Anastasiades’ options

Anastasiades’ options

There appears to be a consensus both in northern and southern Cyprus, as well as among the international power brokers, that Cyprus talks might resume at the earliest in May, after the Turkish Cypriot presidential elections.

With weeks left to the Turkish Cypriot presidential elections, there will not be much change in Turkish Cypriot pro-settlement’s resolve, irrespective who wins. So far, it appears the election will not end in the first round of elections and the second bout will be between incumbent Eroğlu and Sibel Siber of the ruling socialists.

In southern Cyprus, on the other hand, not only economic prospects are unfavorable for the incumbent Nikos Anastasiades presidency, the president’s stubborn policies were not supported by any major political movements apart from his Democratic Rally (DISY) and a bunch of small nationalist, fascist or utopian parties. A two-day National Council – an advisory council bringing all political leaders around one table – meeting last week ended in dismal failure demonstrating absence of a credible “national strategy” and only a restricted support for a painful bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. With his poor health, bad economic situation, political spectrum vastly in disarray and no pro-settlement vision, the Anastasiades presidency, even if could be forced to sit at the talks, would be a castrated one, unable to deliver any deal.

The Anastasiades’ entire strategy and its supporter – the web of tiny nationalist-opportunist parties – is built on the assumption that “by incurring a big cost to Turkey for the occupation, would force her to give up on a federation” and agree to abandon Turkish Cypriots to the mercy of Greek Cypriots in a unitary state under the full control of Greek Cypriots? Did not the Greek Cypriots learn from the experience of the past over four decades that trying to raise the cost of its continued presence on Cyprus nothing can be achieved other than Turkey becoming even more decided. The only losers of this inhumane “all mine” obsession of Greek Cypriots have been the Turkish Cypriot people who unfortunately are vanishing fast on the island and are being replaced with mainland Turks.

As a friend wrote to me this week, from birth, Greeks are taught to hate Turks.  So it is not surprising that public polls in southern part of the island show that 60 percent-plus of Greek Cypriots oppose any sort of unification with Turkish Cypriots if a resolution amounted to sharing the state, sovereignty and government with them. Anastasiades is following public opinion rather than leading the island to a settlement or his Greek Cypriot people, as well as the Turkish Cypriot people, to a better economic future. If 60 percent of Greek Cypriots supported a union with Turkish Cypriots, then Anastasiades would become a cooperative negotiating partner.

Perhaps that is why Anastasiades, like his predecessors, have been trying to hide behind national council meetings, objecting to all reasonable compromise offers. Irrespective how Turkish Cypriot elections proceed and who comes out of the election box as president, what the Greek Cypriot side says will set the course: resolution or allowing the problem turn gangrene requiring amputation.

Anastasiades will have two options in May. He may continue talking of “no talks unless Turkey withdraws from the Cyprus exclusive economic zone and terminates its Navtex” and remains allied with tiny anti-federation parties. Or, he can be pragmatic and try to forge a national coalition between his DISY and the communist AKEL, focus on changing perceptions in his community and walk the road to a settlement.

Will he? Unlikely. Walking such a road will be rather painful and require statesmanship that cannot be found at the bottom of the bottle.