Friday, 27 September 2013

On cultural restoration, UN settlement negotiations and Golden Dawn in Cyprus

Some comments on events from this week.

First, following on from this post on Turkey’s assault on the cultural heritage of Cyprus, the short video above is well worth watching. It describes the latest efforts of Tasoula Hadjitofi to counter the systematic looting and trafficking of Cypriot cultural artifacts that followed Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus in 1974. Hadjitofi’s campaigning has resulted in many notable victories against the looters and traffickers and led to the restoration to Cypriot authorities of some of the island’s most important cultural works. Thus, this week, 18 years after she first discovered (in the possession of an elderly couple from Rotterdam) the looted icons from the iconostasis of Antifonitis Church near Turkish-occupied Kalogrea village, Hadjitofi had the satisfaction of seeing Dutch authorities return the works to Cyprus and to their rightful owners, the Church of Cyprus. (Of course, Hadjitofi’s efforts only scratch at the surface – 25,000 icons have been looted from churches and monasteries in occupied Cyprus – but the principle of restoration she is upholding is worthy).

Second, regarding developments in negotiations for a Cyprus settlement, it was announced this week that the Greek Cypriot negotiator Andreas Mavroyiannis would be meeting next month with officials from Turkey. A reciprocal meeting will be held between Turkish Cypriot negotiator Osman Ertug and officials from Greece. For some reason, this development was described as a breakthrough. This is because, apparently, it will enable the Greek Cypriot side to directly talk with the only power capable of expediting a settlement, i.e. Turkey. However, I fail to see what it is that Mavroyiannis will be able to tell the Turks that will convince them to modulate their Cyprus policy, which as I keep repeating is based on a desire to bring the whole of the island within Turkey’s sphere of influence. Does anyone seriously believe that Turkey is in a mood to put another nail in the coffin of its dying neo-Ottoman foreign policy by retreating from Cyprus and abandoning its perceived interests in the Eastern Mediterranean?

Third, following on from events in Greece regarding Golden Dawn, which I posted on here; it might be of interest to some to watch the video below from Cyprus TV station Sigma. It involves an interview with Christos Christou, leader of ELAM (the National Popular Front), the sister party of Golden Dawn in Cyprus. The party doesn’t seem to have much traction on the island, with its candidate in last February’s presidential elections picking up 3,899 votes, or 0.88 percent of the total vote. In the interview, Christou denied ELAM was a fascist party and said its nationalism was inspired by figures like Ion Dragoumis and Pericles Yiannopoulos – this is a likely story. He also said that ELAM was particularly concerned by the amount of Muslim immigrants to Cyprus who, he feared, if granted citizenship at some stage, would collaborate with the Turkish Cypriot community on the island. And, finally, and following on from the point I made in my previous post on the likely endurance of Golden Dawn in Greek politics, the anecdote told by the interviewer, Panayiotis Dimopoulos, who is from Greece, regarding the Agios Panteleimonas district of Athens, is revealing. Dimopoulos says he is from Agios Panteleimonas and one of the reasons he left the area to come to Cyprus was because it had become a no-go area for Greeks, subject as they were to crime and harassment from desperate illegal immigrants, trying to survive in any way possible. However, he says, on visiting Agios Panteleimonas this summer, he noticed a dramatic improvement in the situation with locals once again feeling safe in their neighbourhood. When he asked locals to explain how this progress had come about, they told him it was down to the patrols and (sometimes violent) activities of Golden Dawn.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Golden Dawn is not going to go away

Helena Smith usually writes tendentious and inaccurate rubbish about Greece for the Guardian and much of this article on Golden Dawn is in the same vein. However, a couple of truths are mentioned at the end of the piece, and these are that despite the murder of left-wing musician Pavlos Fyssas and the vehement reaction to it – including an attempt by the Justice Minister Nikos Dendias to have Golden Dawn declared a criminal organisation – the fact is that Golden Dawn’s appeal, which currently has it as Greece’s third most popular party in opinion polls, is likely to remain in tact, if not fortified, and that this will reveal itself in local elections next year, when Golden Dawn may well take control of a number of councils across the country. (We should also bear in mind that because of a certain stigma attached to expressing support for Golden Dawn, the party’s poll numbers may not reflect the full extent of its popularity).

