Interview with the Head of the International Relations Bureau, member of the C.C. of AKEL Vera Polycarpou
“Solidaire” magazine of the Worker’s Party of Belgium PTB/PVDA, November 2020
Q: What is happening, what makes this long-standing Cyprus problem such an urgent and dangerous matter now at once?
VP: Indeed, the fact that Turkey is pursuing aggressive and illegal policies against the territorial integrity, sovereignty and sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus is 46-years-old news. Since 1974, when Turkey invaded illegally the Republic, it continues to occupy militarily 37% of its territories and to transfer population, in flagrant violation of international law.
Nevertheless, the escalating reinvigoration of Turkey’s aggression against the Republic of Cyprus raises extremely our concerns; both with regards to the dangers posed distinctively by its violations leading to an alarming escalation of tensions and insecurity, as well as their cumulative negative impact on the prospects for a solution to the Cyprus problem. The escalating aggression of Ankara against the Republic of Cyprus is manifested through the continuous violation of the international law of the sea with drillings in the EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) of the Republic, and the illegal opening of Varosha (fenced off part of the occupied town of Famagusta).
Just a few days ago, on October 8th, 2020, Turkey proceeded to the illegal opening of the coastal line of Varosha, an action which violated UNSC Resolutions, in particular 550(1984) and 789(1992), is unacceptable and utterly alarming. Although this has taken place three days before the electoral process for the Turkish Cypriot leader in the occupied area of Cyprus, and is seen as part of Ankara’s manipulations to support the partitionist politician Ersin Tatar, we understand that this is only a first step towards the illegal settlement of Varosha. This is evident from the numerous statements and actions undertaken by Turkey through the so-called government of the ‘TRNC’ during the last fifteen months.
These actions target the resumption of meaningful negotiations under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General in order to reach a comprehensive solution of the Cyprus problem. Without negotiations the possibility of partition becomes a direct threat to Cyprus.
Q: Please explain: what are the economic interests at stake? Who are the main power players at work? How would you propose to use the natural and mineral resources surrounding Cyprus for social and development purposes?
VP: In the last three years, Turkey has conducted six illegal drillings within the maritime zones of Cyprus, successive unauthorized seismic surveys and has obstructed the exploratory operations on behalf of the Republic of Cyprus in delimitated EEZ and licensed blocks. Of course, energy resources, in our case natural gas, are important for all economies, but Turkey is aggressively seeking to secure a share where it has no right to do so, i.e. in the EEZ of the Republic of Cyprus.
Cyprus has licensed blocks to a number of companies (NOBEL, TOTAL, ENI) and of course it is interested to exploit its resources the soonest; so are the companies involved. The dropping natural gas prices and possible declining interest in the future, also cause a pressure. The conflicting interests and related direct involvement of the US, and not only, in the Eastern Mediterranean are only escalating tensions.
As to the use of the natural and mineral resources surrounding Cyprus, it must be underlined that the Republic of Cyprus has at all times acted to the interest of both communities. It should be stressed that under the Presidency of our late comrade Demetris Christofias, important convergences were agreed in 2010 which include an agreement on the federal competence over the EEZ, the delimitation of maritime zones and the settlement of disputes, all according to UNCLOS; as well as on the federal ownership of natural resources including hydrocarbons. Another convergence concerned the distribution of revenues at the federal level, including those of natural gas.
To these, one could add the establishment approximately two years ago, of a National Sovereign Fund to safeguard the interests of both communities from any revenues accrued from the exploitation of hydrocarbons deposits. This aims at safeguarding the revenues for the social and economic development to the benefit of the young and next generations.
Q: What is the role of NATO in this case? For in Belgium, NATO is not commonly seen as a threat to peace…
VP: In NATO’s concept the island of Cyprus, due to its geostrategic position in the Eastern Mediterranean and next to the Middle East and energy resources, should serve as an unsinkable aircraft carrier in its aggressive plans against the peoples of our region and beyond it. As there was resistance to such plans mainly coming from AKEL and forces around President Makarios, NATO in its 1971 spring session in Lisbon agreed Kissinger’s plan to divide Cyprus.
