Optimism is good, even on Cyprus

Optimism is good, even on Cyprus

Even if there is still a huge discrepancy in the description of terms between the two Cypriot sides, it was hard to believe but even Archbishop Hrisostomos was talking optimistically that perhaps this time a Cyprus resolution might be within reach.

During an interview with this writer at his Nicosia archiepiscopate office, the archbishop was, as always, rather picky in his words. He did not, for example, use the term “parasites” this time to refer to mainland Turkish settlers on Cyprus. Yet he insisted that any agreement that did not foresee a withdrawal of all - except those married to Turkish Cypriots or established families on the island who “might stay for humanitarian reasons” - “illegal” mainland settlers, Turkish troops and an end to Turkish, Greek and British guarantees was untenable.

Despite all his “optimistic” remarks, the archbishop was very clear in stressing that he would advise his people to support a “true federal resolution” which must have a very strong central government and two local administrations taking care of domestic affairs with no external or sovereign powers.

Definitely the archbishop was against any sort of bi-zonal or bi-communal arrangement that might imply “two states” on the island in any fashion the Turkish Cypriots have been demanding. What he could agree to the most was “two communal domestically self-governing communities living together in a federal Cyprus which will be created with the current Cyprus Republic changing its constitution and acquiring a federal nature.”

I will write more on my interview with Hrisostomos and some other Greek Cypriot politicians in the days ahead but more or less the remarks of the archbishop reflected the general mood in the southern Greek Cypriot-run Cyprus Republic section of the divided Cyprus. If this was the atmosphere, where was the optimism? That was a puzzle I tried to solve as well during my stay in southern Cyprus. Apparently Greek Cypriots are all saying “Oxi” (No) to the idea of a loose federation with two strong founding states that would have some degree of sovereignty and the right to have separate - with the knowledge of the central government - agreements in trade and areas such as culture, education or sports.

The optimism, indeed, was fed by the “progress” reports at the talks process. Last week the two sides “leaked” to the media “very constructive” details indicating that not only was the “screening process” (of the issues discussed over the past many years since the current round of talks started) completed, Turkish Cypriot negotiator Özdil Nami and his Greek counterpart had begun discussing “bridging proposals.”

Was that something revolutionary? Indeed no. In the Annan Plan process as well as during Alexander Downer’s tenure - with different methodologies of course - the bridging proposals were done by the U.N. and other third party “facilitators” of the talks. In the Annan Plan process the U.N. role went to the extent of “filling in the gaps” in areas the two sides could not bridge, while in the timid Downer era the U.N. only put forward ideas “that were not binding at all” but aimed at only “facilitating the process.”

Now if the two sides have started discussing bridging proposals, furthermore, if they themselves have prepared bridging proposals, that is of course great news indicating the existence of the will to compromise.

The presence of such a will, of course, has been the absent sine qua non of the process that has unfortunately handicapped the success of the Cyprus talks so far. The negotiators of the two sides pondering a compromise way out from the areas of deep discord must be appreciated. Indeed, that was perhaps why Espen Barth Eide was so enthusiastic in his remarks to the media this week. Otherwise, why would he say he was very much impressed with the progress at the talks?

Still, Greek Cypriots appear obsessed on few issues. 1- A Turkish guarantee and continued military presence. 2- Mainland settlers must all return to Turkey. 3- The right of “all refugees” to return to their pre-1974 homes and properties. 4- The Cyprus problem should be solved on the basis of all citizens enjoying full and equal rights. These and some other trivial ones will unfortunately handicap all prospects of resolution, as they all touch the red lines of Turkish Cypriots.

Shall we still have optimism? Why not… at least there is a process the two sides say is progressing well discreetly.