Smith’s article contains the following:
Although surveys have shown the vast majority of Greeks expressing outrage at Golden Dawn's tactics in the wake of the killing, polls have also revealed the party maintaining steady ground in the areas most affected by the economic crisis. One survey released on Monday showed the group sweeping Athens in municipal elections next year – prompting speculation that the government's crackdown on the group could backfire…
‘For the first time they are being given a huge amount of exposure and air time,’ said Alexis Mantheakis, a political analyst… ‘Before there was a media blackout and they rarely appeared on television. Instead of being deflated, all this coverage is boosting their image and boosting their support. The situation in Greece is much more serious than it seems.’
It is, therefore, wishful thinking on the part of Golden Dawn’s opponents to believe that the murder of Fyssas will result in a collapse of support for the party. Greeks were not in the dark about Golden Dawn’s predilection for violence and Fyssas’ brutal death has not presented them with a reality they were previously unaware of. Rather, Golden Dawn’s ferocity and militancy is part of its appeal to a large number of Greeks who feel sheer hatred for the political and intellectual establishment that has run the country for the last 40 years. Indeed, the unpalatable truth is that the more this political and intellectual establishment denounces Golden Dawn and tries to turn it into a scapegoat for the ills of the country, the more sympathy and support Golden Dawn is likely to attract.

*The video above is from Greek TV and has Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos denying that the alleged killer of Pavlos Fyssas was a core member of his party or that Fyssas’ murder was politically motivated. He also denounces the attempt by the justice minister to have Golden Dawn declared a criminal organisation.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Iannis Xenakis on Rome and Seneca’s Medea

Following my post last week on Greece under the barbarian rule of Rome and the influence of Greek culture on the Romans, I’ll take the opportunity to post something related to the subject using the composer Iannis Xenakis who, in his work, captures better than anybody the madness, terror and ‘ecstatic dream world’ that Nietzsche defines as characterising Greek tragedy.

In 1967, Xenakis was commissioned by the Theatre de France to write the music for a production of Seneca’s Medea. Xenakis scholar Nouritza Matossian (an Armenian from Cyprus) says:

‘Xenakis had often wondered how the music of ancient Greek theatre might have sounded, how the actors, chorus and musicians might have chanted the text and played the aulos and in [Medea] he provided his solution. He treated the instruments as voices and the voices as instruments to create an implacable work, extending the language phonetically with whispers and hisses, repeated phrases and even banging stones. The atmosphere is archaic, with a setting which is both raucous and primitive.’

Regarding the work, Xenakis says that when he was approached to write it:

‘I hesitated because I knew Seneca as a pseudo-philosopher, an imperial courtier, and above all a Roman who sought, like all Romans of that period, to emulate the ancient Greek masterpieces.

‘But in reading the Latin text written in the first century AD I was seduced by its violent sonority, its barbarity, so I agreed.’

Above is Xenakis’ Medea in full, while below is a clip from Matossian’s 1990 BBC documentary on Xenakis, Something Rich and Strange.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Thoughts on Cyprus settlement talks emerging from an exchange with James Ker-Lindsay

A couple of points emerged from a recent twitter exchange I had with James Ker-Lindsay regarding Turkey’s rejection of a Greek Cypriot confidence-building proposal that would see Turkey restoring Varosha to its lawful inhabitants in return for the opening of Famagusta port under EU auspices and Cyprus lifting its veto over certain chapters affecting Turkey’s EU accession process.

James Ker-Lindsay is an LSE academic specialising in the politics of south-eastern Europe and with a particular interest in the Cyprus issue, which he is frequently referred to as an expert. However, I find his approach to Cyprus seriously flawed and deeply patronising, preferring as it does to pin the blame on the island’s division on competing ethnic nationalisms – i.e. the Greek and Turkish nationalisms that swayed Cypriots at the end of British colonial rule and during the first years of independence – and de-emphasising analyses of Cyprus’ downfall that assert the central role of cold war machinations – the American factor; Britain’s cynical and vindictive attempts to manage its decline as a global power; and Turkey’s Cyprus policy, fuelled by post-Ottoman paranoia, resentment and belligerence, and which continues to regard the island as indispensable to its national interests. (I have previously noted that Ahmet Davutoglu’s Neo-Ottoman foreign policy sees Cyprus, regardless of the presence of Muslim Turks there, ‘as positioned at the heart of Turkey’s Lebensraum [living space]’.

Indeed, this failure to grasp Turkey’s malevolent role in Cyprus – a role that explains more than anything why Cyprus has been divided for 39 years and will continue, in my opinion, to remain divided for the foreseeable future – is unforgivable. (Claire Palley goes so far as to say there is no Cyprus Question. There is a Turkey Question, which is in fact a continuation of the Eastern Question).

