Thursday, 28 March 2013

Who’s to blame for Cyprus’ economic crash?



Here’s Hermes’ comment responding to the views Christophoros Pissarides has expressed in the international media (which I’ve posted on here, here and here) regarding the Cyprus ‘bailout’ deal, which Pissarides regards as outrageous and ignorant:

I understand Pissarides is angry at this stage of the crisis. However, when things being to settle a bit, I hope for the sake of Greek Cypriots and Greeks, that Pissarides will tell the truth. The best friends are the ones that are honest rather than the ones that tell you what you want to hear.

Putting aside for a second the brutality of the IMF, EU and German diktats, the fact that Cyprus developed very lax banking standards (even before the Greek PSI, Laiki was deteriorating fast), was very slow in responding by cutting government expenditure below revenues when it became obvious that the banks were very unhealthy, they did not have the wherewithal to recapitalize its banks; the responsibility of this should not wholly fall onto the German and northern European taxpayer. They were prepared to provide most of the funds but not all of them. Also, why would they really care if Cyprus has many accounting and finance graduates. If Germany suddenly priced itself out of exports markets, and thousands of engineers become unemployable, should Greece and Cyprus be expected to pay for that? The Greek Cypriots orientated its economy a certain way; and in turn, churned out certain skills, but did not get the basics right.


Here’s my response:

You’re missing the point, which is that the punishment being meted out to Cyprus does not fit the crime.  And you’re also insulting the intelligence of Cypriots, since no one – apart perhaps from AKEL – denies that Cypriots got carried away, and wanted to create an Eastern Mediterranean Switzerland without the necessary standards, probity and professionalism. They got greedy, complacent. They put in charge of a liberal economy a bunch of idiotic and unreconstituted communists. Too many Cypriots, with relatively modest incomes, because of an ability to take out easy loans, lived millionaire lifestyles. The saga with Vgenopoulos is a perfect example of how Cypriot bankers and politicians succumbed to greed, leaving good sense at the door when he promised them he could make them even richer, when in fact his intention was to loot Laiki to support his dishonest dealings in Greece and for the enrichment of friends and family.

However, having got themselves into trouble, Cypriots did expect solidarity from the EU, not only because the trouble Cyprus found itself was due in part to the flawed way the euro was constructed and the incompetent way the eurozone crisis has been handled; but also because the EU is supposed to be moving towards a political as well as economic union, in which there are no northern European and southern European taxpayers, just like there is no distinction between taxpayers in NSW and those in Victoria. So Cypriots were entitled to expect reasonable treatment from the EU and not bullying, threats, prejudice, lies (about money laundering) and becoming an unwitting pawn in Germany’s forthcoming elections. And unlike Greece, Cypriots didn’t expect to take the money and carry on as before. They were prepared to make massive changes to their society and economy – which was not as rotten and corrupt as Greece’s (though Pissarides’ talk of impeccable or British standards of probity is optimistic) – but instead of being given this chance to reform their economic system, much of which was in good order, they will see it wrecked, with all the social and human consequences – thirty years of hard work, in which there was continuous growth and full employment – all done in the aftermath of the Turkish invasion, in which hundreds of thousand of people lost everything, becoming destitute overnight, and often worked two-three jobs to get on their feet again – down the drain.

And I would also stress that this is not simply an economic or standards of living issue. Because of the Turkish occupation and Turkey’s continuous threats, against which Cyprus’ only defence has been the legitimacy of the Republic of Cyprus and the strength of its economy, what is at stake is national survival – this is not an exaggeration. Indeed, since we know that the existence of the Republic of Cyprus is a thorn in the sides of powerful players in the region – who have sought for decades, and most recently through the Annan plan, to dismantle the Republic of Cyprus – we are entitled to suspect that what’s going on here is not a simple economic crisis, but a means to diminish the Cypriot state and make it vulnerable to the political and geopolitical machinations of unfriendly powers.

*Above and below are two interviews with Chris Pavlou, until recently vice president of Laiki Bank. The first interview, in English with Faisal Islam from Channel 4 news, describes the browbeating Cyprus was subjected to by the troika and the the corrupt dealings of the Greek units of Laiki, whose losses ended up being covered not by Greek but by Cypriot authorities; while the second interview is in Greek with Fanis Papathanasiou from Greek state TV network NET, in which Pavlou describes Laiki Bank as out of control and a political establishment not fit to reign it in.


Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Pissarides questions Cyprus’ future in the euro



Above is another video clip of Christophoros Pissarides, the Cypriot Nobel prize-winning economist and head of the island’s Economic Policy Council, this time explaining to Bloomberg TV the ramifications of Cyprus’ bailout deal and wondering whether Cyprus should now abandon the euro. Pissarides is clearly furious and incredulous that Germany (essentially) has decided at a stroke, disdainfully, unnecessarily and unjustifiably, to terminate Cyprus as a financial services centre, without any apparent sensitivity to the fact that much of Cypriot society – particularly the education system – was oriented towards accommodating the economic model the country had developed over a period of 40 years.

Below are a couple of things Pissarides says in the interview:
 

‘The implications for the Cypriot economy will be a disaster. The only good thing about it is that the uncertainty has been resolved. But that’s like saying, “I’ve got a pain in my leg”, I go to the doctor, he cuts the leg off and we say “it’s good that you don’t have the uncertainty about that pain anymore”.’

‘Cyprus developed as a small economy with a highly educated labour force – the most highly educated labour force in Europe in terms of university degrees – and concentrated on business and financial services. And now the German finance minister and others are telling Cyprus, “This is not a good model of economic development for you. You have to think of something else”. Now, what do those qualified people do – all those people who have degrees in accounting, finance and banking studies from British universities? They become unemployed or leave the country.’

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Pissarides blasts Cyprus bailout deal



Above is audio of Christophoros Pissarides, Nobel prize-winning economist and head of Cyprus’ Economic Policy Council, speaking yesterday on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about the Troika’s ‘rescue’ package for Cyprus. Richard Corbett, former Labour MEP and currently adviser to EC president Herman Van Rompuy, is the other speaker. The professor can barely contain his contempt and outrage at the decision reached on Cyprus.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Olli Rehn and Elena Panaritis on Cyprus economic crash



The above video is of European Commission Vice President Olli Rehn speaking in the immediate aftermath of last night’s Cyprus bailout deal. I was struck by his ominous tone, promising tough times ahead for Cypriots and comparing the likely fallout to the impact on the island of the Turkish invasion in 1974. ‘Cyprus and the Cypriots,’ he said, ‘have gone through very difficult times before – and you know what I mean – and the Cypriots have overcome these difficult times. There will tough times ahead as well; but I’m sure that by working hard together, we shall overcome these difficulties.’

Below is Greek economist and former Pasok MP Elena Panaritis speaking on BBC Radio 5 just after news of the Cyprus bailout deal came through last night. She too expects the Cypriot economy to be devastated by the troika ‘rescue’ and draws particular attention to the fate of pension funds that will be hit by the levy on €100,000 plus deposits and the winding up of Laiki bank. Panaritis also blames Greece’s economic meltdown for precipitating the crisis in Cyprus. ‘Don’t forget,’ she said, ‘that Cyprus is being punished for something not originated by themselves. Thirty percent of their GDP – in other words, the capital that has been lost from the banking sector – is because of the PSI and the Greek crisis. We, the Greeks, exported this terrible tragedy to Cyprus. I feel very awkward about Cyprus right now, being Greek myself.’



Saturday, 23 March 2013

Varoufakis, Orphanides and Pissarides on the Cyprus economic crisis








Above are three takes on the Cyprus economic crisis, from Yanis Varoufakis, Athanasios Orphanides and Christophoros Pissarides.

Varoufakis, speaking last night on BBC Radio 4, suggests that the Cyprus economic model – which, according to him, entailed the island becoming the Switzerland of the Eastern Mediterranean – was a bad idea from the start and was now, thankfully, dead and buried. On the other hand, Athanasios Orphanides, professor at MIT, and former governor of the Cyprus Central Bank, before he was removed last year by the island’s former president, Dimitris Christofias, speaking to Bloomberg TV on 19 March, defends Cyprus’ economic model, asserting that it was functioning well and was basically sound. He also asserts that the treatment of Cyprus by the EU indicates to him that what we are witnessing now is the ‘slow death of the European project’. Nobel prize-winning economist
Christophoros Pissarides, recently appointed head of Cyprus’ Economic Policy Council, being interviewed by Channel 4 News last night, can barely contain his outrage and disgust at the way the Troika has perfunctorily wreaked havoc on the Cyprus economy, which, like Orphanides, he suggests was fundamentally healthy. Pissarides asserts that the problems facing the banking sector in Cyprus could have been overcome without a wholesale repudiation of the island’s economic model.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Greece accused of abandoning Cyprus… again.



