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Media Watch 2003

25 May 2003
Source: Cyprus Mail
Comment: The following article appeared in the Sunday Mail of Nicosia on 25 May 2003.
Tassos must not forget what Greece has done

RELATIONS between the governments of Greece and Cyprus have gone through many different phases since the island’s independence. There were periods during which they were strained -- plagued by suspicion and hostility -- while at other times they have been close and constructive. These relations are usually influenced and shaped by the personalities of the men in charge of the governments in Athens and Nicosia.

During his presidency, the late Archbishop Makarios, for instance, had been known to try to impose his views on the Greek government by making alliances with opposition politicians. Such brinkmanship has also been employed by Rauf Denktash in his dealings with Ankara, the latest display of this dubious tactic being illustrated prior to the meeting in The Hague. In the post-invasion years, successive Greek governments, fearing the political cost of confrontation, have avoided antagonising their counterparts in Cyprus by coming up with a new modus operandi.

For many years, relations between the two countries have been based on the motto ‘Cyprus decides and Greece supports’, which was convenient for both governments. Nicosia took the decisions on the Cyprus problem and Athens endorsed them, irrespective of whether it agreed or not. Rather than suffer any political cost from dealings on the Cyprus issue, successive Greek governments were content to take a back seat, concealing this indifference with the above platitude.

All this changed with the election of Glafcos Clerides, who had always passionately argued for closer and more substantial co-operation between the two governments. While the late Andreas Papandreou -- the quintessential demagogue -- was prime minister the closer ties produced the meaningless Unified Defence Dogma, which was nevertheless very well-received on the island. But the relationship between the two governments was put on a much more constructive and firm basis when the pragmatic Costas Simitis became prime minister in 1996 and included the Cyprus problem in his government’s foreign policy plans.

Clerides and Simitis forged a sincere and close working relationship, and for the first time in history the two governments worked constructively together in achieving two major objectives -- the island’s accession to the European Union and a Cyprus settlement. Nicosia regularly consulted Athens before taking decisions about the handling of the national problem and the EU accession drive. Clerides was absolutely right to put so much faith in the development of close relations and a good understanding with Athens. Everything that has been achieved in the past year -- EU accession without any conditions, Denktash and Turkey taking the blame for the failure to reach a settlement -- must be credited to this close co-operation which was augmented by the pragmatic Simitis’ strategic thinking and tactical acumen.

With the election of Tassos Papadopoulos to the presidency, relations with Athens seem to be cooling, unfortunately. Papadopoulos has different views about a Cyprus settlement than his predecessor and Simitis, who is a firm supporter of the Annan plan. On his first visit to Athens, before The Hague meeting, Papadopoulos unsuccessfully tried to persuade the Greek government to agree to a rejection of Kofi Annan’s proposal for a referendum. Simitis won that battle, but this has affected relations. The new government neither consults with nor defers to Athens anywhere near as often as its predecessor.

It is no coincidence that in every speech Simitis made during his Cyprus visit, a couple of days after the accession treaty was signed, he was at pains to underline the need for a settlement based on the Annan plan. He repeatedly warned that signing the EU accession treaty should not give rise to complacency and weaken the resolve for a settlement, yet all the signs are that it has done precisely that. The Papadopoulos government has grudgingly stated a commitment to the peace plan, while the president has been claiming that he would be seeking to make substantive changes to it, citing EU accession in order to justify this. According to reports from Athens, Greece was also unhappy with the way Nicosia delayed the announcement of measures for the Turkish Cypriots as well as with its bizarre reaction to Denktash’s lifting of the restrictions on movement.

This is not the only indication that the two governments are moving further apart. The Papadopoulos government uses markedly different language from Athens when publicly discussing the Cyprus problem or responding to comments by Turkish ministers. There seems to have been a return to the Spyros Kyprianou years, which was characterised by defiant rhetoric, moralistic posturing and a constant desire to antagonise Turkey. Even the Turkish newspapers have noted this discrepancy in official pronouncements.

It is against this background that the Athens meeting between Papadopoulos and Simitis will take place tomorrow. Strong words may be exchanged over disagreements on tactics, but Papadopoulos should in no way jeopardise what has been a sound and productive working relationship. If he needs to consume a little humble pie then so be it: he should bear in mind that Cyprus is currently in the position it is today thanks to close and sincere co-operation between Athens and Nicosia, which must be maintained at all costs."