The crime against Cyprus and its people – Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots, Maronites, Armenians and Latins – was committed in July and August 1974, following subversive destabilizing activities. The Greek Junta and fascist extreme-right wing forces in the Greek Cypriot community committed the coup d’état against President Makarios following much of the pattern of the coup d’état in Chile ten months earlier. This served as a pretext for Turkey to invade five days later and occupy 37% of Cyprus. The aim was to divide the island between Greece and Turkey, the two NATO allies, and hence use it unobstructed.
These two crimes were the two faces of the same coin that left behind approximately one third of the population displaced in their own country, hundreds of dead, and 2000 missing persons. At that time the plan was not fully implemented as Makarios survived as well as the Republic of Cyprus, albeit with its territorial integrity and sovereignty violated.
Today NATO with the US as the spearhead, are renewing their plans with the same aim, given also the hydrocarbon discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean. The infamous Rubio-Menendez law on the US policy in the Eastern Mediterranean adopted recently by the US Congress charts out these plans: Cyprus should be cleared of all Russian and Chinese influence, i.e. Cyprus should dismantle its relations with these two countries which are also Permanent Members of the UN Security Council and which have always maintained principled positions in supporting Cyprus. It should furthermore be an obedient follower US policies, buy US arms, be part of the US IMET programme, in other words become a server of the US interests in the region that are completely contrary to the interests of the Cypriot people as a whole and of the peoples of our region. It is disgraceful for Cyprus and our history that the current Government has agreed with these plans. And these plans can only lead to aggressive wars and bloodshed in our region.
Our aim is to solve and reunify Cyprus under a bizonal, bicommunal federation and we strongly believe that a demilitarized Cyprus would be a factor of security for our people. Hence, both learning from bad tragic experience and aspiring to a peaceful future here and in the whole area, AKEL has always taken a strong position against NATO and US involvement and presence in Cyprus.
Q: AKEL has been known to work very hard to reach a negotiated but principled solution for the Cyprus problem. What are the basic principles, the bottom-line of your proposed solution?
VP: Our goal must remain unwavering: to arrive at a solution of the Cyprus problem, to bequeath to our children a free, reunited, sovereign, independent and demilitarized Cyprus. For a solution that will end the occupation and the colonalisation (of the occupied areas) that will restore the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and unity of the Republic of Cyprus.
At this critical time for the future of Cyprus we once again insist that the only way ahead is the resumption of meaningful negotiations under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General aiming at a comprehensive solution of the Cyprus problem, according to the UN Resolutions, in respect of international law and European aquis.
Despite the odds, we have been constantly working in the direction of reaching an agreement reunifying Cyprus and its people under a bizonal bicommunal federation, with political equality as prescribed by the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, putting an end to the occupation and the colonalisation, restoring the sovereignty and territorial integrity and unity of the Republic of Cyprus, providing for the termination of the anachronistic regime of foreign guarantors, for the demilitarisation of the Republic of Cyprus, and safeguarding the human rights and freedoms of all Cypriots. We want a peaceful and prosperous Cyprus for all the children of our country.
An agreed solution of the Cyprus problem will contribute positively to solving the problems in the Eastern Mediterranean and the turbulent Middle East region; it will convert Cyprus into a bridge of peace between Europe and the region.
Q: In Belgium, certain political forces are striving to divide the country and the people along language and cultural lines, putting the Flemish/Dutch-speaking and the Walloon/French-speaking people up against one another. What can we learn from Cyprus’ negative experience of division, and more so, from AKEL’s and the Cyprus working class and people’s perspectives for a solution based on common interests and values?
VP: The British used the divide and rule dogma to keep Cyprus under their colonial control. After independence the same was used to divide the Cypriot people along religious and ethnic lines into Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, and hence use our land against our interests. Nationalism and chauvinism played fully into the hands of Cyprus’ enemies, as the fascist and extreme-right wing forces in both communities turned against the left within their respective community and at the same time against the other community. This has led to confrontation, bloodshed, occupation, artificial division. Forty-six or even 57 years later, we are still mourning our dead as the difficult process of exhumations and DNA identification allows families to bring their loved ones to final rest.
Our people lives in a divided country – which is ten times smaller (in area) than Belgium and with a population of less than one million. This blocks an overall and comprehensive development of the economy but also of the infrastructure, environmental protection or even culture and education. To go to simply look at our home and property in the occupied areas I need to go to a check point and show an id… in my own country…
The working class of our island worked, organised and fought together in the trade unions and in the ranks of AKEL during British colonialism. They won together the labour and social rights we enjoy today. This is a precious part of our history, which our popular movement is keeping alive.