Above is DISY MP Lefteris Christoforou speaking on Cypriot TV yesterday and accusing Greece’s Central Bank of turning down Cyprus’ request for a loan of €2bn out of the €50bn Greece has at its disposal to recapitalise its banks. Christoforou says Cyprus effectively gifted Greece €4bn when it agreed to the haircut of Greek debt in late 2011 and implied that Greece should now return the favour and show solidarity with Cyprus, especially since Greece had only used €41bn of the €50bn made available to it for its banks. The sense of Greece, again, abandoning Cyprus to its own fate is strong and has brought up memories of the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974, when Greece told Cyprus that it was ‘too far’ from Greece for it to help.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Cyprus turns down EU deal, and looks to Russia

Well, as we all know by now the Cyprus parliament categorically rejected the Eurogroup/Troika deal put to it that would have involved haircuts to bank deposits in return for the securing of a €10bn loan. Obviously, I’ve been following this story very closely and below is my tweeting activity over the last couple of days, which agrees with the NO vote and draws attention to the broader issues for Cyprus and the dilemmas it still faces.

What is clear is that the EU’s intention was to decimate Cyprus as a financial centre. Cyprus accepted the need for a contraction of its banking sector, but it could not accept that this would be done in a chaotic and rushed fashion that would propel the country into economic turmoil and years and years of recession. Nor could Cyprus accept the spurious premise on which this would have been done, i.e. Cyprus was a haven for Russian mafia money. The German-inspired emphasis on dirty Russian money made Cypriots suspicious that they were being caught in a wider geopolitical game between the EU and Russia, in which Cyprus was being sacrificed to lessen the influence of Russia in the Eastern Mediterranean. But while it might suit the EU, the US and others that Russia is excluded from the Eastern Mediterranean, it does not suit Cyprus, which has an overriding political problem with Turkey that is not taken seriously by the EU but has garnered Cyprus, over a long period, support from Russia.

       
1. Currently reading Claire Palley’s book on Annan plan. Her description of UN shenanigans & bullying of Cyprus very similar to EU browbeating

.

2. Having said Cyprus can’t afford to alienate EU because of Turkish occupation, for same reason it needs to keep Russia on board. Dilemma.

3. @EnetEnglish. Story isn’t serious. It just wants to discredit & defame Cyprus & make out the occupation regime is legitimate & responsible.





4. @EnetEnglish. Why are you reporting such a bullshit propaganda story as if it had any credibility or worth? Get your act together. (http://www.enetenglish.gr/?i=news.en.home&id=357

5. Worth stressing that Cyprus membership of EU was a strategic not economic choice, designed to reverse Turkish occupation of 40% of island.





6. @Hugodixon Cyprus bailout piece is v. good. Appreciates Turkish occupation context & why Cyprus can’t alienate EU. http://bit.ly/YqzkoL 




 

7. Please @cybc2012, fix your web stream. I’m having to watch TV stream from Greece for latest news on Cyprus, and it’s doing my head in.



 

8. Putin invites Cypriot president Anastasiades to Moscow. ‘Come any time you like’, he tells him: http://www.kathimerini.gr/4dcgi/_w_articles_kathremote_1_20/03/2013_488705
    

9. Georgie Markides: ‏
Cyprus NO is a strong message not to its public but to the investor community that it fights to remain a financial hub
. Retweeted by john akritas 



10. Panikos Hadjipanayis: 
Russia tries to ease concerns over Cyprus levy: http://news.yahoo.com/russia-gain-more-loses-cyprus-levy-russian-deputy-165928022--business.html Retweeted by john akritas 




11. Message to Greece from Cyprus: you don’t have to burn down country and hold general strike after general strike to get your message across


.

12. Cyprus NO is correct decision. Only when Andros Kyprianou was speaking did I think we might be making a mistake.



    

13. Cypriots are very, very stubborn. That’s my explanation. When they think they’re right, they think they’re right.


14.  Danae Marga: ‏
Είναι Ρωσσία εναντίον Γερμανία απλά η Κύπρος είναι το μέσο δυστυχώς. Retweeted by john akritas 




15. One of the worst consequences of Cyprus haircut plan is that it’s put a spring back in the step of communist AKEL.




16.  Στράτος Μωραΐτης 
RT @EfiEfthimiou: Cyprus DIKO leader: It is clear now, the problem isn’t economic, it’s political, it's geopolitical. Retweeted by john akritas 




17. Nul points to bailout plan. Not one Cyprus MP will vote for haircut deal. Up to 36 set to vote against, while remaining 20 will abstain.





18. ‘Just a month into his new presidency, Nicos Anastasiades has been comprehensively discredited’. http://soa.li/86u8OhB 




    

19. Must be stressed: Cyprus can’t afford to alienate Russian money as Russia’s support against Turkish occupation is matter of life and death.




