Friday, 19 December 2008

Spain's foreign minister on Tassos Papadopoulos

Below is an obituary of Tassos Papadopoulos written by Spain's foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos who, as the EU's special representative for the Middle East between 1996 and 2003, had a base in Cyprus, where he got to know the island's issues and players well.

Moratinos' piece, which I took from the Greek American News Agency, speaks for itself, but just a few additional points:

Moratinos rightly repudiates the absurd notion that Papadopoulos (and by extension the Greek Cypriots) because he led the 'No' campaign in the referendum on the Annan plan in 2004 was somehow opposed to the reunification of Cyprus and content to see the Turkish occupation of the island continue.

The invasion and occupation of Cyprus is a crime against the Greeks of the island and it is the Greek Cypriots who have suffered the worst consequences of Turkish aggression. Greek Cypriots more than anyone want to end the occupation, reunite their country and reclaim the towns and villages from which they were expelled in 1974 by the Turkish army.

Indeed, it was precisely because the Annan plan would have legitimised the Turkish invasion and occupation of Cyprus rather than paved the way for the island’s reunification that Papadopoulos was so adamant in his rejection of it and why 76% of Greek Cypriots backed his judgement.

While many Greeks heralded Papadopoulos as the saviour of Cypriot Hellenism, the USA, UK, UN, EU were so furious with him for refusing to share their vision of Cyprus as an Anglo-Turkish protectorate and for complicating Turkey's EU accession process, that he was subjected to a campaign of diplomatic hostility and vilification in the international media, which portrayed him as an uncompromising nationalist unable to countenance the idea of sharing power with the island's Turkish minority. As Moratinos says, Papadopoulos became a 'scapegoat'.

Ultimately, it was this scapegoating of Papadopoulos that lost him the presidential election in Cyprus earlier this year; and not so much because Cypriot voters were swayed by foreign pressure, but because Dimitris Christofias, general secretary of AKEL, the largest party in the coalition that helped Papadopoulos win the presidency in 2003, was convinced that Papadopoulos' 'unpopularity among foreign governments' was damaging Cyprus' cause, allowing Turkey to avoid responsibility for the occupation of Cyprus and, in fact, to make the charge, since the Turks on Cyprus voted in favour of the Annan plan, that it was the Greek Cypriots who were against reunification of the island.

Of course, having played his part in scapegoating Papadopoulos, Christofias went on to win the presidential elections last February and, because Christofias speaks the EU-UN language of coexistence, multiculturalism and tolerance – language which Papadopoulos found it hard to utter, regarding it as meaningless since the Cyprus problem is not one of ruptured relations between Greek Cypriots and the Turkish minority, but an issue of Turkey's invasion and occupation of the island – he is indeed more 'popular' in the international arena; but so far this shows no signs, as Christofias hoped and expected, of translating into pressure on Turkey to be constructive in revived settlement negotiations.

Indeed, since President Christofias and Mehmet Ali Talat, leader of the Turkish occupation regime in northern Cyprus, started direct negotiations in September, the Turkish side has put forward its usual maximalist positions – some of which go beyond the provisions of the Annan plan, already favourable to Turkey – which clearly aim at the creation of two separate states on the island.

By resorting to proposals that would legitimise their invasion and occupation of Cyprus, the Turks are not expecting Christofias to accept their terms, but want instead either to collapse the talks – allowing Turkey to claim Cyprus reunification is impossible and that, citing Kosovo as a precedent, the only way forward is international recognition of its puppet state in northern Cyprus – or to prompt the UN to seek to bridge the gap between Turkey's maximalist and Christofias' minimalist positions and in so doing coming up with another Annan plan.

Increasingly, therefore, it seems that the current talks between Christofias and Talat are not aimed at reaching a settlement of the Cyprus issue, but are a trap set by the Turks; one which Papadopoulos would have avoided, but Christofias shows every sign of falling into.