As I have already said, for AKEL the future can only be of a reunified country and people. To achieve this, even before the 1974 division, AKEL worked and works consistently for the rapprochement of the two communities. We strongly believe that this a fundamental pillar to first of all press for an agreed solution to the benefit of both communities, but probably even more importantly, to implement maintain and safeguard a solution once this is found. Because our people, just as all peoples on our beautiful but endangered planet, have every right and deserve a life with dignity and perspective, with peace and friendship.
Q: The Cyprus parliament voted against ratification of the CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the EU). Could you explain how this happened as this is rather exceptional among EU member states.
VP: In fact the vote came as a surprise. Trade unions, agriculture unions and ecological organisations had already voiced opinions about the agreement, on what the CETA includes. None the less we did not expect that apart from AKEL, all the parties, apart from the government party DISY would vote against (18 votes in favour, 27 against). It seems that also other parties took the positions voiced by the trade unions and civil society organizations very seriously. Some voiced valid arguments about the ecological dangers, the threat to consumers rights and of course our position that includes all this and what it means for monopolies. We stressed the dangers for the independence of government to decide on different aspects of the country’s trade and economy.
The final vote was a real surprise, because in general, the political parties – apart from one or two including us from AKEL – normally would not want to come into conflict with the European Union, which could bully them in the sense of “who are you to block this agreement, a small country like Cyprus”.
Q: Some said it was because that they wanted to defend the halloumi, the famous Cyprus cheese, and so could not vote in favour, to be compared with the mobilization triggered by French peasant leader José Bové to defend the Roquefort cheese, two decades ago? Does it promote a national sovereign feeling among the people, to reject this CETA?
VP: Of course halloumi is our cheese, and it’s very popular in many countries. But it’s not the central issue. We are not looking for the geographical label for halloumi, but for the fact that the entire production process can only be done in Cyprus, with a protected label of origin. But in CETA there’s no such provision to include the protection as the one we want for halloumi. So in any case, the label of halloumi is not even concerned by the CETA. So for us this is not the halloumi issue.
It is a conjuncture of so many different sectors of society on so many different aspects of this CETA agreement. And all together they made up for the majority that voted against.
Q: What about the reaction from the European Commission side or the Canadian side? Any efforts from their side to reverse this decision if ever that would be possible?
VP: According to our constitution the government cannot bring back something already voted in the same term of the parliament. But as long as the government has not officially informed the European Commission about the fact that the CETA ratification was voted down, the procedure remains unclear. They have been trying, especially at the very first days after the vote, to insinuate that we have blocked the possibility of Cyprus’ small and medium enterprises from investing in Canada. But the numbers are so small that they do not justify such a claim. And that blocked CETA would be disadvantageous for Cyprus trade.
At the same time the Canada’s High Commissioner for Cyprus (Cyprus is part of the Commonwealth, where ambassadors have the title of High Commissioner) has been having meetings and contacts in order to see how to get over it. Obviously, for Canada the issue is not that Cyprus would be so important to the trade with Canada. But they need the ratification from Cyprus.
For any change of correction to be introduced, the whole agreement needs to pass once again for ratification through the European Parliament and then through the different parliaments of the 26 other members States.
Q: The more important issue now, is the precedent the Cyprus parliament’s rejection to ratify CETA will mean for the rest of the European Union member states. It can give some ideas on how to achieve this rejection.
VP: Indeed, and I would like to point to another danger of CETA. Now that TTIP is not going anywhere with Trump, US companies use their daughter companies or divisions based in Canada to enter Europe, through CETA. I put the question to the Canadian High Commisioner when he came to see AKEL’s secretary-general Andros Kyprianou and he did not refute it. And as to illustrate Canada’s good intentions he also told us that Canada has accepted the ILO (International Labour Organization) declarations. And indeed, they accepted some of ILO’s general declarations on labour rights, but not the actual guidelines of ILO. Europe is more ahead than Canada in this respect. So we, and our trade unions, wouldn’t take Canada’s labour rights assurances for granted.
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