the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world











2004 April 30


The Green Line that runs through the center of Cyprus, and through, in fact, its capital cities (or two capital halves of the same metropolitan area), is the nationalist equivalent of the Berlin Wall, and as such has been weighted with great symbolism already, more than it can realistically support. Usually it is seen as the fault line of nations, or, in the eyes of the uneducated, as a monstrous division within a nation. Cyprus is a single island, no doubt; but those who conclude that it should therefore be one unitary state and nation are not only absurdly silly but also willfully ignorant of popular opinion on both sides of the Green Line. The line is in actuality the frontier between those members of the world’s population who are inside, and those who are outside. Saturday’s vote in Cyprus may have gone some way to clarifying that status. Justice is always too much to ask, it seems, but some recognition of the problem may be imminent.

Greek Cyprus, the southern half of the island, is what is meant in international parlance by ‘Cyprus’. Greek Cyprus is a recognized state, a member of the United Nations, an international trading partner, and, tomorrow, a member of the European Union. It is, clearly, a part of the club. Turkish Cyprus, the northern half, is unrecognized as either an independent state or as a province of Turkey. It is, in fact, recognized as a wayward element of Greek Cyprus, and has been isolated politically and economically since its creation in 1974. It was then that a group of Greek Cypriots seeking enosis (unification) with mainland Greece took over the Cypriot government by force. Enosis was of course opposed by Turkish Cypriots, and Greece at the time was under military rule. The coup in Cyprus thus prompted an invasion by mainland Turkey, the division de facto of the Cypriot state, and a cross-migration of the ethnic communities leading to a segregated island. This event is usually described in news reports as having taken place in response to a “short-lived” Greek Cypriot coup, as though the Turkish Cypriots were supposed to say, “Well, a group of ultranationalists who hate us wanted to subject us to a military dictatorship in Athens that also hates us, but hey, that was weeks ago.”

In anticipation of Greek Cyprus’s admission to the European Union, which has already been approved and will take place at midnight, a last-ditch reunification effort (premised on the notion that reunification is inherently good, which is not true) was initiated by the United Nations, which is itself the ultimate expression of insider geopolitics. The effort was strongly supported by the EU, whose problem Cyprus would otherwise become. It was supported by mainland Greece and Turkey, in the latter case particularly because its own potential membership of the EU, and the West more broadly, was partially at stake. The plan, largely the product of the arbitration of Kofi Annan, called for a loose federation and contained a number of concessions to Turkish Cypriot concerns ― though after thirty years of isolation and deliberate deprivation no concession would reasonably have been too much; and in any case, the plan gave the Greek Cypriots the main thing they (and the international community) wanted, which was the denial of independence to the Turkish Cypriot republic. As the plan was being negotiated, the government on each side was changed democratically.

It is important to note that Turkish Cyprus is a fully-functioning democracy, and is subject to abuse by the international community, while dozens of dictatorships are routinely rewarded (and unlike the similar case of Taiwan, Turkish Cyprus is not even allowed to trade with the rest of the world). The Turkish Cypriots elected a new government that was concessionary and in favor of the agreement; at the same time, the Greek Cypriots elected a new government that was demanding and opposed to the agreement. And, following that precedent, on Saturday the Turkish Cypriots accepted the plan in a referendum 65% to 35%, while the Greek Cypriots rejected it 76% to 24%. This leads to the worst possible outcome: the side that gave up the most will be further deprived, while the side that demanded the most will be further rewarded.

Nations ― voluntary cultural associations ― are ultimately composed of individuals, and even when individuals voluntarily associate they must be judged first as individuals. And some individual Greeks and Turks have done nothing to contribute to their nations’ iniquities. But those iniquities are significant. The Greeks have made national enemies of Slavic Macedonia simply for calling itself ‘Macedonia’. The Turks have been worse, denying the Kurds self-determination, cultural freedom and identity, and even Kurdish-based education; and Turkey still denies the truth of the massacre of Armenians under Ottoman rule. Of course the two nations have been beastly towards each other. But that attitude has eased considerably in recent years; and Turkey has become more progressive on Kurdish issues as well under, of all things, its present Islamist government. While it is possible to consider the Cypriot communities as part of the two larger nations ― they themselves so identify ― it is better in this case to set aside the merits and demerits of the parent nations and focus on Cyprus alone. In that focus, Greek Cyprus is a bully, a pampered baby, and a vindictive egoist; it is, to be clear, entirely at fault.

The newly-elected hard-line president of Greek Cyprus, Tassos Papadopoulos, confirmed that his government would veto, within the EU anyway, any recognition of Turkish Cyprus. My immediate reaction upon hearing that was a complete lack of surprise. Greek Cypriot politicians in general and Papadopoulos in particular are predictably opposed to any relaxation of the Greek claim to the entire island, whether the Turks like it or not. But I nonetheless began searching for a new and fitting epithet to append to his name, preferably something involving his parentage or an unmentionable body part. This action would instantly vault Greek Cyprus to the second tier of infamy in the European Union (the first tier being occupied entirely by France), in strong competition with mainland Greece itself. Greece had already made clear that there would be no expansion of the EU at all unless Greek Cyprus were included, and included, needless to say, as the recognized government of the entire island. This is despite the fact that Greece’s inclusion itself was, and remains, an act of charity. Now Greek Cyprus is planning to take advantage of the same charity to engage in the same small-minded chauvinism.

My visceral desire is to see mainland Greece and especially Greek Cyprus chucked out of the system as a taste of their own medicine. Let them go without membership of the UN, the EU, the WTO, and NATO, and see how well they do over the next few decades. The Greeks are Christians and Mediterraneans; they would recognize the Old Testament justice to it. But a better solution, more in line with the kind of world we are trying to build, is to forcibly elevate Turkish Cyprus above what the Greek Cypriots could ever aspire to. The Western states have promised hundreds of millions of euros in aid; they should make it billions. They have promised trade; they should make it privileged trade. They have promised cooperation; they should make it partnership, and they should start with formal recognition. The West should do an end run around the Green Line. If the Greek Cypriots then try to draw a line between the haves and the have-nots, they will be choosing for themselves to have not. As it is, they have rejected half a loaf and we have given them the whole thing; very clever on their part, but not exactly clever on ours.


Original version


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