Recently the EU Commissioner for economic and monetary affairs Olli Rehn (also known as "Mr. Euro") stated that "the reunification of Cyprus would give a major boost to the economic and social development of the island."
That is the wish of most Cypriots, both Greek and Turkish, but so far it failed to be materialized. In my opinion, the majority of the inhabitants of the island are not quite ready to just "forgive and forget" the other side.
Mr. Rehn's comments obviously tried to re-ignite the efforts for unification as the issue remains an unsolved problem for the EU, and poses a major obstacle for Turkey's EU membership. I do not think that this is a real argument, rather an effort to try and capitalize the recent Cypriot banking crisis.
There was a similar argument for the reunification of Ireland in the past, when Northern Ireland was debating if it should remain a part of the UK, go alone or join the Republic. Northern Ireland relies heavily on Britain for financial support, and the Republic did not show as much enthusiasm back then, while the Celtic Tiger was still "roaming."
So how can the two parts of Cyprus be re-united, with similar conditions and tensions? Some European states might want a quick solution to see the Cyprus problem resolved and Turkey joining the club, but I wish things were as easy. Europe must rally its best negotiators and diplomacy skills if it wants to achieve this, and I haven't seen any serious will from the Europeans to do so.
The Turkish invasion and occupation
I will not enter into an analysis of what happened in Cyprus, because most of us know, and as a Greek I do not want to be seen as being biased towards the Greek Cypriot side. I will accept the facts that the Turkish side claims to be true: that they invaded the island "to protect the Turkish Cypriots" from the violence they had to endure by the Greek Cypriots, during the events back in the '70s and during the coup.
So if we accept the fact that Turkey was right to invade Cyprus, they could have invaded, stopped whatever was going on and then leave it to the UN to control the situation. The UN could then sanction the Greek Cypriots if they continued the violence, stop the island nation pursuing its unification dream with Greece and solve the problem. The truth is that during those years of instability, both sides engaged in violent outbursts as they simply mistrusted each other. Even today the majority still mistrusts the other side.
But the continuous illegal occupation of the island of Cyprus by Turkey is exactly that: illegal. No nation in the UN has recognized the "statelet" that Turkey has created. And that must send a clear signal to the Turkish side.
Turkey showed its true colours and intentions for the Cypriot occupation recently, when Israel and Cyprus started cooperating in the extraction of the vast amount of natural gas under the island. That is why the Turks invaded Cyprus and not because of all the other excuses. The island has a great geopolitical and strategic location with vast resources. If we want the Cypriot problem ever to be resolved, Turkey must withdraw its troops from the island and recognize the Republic of Cyprus. It is ridiculous to want to join an international organization while you do not recognize the existence of one of its members.
The Greek Cypriots want to negotiate just with the Turkish Cypriot side, not Turkey itself that they see as an occupier. Perhaps we should leave them to it. And since Cyprus is in the EU, the EU will definitely monitor the situation to make sure that such violence never erupts again.
In fact the EU so far has not played any decisive role in the issue, and I think it is about time to flex its muscle. It did so in the case of Kosovo and Serbia, why doesn't it do the same for Cyprus? Its role should not be that of telling off the Turks or making sure they comply. Its role should rather be that of overseeing the negotiations and the situation on the island.
Mistrust on both sides
The problem that the Turkish Cypriots have towards the Greek side is their lack of trust. They do not feel comfortable with a Greek Cypriot majority, which very often does not have their best interests in mind, also mistrusts them and does not always act with impartiality. That is why they like the protection of their "Big Brother," Turkey.
Yet, the fears of the Turkish Cypriots could be just remains of the past that is time to get over. The Republic is an EU member now, so even if the Greek Cypriots would want to treat them badly, I am sure the EU would be the first to slap the Greeks for violation of human rights. Things have changed since the '70s.
The Greek Cypriots on the other hand, must compromise with the fact that even if they are the majority of the island, others share the same land with them. Cyprus is a multicultural society, which includes many Armenians and Maronites apart the Greek and Turkish communities. Though they are the majority, sometimes they consider the island as "Greek" only.
That hardline attitude is what fans the fears of the Turkish Cypriots that generally do not want to be placed under the rule of the Greeks. Also the sometimes nationalist attitudes of the Greek Cypriots do not help at all with the efforts for unification.
What the failure of the Kofi Annan plan can teach us
During the failed Kofi Annan plan for the re-unification of Cyprus, many Greek Cypriots supporting the plan were bullied by the majority that rejected it. Some friends of mine from the island spoke of cars of people who placed "Vote Yes" signs during the referendum days being smashed or damaged. That is not a sign of a democratic debate, or of a mature way to deal with a problem.
Of course I do not blame the ordinary citizens of Cyprus. Their then-leadership, notably the Cypriot PM Tassos Papadopoulos, appeared very emotional on national television urging the Cypriots to vote NO. How could the people support the plan, even if they wanted to?
It is hard to convince people who lost loved ones and their homes, to have them accept that their former land and properties will not necessarily be returned to them or get any compensation or apology. In these cases, populism prevails. History will judge the actions of the Greek Cypriot leadership and its decision to encourage their people to vote down the plan.
I also found the Annan plan unsatisfying and I would not have approved of it. Because it created a federation of two nations, with many separated and segregated zones. It would have established a limited right to return between the territories of the two communities. It would also have allowed both Greece and Turkey to maintain a permanent military presence on the island, albeit with large, phased reductions in troop numbers.
For me it is unacceptable for either Greece or Turkey, or even Britain (but that is another story) to have military bases in another EU state. And if we are talking about re-unification, then there can be no "limited return" between the territories. The plan obviously satisfied the Turkish demands for "protection" from the Greeks. And that is why it failed to convince the Greek Cypriot side.
The Greek Cypriot idea of unification is to go back to where they were before. Perhaps a thing rather impossible after so many decades. Some compromise must come into place, if the Greek Cypriots really want to see their island as one again. They have to accept that they must give the Turkish Cypriots more guarantees of security and a greater political say and influence in the island's affairs.
But the plan appeared to them like a red flag to a bull, because it accepted the existence of a Turkish Cypriot "state", a thing that they deny. They see the territory of Northern Cyprus as a Cypriot one, occupied by a foreign military presence. Not that they ignore the existence of the Turkish Cypriots, rather they do not want to justify the existence of the Turkish settlers and the military personnel in their territory. Something that I totally agree with.
Accepting their existence is like endorsing what happened, and no Cypriot ever will do so. So the Annan plan, though having some very excellent points, failed because it ignored one major factor: the human emotions.
Towards an united Cyprus?
Should we ever try again to re-unite the island, both sides must compromise and move on from issues that brought Cyprus where it is now, issues of the past. If they start thinking as Cypriots and focus on what unites them rather what it divides them, and if Turkey, Greece, Britain and the international community stop bringing their own interests on the table, then perhaps the dream of generations might come true.