When nationalism trumps reason

When nationalism trumps reason

Greek Cypriots have a long and arduous road ahead as they try to recover from their economic meltdown. The average Greek Cypriot is justified in his or her anger with politicians, and the financial establishment, for allowing what is now seen to have been gross economic mismanagement. Whether they are justified in their anger with Germany, however, is another story.

As Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, Turkey’s “economic supremo,” recently put it, the Greek Cypriot banking system turns out to have been no more than a “Ponzi Scheme,” where debt was met with more debt, as credits were doled out irresponsibly.

Crises, especially if they carry existential overtones, generally provide societies with an opportunity to rethink and re-evaluate matters. A crucial question now is whether the same will happen with Greek Cypriots, driving them to push for a settlement to the Cyprus problem in a manner that benefits the two communities, as well as Turkey and Greece – not to mention the whole of the eastern Mediterranean.

There are Western experts who suggest Greek Cypriots should turn to Turkey to alleviate their economic woes. Timothy Ash of Standard Bank, who is a specialist on emerging markets with a special focus on the Turkish economy, is one.

In a March 21 post for the Financial Times headlined “Turkey to the rescue?” Ash asked, almost rhetorically, “What if Cyprus begins to think outside the box, and what if it goes to its erstwhile enemy, Turkey, for assistance?” He suggested Turkey could provide 7 billion euros – “small change for Turkey” – in exchange for Greek Cypriots agreeing to the terms of the 2004 Annan peace plan for the unification of the island.

Ash listed all the advantages to the sides involved that will accrue from a settlement, adding, “Peace and unification on the Island could then perhaps open up the energy reserves south of the Island for joint exploration by Cypriot [Turkish and Greek] and Turkish companies.

Ash’s piece was written before the Greek Cypriot administration agreed to terms, albeit painful ones, which were demanded by the EU for a bailout plan. But Cyprus’s woes are just beginning with this agreement. So there are others promoting arguments similar to Ash’s about using the occasion to settle the Cyprus problem in a way that is beneficial for all.

Sir Michael Leigh of the “German Marshall Fund,” who is a former member of the EU Commission, is one of these people. In a March 25 piece for “GMF Blog” headlined, “Cyprus Bailout and Israel-Turkey Détente Present New Opportunities,” Leigh recalls that recently elected Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades supported the 2004 Annan Plan, even though it was rejected by an overwhelming majority of Greek Cypriots.

“Unlike his communist predecessor, Anastasiades is a man of the West and wants to join NATO’s Partnership for Peace. This can only be achieved through give-and-take with Turkey, and, if successful, could kick-start the settlement process. All Cypriots should benefit from the country’s hydrocarbons. A Cyprus settlement could add several percentage points to GNP, improving the business climate and attracting new investment.”

Having said this, Leigh also factors in cooperation with Israel in the energy field into the equation, especially now that Turkey and Israel are overcoming their differences expanding the “win-win” cycle in the eastern Mediterranean.

Looking at the less than friendly anti-German and anti-EU banners being carried by angry Greek Cypriot protestors today, however, one gets the impression that it is nationalism that is on the rise again in southern Cyprus, which makes suggestions like those put forward by Ash and Leigh no more than wishful thinking.

Unless, that is, President Anastasiades can provide true leadership and take the bold steps necessary. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is also taking such steps at the moment and would therefore obviously be receptive. But we will have to wait and see if nationalism trumps reason once again on Cyprus.