out or rejecting some sort of fusion of Islamic institutions and European secularism than any other state with a significant Muslim population (more than Egypt, more than Algeria). Turkey, in other words, is important not just strategically, but historically (if I may wax Hegelian), and anything done to help that history along is worth doing, even if the result isn’t at all what EU boosters might hope it to be. Whereas Iraq, whatever becomes of it, has gone from extremes of tyranny through war to colonization, neither of which provide much grounds for trusting in the “organic” authenticity of whatever innovations or failures historically emerge. (This, by the way, is one of the reasons many of us who study the politics and culture of East Asia are more interested in ideas and arguments about political life which come out of South Korea, Taiwan, China or Singapore, rather than Japan: the latter was an outright colony, with a constitution written for it by occupying powers, whereas the others, despite the many historical particularities, more or less worked out their current polities on their own.)

Anyway, for additional insight, this article on Turkey and Islamic democracy from the New Yorker last year is one of the best things I’ve ever read on the subject. It’s long, but worth it.

Like You, Like Me: Like Me, Like You

I don’t know why I hadn’t seen it before, but it was only while talking with a colleague this afternoon, and being asked what I thought about the unwillingness of the candidate countries to reform that it came to me: with all this coming and going on the Pact, what kind of message is being sent to the new members? Obviously if you give the impression that agreements are not to be complied with, you can get reactions you aren’t expecting, and that you don’t like. The Financial Times article you can find below, begins to give an idea of the size of the looming problem, whilst this one informs us that Standard and Poor’s has just downgraded the Polish currency rating because of concerns about deficits and rapidly growing government debt.
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