 20. @achrisafis Can you stop referring to the ‘Turkish north’ in your pieces on Cyprus. This is a politically loaded term, which Turkey prefers.





  21. ‘The Cypriot govt was keener to protect its banking model, which turned out to be a disastrous political mistake.’ http://reut.rs/ZEcKus 





22. MRT @pdacosta @YanniKouts Correct. Anastasiades not Schaeuble hit small savers to keep Cyprus as financial centre. http://tinyurl.com/cr926tz 




23. Russians can’t complain too much about losing Cyprus as offshore haven. Christofias begged them for money to avoid precisely this scenario.





24. What Cyprus is trying to do is preserve itself as financial centre, but the game is up, regardless of vote tomorrow. Russians are off.




25. On revising deposit tax, wealthy Russians & Britons will take their money out of Cyprus anyway, so right to hit them harder before they go.




26. MRT @TheCyprusWeekly: Pissarides accepts outcome of Cyprus bank levy deal will be mass exodus of foreign depositors. http://bit.ly/15dz3Zl  





27. Should be stressed. There has been NO panic in Cyprus over bank deal and demonstration outside presidential palace was tiny – 150 people.



28. Even if Cyprus parliament votes against haircut and there is some renegotiation with troika, country's financial system faces devastation.



Sunday, 17 March 2013

Cyprus bank bailout: the issues we must consider

Below are some provisional thoughts I’ve been publishing on my Twitter account on the decision taken by the Eurogroup on Saturday morning regarding Cyprus’ request for a bank bailout. I won’t go into the details of the decision because you probably all know what’s being proposed, suffice it to say that we must think beyond what the immediate economic impact of the bail-in/out would be – it is not just a question of taking seven and 10 percent from people’s savings – and consider the wider political and geo-political implications.  

As of 12:00 pm:

12. Melian dialgoue from Thucydides always comes to mind in circumstances in which Cyprus finds itself: http://bit.ly/RugF9n

11. Cyprus socialists announce they will vote against bail-in/out. Will demand renegotiation of terms.

10. In fact, what do Greece, Cyprus, Serbia, all devastated by the EU, have in common? They’re not quite ‘European’, are they.

9. Here’s an ugly truth. Cyprus has been hung out to dry because as Greeks and Orthodox Christians, Cypriots have no powerful allies in EU.


8. Everything Cyprus does must take into account Turkey’s occupation & continuing threats. As in 1974, Turkey sits there waiting for mistakes.


7. UK’s decision to compensate soldiers affected by Cyprus bank levy amounts to direct UK government contribution to Cyprus bail-in/out.


6. Anastasiades is a serial blinker. He blinked in 2004 and backed the Annan plan; and he has blinked again in 2013 over bail-in/out. 


5. Given Anastasiades is fatally damaged, implications for Cyprus issue serious. UN, Turkey and others will have noted his capitulation.

4. Anastasiades, given no depositor haircut promises, barely 2 weeks into presidency, is politically finished. Five years of lame duck.


3. Geopolitics of driving Russians out of Cyprus has also to be considered. EU & others irked by Cyprus’ political & economic links to Russia.


2. Also correct. Troika hitting large (foreign) savers is designed to wreck Cyprus’ economic model as financial centre: http://bit.ly/XNX37W


1. @Frances_Coppola is correct. Anastasiades hit small savers in (futile) effort to preserve Cyprus as financial centre. http://coppolacomment.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/sowing-wind.html?spref=tw

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Στην Κύπρο σαν θα πάμε, του Ευαγόρα Παλληκαρίδη



Μελοποιημένο ποίημα του ήρωα της ΕΟΚΑ Ευαγόρα Παλληκαρίδη που απαγχονίστηκε από τους Άγγλους στις 14 Μαρτίου 1957.

Στην Κύπρο σαν θα πάμε
Στην Κύπρο σαν θα πάμε
στ' ωραίο µας νησί

Σε θέλουµε να φτάσεις
Ελλάδα µας και σὺ

Να διώξεις τη σκλαβιά μας
και νά’ρθ η Λευτεριά

Να σπάσουν αλυσίδες
και σίδερα βαριά


* Τραγουδά ο Γιάννης Κότσιρας.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Jack Straw: first-class passenger on the Turkey gravy train

A little more on Jack Straw, UK foreign secretary from 2001-2006 in Tony Blair’s Labour government, who has since become a prominent lobbyist for the Turkish government, especially when it comes to arguing its case for joining the EU and denouncing those, particularly the Republic of Cyprus, he deems impeding Ankara’s inalienable European aspirations. Previously, regarding Cyprus, I’ve written about how Straw has advocated the formal partitioning of the island – which is something not even Turkey dares to demand of the international community, nor in fact is it sure it really wants, since Turkey’s optimal plan is to control the whole of Cyprus not just 37% of it – and I’ve associated Straw’s outbursts with the remuneration and other benefits he receives from the Turkish government.

