Second track diplomacy is urgently needed in Cyprus

Second track diplomacy is urgently needed in Cyprus

The first time I ever went to Greek Cyprus, I was expecting to find a fully functioning democracy, since it was in 2004, and the EU had long decided that Greek Cypriots fulfilled all the European criteria for membership.

It was only a few days before the referendum for the famous Annan plan and I was shocked by the extreme pressure put on the people by the state apparatus, together with the church, to reject the plan. U.N. officials were not even allowed to talk on TV to explain the plan. Elementary school children were forced to walk on the street with “no” t-shirts.

Some of the reasoning I heard for saying “no,” was jaw-dropping. The Annan plan foresaw the gradual decrease of Turkish soldiers on the island to 200, while keeping a guarantee system intact. “This is inacceptable; why should we have Turkish soldiers on the island. The security guarantees are there, what happens if Turkey comes and bombs us,” a Greek Cypriot had said to me.

Obviously, I could understand the trauma Greek Cypriots had passed through after the Turkish intervention. But I could not comprehend how anyone could envisage Turkey bombing a member of the EU, since Cyprus was set to become a member right after the referendum. And at the end of the day, was it better to have a settlement with 200 Turkish soldiers on the ground or to have no solution with thousands of Turkish soldiers stationed on the island?

I realized two things at that time.

First, Greek Cypriots were told for years, as Hugh Pope from the International Crisis Group has also underlined, that they would all go back and everything would be the same. Yet, this isn’t the case, and the Greek Cypriot mindset was never prepared for the bitter compromises to be endured by both sides.
Second, Greek Cypriots were convinced they would get a much better deal once they became an EU member, since only a settlement on their terms would open the doors of the EU to Turkey.

Greek Cypriots have probably realized by now that Turkey will not desperately seek EU membership at the expense of its interests in Cyprus. And actually it is not so much about “losing Cyprus,” as far as Turks are concerned.  Turks know very well if all Turks and Turkish Cypriots evacuated the island and left it to the Greek Cypriots that will not bring membership, since other countries will find another alibi to keep the doors closed.

When it comes to the mindset of Greek Cypriots about the terms of a settlement, I am sure there might have been some change, but most probably there is still a lot more to do. And I am sure looking from Greek Cyprus, they might think the same… that there is still a lot more to do, as far as the Turkish mindset for a settlement is concerned.

Therefore, now that the talks have started between the leaders of the two communities; we urgently need second track diplomacy and confidence building measures. But forget about the opening of Varosha or the Ercan airport to international traffic. We need measures that would increase dialogue between all relevant sides.  We need an exchange of students, academics, journalists, businessmen, NGO’s, especially between Greek Cyprus and Turkey.

The international players including Washington, which seem to have seen an opportunity for a deal, should leave aside red tape and facilitate these contacts.