Regarding the twitter exchange, it was prompted by a comment by Andrew Duff MEP that Turkey’s rejection of the Varosha proposal indicated Turkey wasn’t interested in a Cyprus settlement – preliminary talks for which have just resumed with fully-fledged negotiations expected to begin in October. Ker-Lindsay, essentially accepting the Turkish line, responded to Duff by saying that bringing up the issue of Varosha return was a distraction from the aim of achieving an overall settlement.

At this point I joined the debate and noted that there exist UN resolutions on Varosha that provide the proper context for assessing the issue. These are UN Security Council resolution 550 (passed in 1984), that:
Considers attempts to settle any part of Varosha by people other than its inhabitants as inadmissible and calls for the transfer of this area to the administration of the United Nations
and UN Security Council resolution 789 (passed in 1992), that calls for:
With a view to the implementation of resolution 550 (1984), the area at present under the control of the United Nations Peace-keeping Force in Cyprus be extended to include Varosha.
I also pointed out the agreement on Varosha reached in 1979 between Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash and then president of Cyprus, Spyros Kyprianou, which states that:
Priority will be given to reaching agreement on the resettlement of Varosha under UN auspices simultaneously with the beginning of the consideration by the interlocutors of the constitutional and territorial aspects of a comprehensive settlement. After agreement on Varosha has been reached it will be implemented without awaiting the outcome of the discussion on other aspects of the Cyprus problem.
Clearly, then, the Turkish side has agreed that the return of Varosha should not be held hostage to an overall deal and the city’s resettlement can and should go ahead before other elements of the Cyprus problem are resolved. In these circumstances, by putting Varosha return on the table, the Greek Cypriot side is not creating a distraction, but asking Turkey to prove it is sincere in wanting a wider Cyprus settlement by abiding by UN resolutions and the Kyprianou-Denktash deal signed 34 years ago.

(Indeed, Turkey’s cynical approach to treaties and agreements is well known and the 1979 Kyprianou-Denktash deal is no exception. Rather than implement the 1979 deal and hand over Varosha to the UN in preparation for return to its lawful inhabitants, Turkey has followed its usual tactic of making an agreement and then, before honouring its signature, demanding from the other side even more concessions – which amount to full realisation of its goals. In the case of Varosha return – supposed to be unconditional and not tied to an overall settlement – Turkey has not only extracted from the Greek Cypriot side concessions related to Famagusta port and the opening of EU accession chapters, but has insisted on more, specifically the opening of the illegal Tymvou airport to international traffic, a move the Greek Cypriots have rejected since it would amount to recognition of the pseudo-state in the occupied areas).

Apart from insisting to Ker-Lindsay that the Varosha issue be put in its correct context, I also pointed out to him that the reason Turkey was against its return was not because it was a distraction from an overall settlement but because Turkey was worried by any momentum returning Varosha might produce; momentum that would cause Turkey to lose control over negotiations on a wider deal.

A successful Varosha/Famagusta port deal might create expectations and pressures from the international community that Turkey would be unable to resist and jeopardise the kind of overall Cyprus settlement it wants, which is one in which Turkey’s occupation of the island is not ended but legitimised, in which division is enshrined not overcome and in which Turkey’s continuing presence and influence on Cyprus is not removed but institutionalised. Because Turkey knows that such a deal will never be freely negotiated by the Greek Cypriot side, Turkey’s Cyprus talks strategy continues to aim at either bludgeoning the Greek Cypriots into accepting Turkey’s preferred deal or, failing this, scuppering the talks, to prove they are ineffective and going nowhere, and then declaring that an Annan-type deal should be imposed from above or the pseudo-state be afforded international recognition.

Of course, one way for Turkey to prove such an assessment wrong is by agreeing to the Varosha proposal. The fact that Turkey has dismissed it out of hand shows that Turkey, as Andrew Duff correctly observed, is not interested in a reasonable Cyprus settlement and, in fact, regards genuine reunification and reconciliation on the island as antithetical to its perceived national and geostrategic interests.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Greeks under the rule of barbarian Rome

Above is the final episode in Michael Scott’s BBC series Ancient Greece: the Greatest Show on Earth. (Watch part one here and part two here). Episode three looks at how Greek theatre fared as Rome emerged as a dominant military and political power and Greece and Greek cities and kingdoms lost their independence. It’s not a bad programme, but I find the Romans to be insufferable barbarians, on about the same level as the Seljuks and Ottomans.

