Frustrated Greek Cypriots ‘feel cheated by the EU’

Frustrated Greek Cypriots ‘feel cheated by the EU’

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Frustrated Greek Cypriots ‘feel cheated by the EU’

Russia will use the economic crisis in Greek Cyprus to get more involved in Greek Cypriot politics, says Dr. Sylvia Tiryaki from İstanbul Kültür University. DAILY NEWS photos, Emrah GÜREL

Having previously got whatever support it needed and having never been punished for anything, Greek Cypriots now feel cheated by the European Union, with the terms for an EU bailout plan creating uproar in the island’s south, according to a prominent expert.

The EU is offering a 10 billion euro loan, but is insisting that Cyprus raise 5.8 billion euros first in order to secure it. A previous agreement which met Russian reaction as well as it included a levy on deposits in Cypriot banks was rejected by the Greek Cypriot Parliament last week.

Dr. Slyvia Tiryaki from Istanbul Kültür University says that although at first sight it looks as if the economic crisis should make it more difficult to reach a solution to the island’s division, it is still too early to definitely judge whether the crisis will have a positive or negative effect on negotiations between the two sides on the island.

This is the first time we have seen such Russian involvement in the EU’s relationship with a member country. What does it tell us?

Russian involvement in Cypriot affairs has always been there, whether it is financial, political through the communist brotherhood between Russia and AKEL, (which is descended from the Communist Party of Cyprus), or whether it is through the Orthodox Church.

There are suggestions that the bailout offered by the EU was meant to hit Russia, as it targeted depositors for the first time and the biggest depositors there are Russians.

I think it is Germany that is trying to prevent Russian money from being bailed out. The money for the bailout will come from EU taxpayers and it is difficult to explain to German taxpayers why they have to bail out Russian taxpayers’ money.

Is there a proxy war going on between Russia and Germany over Cyprus?

I don’t think so. Cyprus is stuck between Germany and Russia. I think Polish people would understand better how to be stuck between these two. I quite understand the German position, it is not just bailing out poor Greek Cypriots but also rescuing the money of the rich oligarchs from Russia. Let’s not forget that Cyprus has been an offshore haven for some time. I am not saying that all the money there is illegal, but it is very difficult to differentiate legal money from illegal money. 

Are the Cypriots playing one against the other by using the Russian card against the EU?

I think what they want is the money. They will do more or less whatever they have to do to rescue the banking system. 

How do you see the reaction of the Russians to the situation?

The Russians had only one naval base in the Mediterranean, and that is in Syria. This is now in trouble, and they have less and less access to it. If you were Russia, what would you do? You would try to keep the ties with Cyprus as close as possible. I don’t want to sound preemptive, but there is a high probability that Russians will not provide them with cash money. They would instead somehow try to get more involved in Cypriot politics.

Do you mean that Russia would like to get more involved in internal Greek Cypriot politics, or in inter-communal talks for a solution?

Russia does not want any solution in Cyprus. If there is a solution to the Cyprus problem, there is a high probability that Turkey will stop blocking Cyprus’ NATO membership. Cyprus becoming a NATO member would be a worst case scenario for Russia. It is better for Russia to have an ally that is not a member of NATO and which is financially dependent on it.

So the Russians would like to use the current crisis to increase its influence over the island?

I am 100 percent sure that they will use it in a way to secure more control over the Greek Cypriot administration. I actually don’t think the gas revenues, for instance, are very interesting for Russians. But the Laiki Bank (Cyprus Popular Bank) is government owned at the moment; being directly involved in the banking system and other channels to political power in Greek Cyprus is much more interesting for the Russians.

Is it possible for the Russians to have a military base in Cyprus? At the end of the day, Cyprus belongs to the western alliance.

Why not? It has always had close ties to Russia. I wouldn’t exclude that scenario; not in the short term, but maybe in the long term. If things go a certain way, if Greek Cypriots decide to leave the eurozone and EU skepticism grows.

Do you think the EU would let this happen and leave Greek Cyprus under more Russian influence?

The influence is huge anyway. Before making important decisions or in times of crisis all Greek Cypriot ministers go to Moscow. It is the most visited capital by them. They go more often to Moscow than Brussels?

How is that possible, for an EU member?

What kind of repercussions did it have? I don’t think too many people in the EU were too bothered about it. At the end of the day it is a small state, it was only troubling the EU with respect with Turkey and, as such, it was actually playing into the hands of some countries in the EU. 

Losing Cyprus might come at a cost then, since EU countries have been using it to block Turkey’s accession to the 27-nation bloc.

