Sunday, April 25, 2004

As the old boxing cry had it: “We Wuz Robbed!”

Helen Szamuely

In this Sunday's referendums with high turn-out the two Cypriot communities voted differently on the Annan unification plan. While 65 per cent of the Turks voted "yes", 76 per cent of the Greeks voted "no". The plan is now in tatters but where does that leave the EU, which is due to welcome Cyprus as one of its 10 new members on May 1? And what does that tell us about the efficacy of referendums?

In a delightful display of international brotherhood everybody is blaming everybody else for the débâcle in Cyprus. The idea was that the EU will take Cyprus in together with the other 9 new applicants on May 1 without actually sorting out the political mess and, in return, the two separate sections, Greek and Turkish, will somehow vote for some form of reunification. Time went on and the negotiations kept breaking down. Eventually the EU put up a front man for its proposals, no less a person as Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the UN. Never backward about coming forward, even when there is next to no chance of success, Mr Annan presented the so-called Annan plan and called on the Cypriots to vote for it in the two separate referendums.

There were various advantages and disadvantages on both sides: the border that disfigures that beautiful island would have disappeared; Greeks would have been able to go back to some of their old places, as would the Turks; Turkish Cypriots would have been guaranteed their homes and Turkish troops would have been reduced to a few hundred, instead of the present several thousand. Unfortunately, some time ago, it became obvious that, while the Turkish Cypriots, hitherto the bad boys of international politics, were going to vote for the plan despite various misgivings, the Greek Cypriots were not. Their reasoning was varied. Some may well have listened to the bishop, who told them that anyone who voted yes would burn in hell, not a view supported by any known reading of the Gospels; more probably minded thir President, Tassos Papadopoulos, who urged a “no” vote on the grounds that a better offer would then be forthcoming. He may well have miscalculated, as did the EU and the UN, not to mention Secretary of State Colin Powell, who also supported the plan.

This Sunday (April 25) the popular vote struck. There was a high turn-out on both sides of the green line, with 90 percent of the 480,000 registered Greek Cypriots and 75 percent of the 143,000 Turkish Cypriots voting, making it one of the most popular referendums in many a long year and much more popular than most of the accession ones in Eastern Europe. Unfortunately, in the Greek south 76 per cent voted against the plan and 24 per cent for it; in the Turkish north 65 per cent voted yes and 35 per cent no. So the plan is dead. But the outcome as far as the European Union is concerned will be curious. As Cyprus has not been reunited, it cannot enter the EU as one entity but Turkish Cyprus is not recognized by anyone except Turkey. Therefore, rather unjustly, the Greek Cypriot government will speak for the whole island, though it does not control one third of the territory and one quarter of the population. However, it seems that all Cypriots will be entitled to EU citizenship and, presumably, the right to live where they want to. This may cause a few headaches.

In the meantime the roles have been changed. Greek Cypriots have become the least favourite members of the international community and Turkish Cypriots are now the good boys. In a sign of disapproval, the UN is withdrawing its peave envoy, Alvaro de Soto and closing down his office. He has indicated that the international community will now do its best to improve the situation of the Turkish Cypriots, which is what made them vote yes in the first place.

The blame game has begun. Kofi Annan is blaming the EU for misleading him and indicating that any plan of his would be immensely popular; the EU is blaming the leaders of the Greek Cypriots for acting in bad faith. They had, or so it was thought, promised to push for reunification if Cyprus is allowed into the EU together with the other countries. Having got what they wanted they played false – a situation the ancient Greek playwrights may well have recognized. Chris Patten is incensed and is threatening the EU’s displeasure: "What has been caused is a huge amount of political ill-will, because there is a deep sense that some Greek Cypriot leaders have behaved in bad faith, and that is not going to make it easier for us to throw our hats in the air and cheer at their accession to the European Union. They are not going to be a very popular addition to the family."

Popular ballots are so unpredictable, are they not?

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