Regarding what happened to Greek literature under the Romans, I was reading an essay by Peter Bien from The Greek World: Classic, Byzantine and Modern, in which Bien says the following:
‘It would be a mistake to think that Greek literature died with Greek liberty. Menander’s marvellous comedies of manners, the plays that, by way of Plautus and Terence, set the first theatrical example for the Renaissance, for Shakespeare and for Moliere, were… the growth of an age politically hopeless. Polybius, through whose history we know that Scipio wept over Carthage destroyed, was a Greek hostage. The historical analysis of Tacitus and of Livy depend on history written by losers, by generations of sarcastic Greeks. Machiavelli rediscovered and transfigured their style, mostly through Tacitus and Livy, and Marx read Machiavelli. Clarendon in his History of the Great Rebellion goes back for this style to the same ancient historians. Shakespeare transcribes Plutuarch’s Lives at times almost word for word.’
I’m curious as to which ‘sarcastic Greeks’ Bien is referring to.

Regarding Plutarch, Bien adds:
‘Plutarch’s drawing of Romans is much more effective than his gallery of Greeks. The Greeks lived longer ago, and he knows less about them. The death of Cicero, the suicide of Cato, and the story of Antony and Cleopatra are written in brilliant dryness. It was Plutarch’s sense of tragedy, not that of the tragic poets, that Shakespeare drank in.’
Bien also has this to say:
‘The greatest hero of late Greek literature is Jesus Christ. The gospels are in Greek because the entire eastern Mediterranean world in their time had been Hellenized since before Christ, and one of the thrills and shocks of the gospels is that mixture of cultures. In spite of their linguistic awkwardness, or because of it, they are powerful pieces of simple writing such as Greek had never encompassed before.’

Monday, 9 September 2013

Reflections on a twitter exchange with Ozdil Nami

I had an exchange with Ozdil Nami on twitter, which might be of interest.

Nami was last week appointed ‘foreign minister’ in the coalition ‘government’ in the Turkish-occupied areas of Cyprus. He is an ‘MP’ with the leftist Republican Turkish Party and was a senior aide to former leader of the Turkish Cypriot community Mehmet Ali Talat.

My exchange with Nami began when I was irked by his assertion that awarding the Olympic Games to Turkey in 2020 would ‘send a strong message of peace and reconciliation to this war-torn part of the world’.

I suggested to Nami that if Turkey was interested in being seen as a paragon of peace and reconciliation, then perhaps it should end its occupation of Cyprus. Nami retorted that Greek Cypriots could have ended the presence of Turkish troops on the island in 2004 by accepting the Annan plan. There then followed an exchange on the merits of the Annan plan with Nami suggesting if the plan was as bad as I was making out then why would the current president of Cyprus, Nikos Anastasiades, and the then government of Greece have supported it? I argued they did this not because of the intrinsic merits of the plan, but because they feared rejection of it might lead the way to an upgrading of the pseudo-state in occupied Cyprus and the international isolation of the Republic of Cyprus. I further pointed out to Nami that it would be a mistake for the Turkish side to assume, in forthcoming negotiations on a Cyprus settlement, that because Anastasiades had backed the Annan plan in 2004 he would be amenable to a similar plan now. (I have discussed Anastasiades’ motivations for saying ‘Yes’ to the Annan plan in 2004 and why these no longer exist in 2013 in more detail here).

The most interesting part of the exchange for me was when I asked Nami – regarded as a moderate and progressive in the Turkish Cypriot community – whether he supported the notion that in a federal Cyprus, Cypriots would be able to live, work and own property in any part of the island, i.e. in both the Greek and Turkish components of the putative federal state. I asked him this question because the Turkish Cypriots’ strict interpretation of the bizonal element of a federal Cyprus – an interpretation that was reflected in the Annan plan – would seem to preclude certain residential, employment and ownership freedoms to Greek Cypriots. The Turkish side has insisted – and the Annan plan confirmed this – that quotas and restrictions be applied to Greek Cypriots wishing to settle, work and own property in that part of Cyprus to be run by the Turkish Cypriot constituent state. I wondered, therefore, if Nami would recognise that Turkish Cypriot insistence on a rigid form of bizonality – which smacks of ethnic separation, or apartheid – was intolerable to modern political thinking and contemporary notions of human rights and was one of the main reasons why Greek Cypriots rejected the Annan plan.