In the beginning Austria, Germany, France were happy about Cyprus blocking certain things, but then it started to create problems, particularly in terms of the economy. Plus, I think there is now a greater understanding of Turkey’s importance to the EU.

So how can we sum up the overall picture on the island?

Cyprus was never a regular or average state in the EU. It was always sort of “sui generis.” It was accepted, despite not having good relations with its neighbors, and despite not completely fulfilling the Copenhagen criteria. A solution to the Cyprus problem was not made a precondition of entry. Looking at the current Greek Cypriot leadership, I feel sorry that all this is happening now. Not only is this leadership pro-European and also believes in a more integrated and strong EU, but it is also not as bigoted as some of the other politicians. Looking from the Turkish side, it would have been possible to talk to them.

But I am afraid their hands are going to be tied because they are unable to deliver economically to their constituency.

Are you suggesting that reaching a solution would have been easier with Nikos Anastasiades?

I was sort of hoping for a new restart of negotiations. I thought that this natural gas crisis could somehow be handled in a better way. Turkey and both Turkish and Greek Cyprus could be best allies in the Eastern Mediterranean. If problems are solved on the island, and subsequently with Turkey, all of us could benefit. By the way, a solution would also result in less military expenditure. Part of the mess in Greek Cyprus is due to their unbelievably high military expenditure. They are over militarized. They don’t need so much.

So do you believe that the economic crisis won’t be an incentive, but will rather make it harder to reach a solution?

It is very difficult to say whether the economic crisis will erase the chances of restarting negotiations, or whether it may make Greek Cypriots more willing to negotiate with Turkish Cypriots. At first sight it looks as if it is going to make it impossible, they have other problems on their plate and they are increasing their links with Russia. But from another point of view, we could seize the moment, not just Turkey but all parties. But again, at the moment it is difficult to see such an eventuality happening.

Is the economic crisis the only reason behind Greek Cypriots voting for Anastasiades? Do you think his attitude toward a solution to the problem might have played a role in his election?

Every sixth Greek Cypriot lives under the poverty line. I don’t think the fact that Anastasiades said “yes” to the Annan plan was much of a motivation. Still, there are some Greek Cypriots looking for jobs in Istanbul, and this was not possible some years ago. It is not only because of the economic crisis. Maybe I’m naïve but they are sort of realizing that Turkey is not full of “Attilas.” 

So you have come across some Greek Cypriots looking for employment in Istanbul?

Yes. Where else can they look for jobs? This is the closest country with the biggest economy. Turks are not hostile to Greek Cypriots, contrary to what they believe. Once they come here they find friendly people. 

So is there a change in mentality among Greek Cypriots?

A negative attitude to the common state [to Turkish Cypriots] is still high. But my personal hunch is that the overall attitude toward Turkey is less hostile. This only follows suit with what has happened all around the world about Turkey. As the Turkish economy has bloomed it has done miracles for Turkey’s image.

Is there an acceptance of the status quo? Have people now gotten used to living divided?

Yes, I think so. Somehow there is no original need to come together. There is no push from outside. 
But in the mean time, there is now such a strong anti-EU sentiment among Greek Cypriots that it is bringing them closer to Turkey. They think there could be the same EU skepticism in Turkey. But I think there is less anti-EU sentiment in Turkey today compared to Greek Cyprus

But isn’t that ironic? They have always seen the EU as a security wave against Turkey?

Greek Cypriots feel cheated by the EU. They used to get support; they used to get whatever they wanted. When in the past Greek Cypriots blocked certain issues in the EU with logical or illogical motivations nobody punished them. They were always helped out, but now they are treated much more severely than the others who asked for a bail out.

Who is Sylvia Tiryaki?

Dr. Sylvia Tiryaki is the founding partner and the deputy director of the Global Political Trends Center (GPoT Center). 

She also holds the position of vice-chair of the International Relations Department of Istanbul Kültür University, where she teaches courses on international law, introduction to law, human rights and the history of political thought. 

She completed her master’s and doctoral studies at the Faculty of Law of the Comenius University in Bratislava. Previously, Tiryaki worked as a lawyer and became a member of the Slovak Bar Association in 2002. Between 2003 and 2008, she worked as the Cyprus project coordinator and a senior research fellow at the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) Foreign Policy Program. Formerly a regular columnist at the Turkish Daily News, Tiryaki writes for various national and international academic journals and newspapers. 

Her fields of expertise include Turkish foreign policy, Cyprus, the Middle East and North Africa, Armenia and the European Union. Since 2011, Dr. Tiryaki has been serving as an adviser to the World Handicapped Foundation.