Tassos Papadopoulos: a man who understood his people very well, by
Miguel Angel Moratinos

‘Tassos Papadopoulos, former President of the Republic of Cyprus, died last Friday in Nicosia. I met him soon after he became president, when I was still European Union special representative for the Middle East peace process. My wife knew his wife and family well. He had a Levantine personality, typical of the generation of Cypriots that, inspired by the idea of independence for their island, defended a legitimate nationalism against the British presence there.

‘I am writing these few lines, not only out of friendship for a great Cypriot patriot, but also seeking to eradicate the false image of him presented in Europe and the West as somebody who was stubborn and maximalist, who blocked a definitive solution to the Cyprus problem. Tassos Papadopoulos was an excellent personification of the Cypriot character; he was a staunch Hellenist, but educated in the strictest British tradition, which led him to become one of the most brilliant lawyers in Cyprus. His legal knowledge was always to the forefront when analysis was needed of any proposed solution to the dispute.

‘He became head of state of Cyprus at a very hopeful time for his country, after the excellent negotiation process carried out by the previous government, which led to Cyprus joining the European Union. All seemed well on course for all the ambitions of the Cypriots to be fulfilled.

‘Much has been written and said about the attitude of President Papadopoulos during the negotiations and about the referendum by which the Annan plan was rejected, but what is inescapable is that the vast majority of Greek Cypriots did not accept it.

‘Few Western leaders read all the fine details of this plan, and as has occurred in other international negotiations, the course of least resistance was adopted, namely that of pointing to a scapegoat, somebody held to be responsible – in this case, the president of Cyprus – rather than continuing negotiations, searching for a solution that would be acceptable to all parties. This does not invalidate the effort made by the Turkish Cypriots in the process, but all of us who have ample experience in the international arena, and especially in the area of the eastern Mediterranean, are well aware that any negotiating position can be improved and that what is important is to enjoy popular support.

‘I witnessed how President Papadopoulos made political ground within the EU and how his position and his arguments made themselves better understood. During this time, as the Spanish foreign minister, I had many opportunities to work with him and to exchange viewpoints, with the aim of reaching a definitive solution to the Cyprus problem. I can corroborate that this was his real passion, and despite diverse viewpoints, it was apparent that he was prepared to negotiate in good faith with the other side in order to reach a final agreement. He trusted in Spain and in our diplomacy, thanks to our good relations with Turkey, and on several occasions we were able to help resolve sensitive issues.

‘He admired modern, democratic Spain, and its Mediterranean vocation. He believed that young Cypriots could be better acquainted with the Spanish language and that students could study at universities in our country, in order to vary the current tendency to attend Greek or British universities.

‘He stood for re-election at the last elections, and was convinced he would win, but his good friend and political partner Dimitris Christofias, received greater support from the voters. The last time we met was in Beijing, on the occasion of the inauguration of the Olympic Games last August. Subsequently we spoke on the telephone on several occasions. His deep, throaty voice – caused by a lifelong tobacco habit – did not conceal his perfect command of English.

‘He never ceased to encourage me to assist the present government of President Christofias in achieving the long-desired reunification of the island.

‘He understood his people very well and I know he wished to resolve the Cypriot question, to achieve a definitive reconciliation with the modern, dynamic European Turkey, which is so close to this island-continent, as some have termed Cyprus.

‘Today, Tassos, you will receive the acknowledgement of all your people, to which I add my own and of Spain, another Mediterranean country.’


Hermes said...

It is truly sad but representative that Greek students forget to uphold one of the greatest Hellenes of the last 40 years as a hero but prefer celebrate some spoilt uneducated bums with no principles or values.

john akritas said...

The situation in Greece is hopeless for the next 10-15 years, if not longer; while in Cyprus the death of Papadopoulos has concentrated the mind – mine at least – and made it clear that if Christofias is not careful and signs up to a bad plan, it will be the death warrant for Hellenism on the island. Cyprus will either be Greek, or it will be Turkish. There's no middle way.
I agree with Sarris

Anonymous said...

Thank you John for the article. I hope it's OK that I have put it in my blog too.
Keep it up brother.

john akritas said...

I'm glad you liked the article. Please feel free to use stuff from my blog any time.