In fact, Nami did say he agreed with my proposition that in a federal Cyprus, Cypriots should be able to live, work and own property anywhere on the island. This somewhat took me aback since I don’t see how this affirmation of fundamental freedoms can be reconciled to bizonality, because for bizonality to work in the way Turkish Cypriots want, they must, at all times, be numerically superior and own the majority of property in their constituent state; a scenario that is impossible to guarantee if human rights regarding settlement, employment and ownership of property are applied.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Greek drama and the decline of Athens

Above is the second part of Michael Scott’s series Ancient Greece: the Greatest Show on Earth, which traces the central role of comic and tragic theatre in the culture and politics of ancient Greece. In the first part of the series – Democracy – (see it here) Scott established the links between tragedy and democracy in Athens, while in part two – Kings – he examines how theatre spread throughout the Greek world and changed in content and purpose with the decline of Athens in the aftermath of its defeat in the Peloponnesian war and the emergence of Greek kingdoms, such as Macedon. It’s a good narrative and there’s some interesting detail and points but, again, the British talking-head classicists are a dull lot, with the exception of Oliver Taplin. In fact, what is most exciting in the series is the travelogue element. Greece always looks stunning and Scott visits some evocative sites, such as the Syracuse stone quarries where 7,000 Athenian prisoners were held after the disastrous Sicilian expedition in 413 BC and Chaeronea, where the Macedonians led by King Philip the Great defeated an Athenian-led force to claim control over Greece in 338 BC.

* See part three of the series here.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

The conflict of interest between Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots and what this means for Cyprus negotiations

Kutlay Erk is a leading figure in the leftist Republican Turkish Party that yesterday became the senior partner of the ‘government’ in the Turkish occupied region of Cyprus.

Last week, Erk, according to the Cyprus Press and Information Office, speaking in occupied Nicosia, made these comments about the relations between the Turkish minority in Cyprus and Turkey.

‘On the issue of the Cyprus problem, the Turkish Cypriots have their own vision and targets and Turkey has its own vision and targets.’

Erk went on: ‘The target of the Turkish Cypriots is to exist on this island, while Turkey wants to have influence in the Eastern Mediterranean and has the target of being active and influential in Cyprus because of the fact that the energy pipelines are congested in the area.’

Erk concluded: ‘We [the Turkish Cypriots] often see ourselves as living here for our ability to maintain Turkey’s interests. Our target must be to live in this geography, not to protect Turkey’s interests.’

Let’s decode what Erk is saying here.

Turkey wants to exert control over the whole of Cyprus as part of its policy to assert its influence and authority in the Eastern Mediterranean.

To do this, Turkey cannot countenance the Republic of Cyprus – or any other Greek-controlled entity – flourishing in the Eastern Mediterranean. Abolishing the Republic of Cyprus is something the Annan plan would have done and explains why Turkey was so enthusiastic about its adoption.

For the Turkish Cypriots, on the other hand, the kind of unwieldy, conflict-ridden Cypriot state envisaged by Annan, in which they would play the role of ‘maintaining Turkey’s interests’ by restraining the ability of the Greek Cypriots to exercise sovereignty, is not so attractive.

The optimum solution for the Turkish Cypriots is a clean partition and recognition of the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’. But this outcome, while satisfying the Turkish Cypriot desire to live separately from Greek Cypriots, given Greek opposition and the international climate, is not feasible. Thus, Turkey, to undermine the ability of the island’s Greek population to exercise sovereignty in Cyprus and realise its ambitions to be a dominant presence in the Eastern Mediterranean, must infiltrate the government of Cyprus and make it impotent to resist Turkish interests. It is this role of ‘protector’ of Turkey’s interests in a putative federal government of Cyprus the Turkish Cypriots are increasingly reluctant to play, if it means at the same time having to emerge from their self-imposed isolation and take part in a state, institutions and society with the island’s Greek majority. Turkish Cypriot frustration with Turkey does not mean, as some naive Greek Cypriots would like to think, that the Turkish Cypriots want to abandon Turkey – and Turkey to abandon Cyprus – and come closer to Greek Cypriot positions on what a reunited Cyprus might look like. In fact, in many ways, it means the opposite, which is why President Anastasiades has been saying recently that, regarding Cyprus negotiations, it is the intention of his government to find ways to bypass the Turkish Cypriots and talk directly to Turkey.