Obama’s curious optimism on Cyprus

Obama’s curious optimism on Cyprus

The situation Greek Cypriots have landed in economically has attracted a lot of international attention, but the Cyprus problem remains one of the most boring of subjects for the international community. It is worth mentioning here only because U.S. President Barack Obama brought it up recently.

“There’s a great opportunity as we speak for the decades-long conflict and tensions that exist in Cyprus to be resolved, and I think we’re both encouraged by the messages that have been coming out of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities,” Obama said after meeting Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras at the White House on Aug. 8.

What makes this remark intriguing is that there are few signs that the opportunity Obama mentions has in fact arisen. For Turkey the matter was essentially closed after Greek Cypriots rejected the Annan Plan in 2003, although it was endorsed by Washington and the EU, and even supported by the present Greek Cypriot president, Nicos Anastasiades. Unless the Greek side accepts the basic ideas in that plan it is hard to see any movement on Ankara’s part.

As for Turkish nationalists who support partition for Cyprus, they were actually happy that Greek Cypriot rejected a plan they hated anyway, and were angry that the majority of Turkish Cypriots – the real losers in Cyprus – had accepted it. Less-than-friendly feelings between nationalist Turks and Turkish Cypriots linger because of this.

When Greek Cypriots were given EU membership, despite rejecting the Annan Plan, while Turkish Cypriots were left out in the cold also confirmed for Turkish nationalist their much-touted notion that Turks would never get fair treatment from Europe.

As for Turks who want a settlement on a unified island, they feel the situation Greek Cypriots are in today should wake them up to some facts of life. A recent commentary in the Cyprus Mail by Loucas Charalambous, however suggests this may not be happening.

In his piece titled “Apparently the invasion is to blame for bailout” Charalambous refers to a conversation between retired judge Giorgos Pikis, the chairman of the committee investigating Cyprus’ economic mess, and former Finance Minister Michalis Sarris.

“It does not concern them [the EU] that the country is under occupation and that the invasion resulted in it losing 70 percent of its productive resources?” Pikis asks Sarris angrily.

“We cited, in a forceful way, the difficult situation Cyprus was in. I am not a political person, I fully share what you are saying but for the average European, dealing with economics, these are not issues that concern him” Sarris responds.

Commenting on this exchange Charalambous said, “I often write that with the brains we have, what has happened to us until today is less than we deserve” and argued that Pikis’ remarks reflect “the dominant culture for the last 50 years and the reason for the total destruction of the country.” He continued thus:

“It is the culture that destroyed the state in 1963, just three years after its establishment, perpetuated partition and kept the Turkish army in Cyprus. The same culture which maintains that we were not to blame for living the good life for 30 years with borrowed money until we went bankrupt, but the troika that came to save us with 10 billion euros of the European taxpayer’s money.”

Referring to this as “the politics/culture of lunacy” Charalambous added the following:

“As Pikis claimed, because there was an invasion in 1974, the taxpayers of other countries were obliged to pay the bill for our bankruptcy, 40 years later, because by giving us only 10 billion they strangled us. By the same logic, if France went bust, Paris would have demanded that we paid the bill because 70 years ago it had been invaded by Germany.”

Given all this it is hard to share President Obama’s optimism, but who knows... Maybe he is referring to things we are not aware of yet.