In a post earlier this month, I further detailed how Jack Straw has appeared in a propaganda video put together by Turkey’s Ministry for EU affairs and Turkish state broadcaster TRT that seeks to attribute Turkey’s stalled EU accession to the obstructionist tactics deployed by the Greek Cypriots and who, Straw argues, should never have been allowed to join the EU in the first place.

And now I note that Straw has given an interview to Today’s Zaman, a pro-government English-language Turkish daily, in which the former foreign secretary reiterates his view that it was a ‘huge mistake’ to allow Cyprus to join the EU in 2004 and argues, with some vehemence, for the recognition of Turkey’s puppet state on the island, the so-called ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’.

In the interview, Straw describes himself as ‘sad and very angry’ at Turkey’s faltering EU accession negotiations and squarely puts the blame for this on ‘petty politics by the Greek Cypriots’ who, Straw says, large EU countries, for the sake of Turkey, should now ‘get tough’ with, especially in light of ‘the true nature of the financial shambles of Greek Cyprus and its huge indebtedness to Russia and many other problems’.

Straw adds that if the Greek Cypriots continue to obstruct Turkey’s EU accession, then they must be forced to ‘understand what the consequences of their actions are’ and he proposes to do this by recognising the Turkish pseudo-state on Cyprus and formalising the island’s partition.

‘Part of the difficulty at the moment,’ Straw says, ‘is that you've got a de facto partition, anyway, as for the Greek Cypriots there is little or no incentive for them for a compromise because they've got all the benefits of a partition without any of the disadvantages. So in time we may have to get there [i.e. recognition of the ‘TRNC’], and it's not the end of the world; after all some of the former provinces of Yugoslavia were separated and partitioned.’

Straw then goes on to express his ‘anger’ at the plight of the Turkish Cypriots, who he agrees with his interviewer were ‘left out in the cold’ by the EU, despite voting in favour of the Annan plan in 2004.

Over the last decade, Straw concludes: ‘I have moved… from a position of relative neutrality between the position of the Greek Cypriot government and that of the Turkish Cypriots to one where I believe that a great injustice has been done to the Turkish Cypriot community, and this has nothing to do with the feelings for the Greek Cypriot population who I feel great affection for, but it is about their system.’

(You can read the whole interview here, in which Straw also describes former Greek prime minister Giorgos Papandreou as a ‘great man’ for persuading, in 2005, the Republic of Cyprus to agree to the launching of Turkey’s accession negotiations).

Straw’s motives
Since Cyprus is not the reason Turkey’s EU accession negotiations have ground to a halt – France is also blocking the opening of a number of chapters Turkey is obliged to complete before joining the EU, while Turkey itself has consistently failed to pass the necessary reforms to make it a viable EU candidate country – and since recognition of the ‘TRNC’ would not re-ignite Turkey’s EU process but end it altogether, with Cyprus losing any incentive to acquiesce to Turkey’s EU aspirations, then, unless Straw is a complete idiot, which is a possibility, it’s hard to attribute anything other than malice and selfish interest to Straw’s anti-Cyprus rants.

Regarding Straw’s selfish interests, it’s worth pointing out the following:

I checked the most recent Register of Members’ Financial Interests, which describes the interests of UK MPs that might influence their ‘actions, speeches or votes’, and although I couldn’t find any recent payments Straw has received from the Turkish government (the last registered payments from Turkey to Straw were in April 2011); he did earn, from February 2012 to February 2013, on top of his MP’s salary and cabinet minister pension, £3065 for articles written for UK national newspapers; £52,000 for speaking engagements to do with security and foreign affairs; £60,000 for security consultancy work; and £92,250 in advance for the publication of his political memoirs. Obviously, it remains in Straw’s financial interests to remain in the public eye, particularly through the espousal of controversial views and self-depiction as a security and foreign affairs guru.

However, if we are looking for more direct links that would explain Straw’s shameless pandering to the Turkish government, then it’s worth drawing attention to this article from the Lancashire Telegraph, a daily newspaper covering Straw’s parliamentary constituency of Blackburn, a town in north-west England, which, it’s relevant to point out, has a Muslim population of 25 percent, mostly originating from Pakistan.

The article is from 23 October 2012 and refers to an award Straw received from the Turkish government for his contributions to multiculturalism and British-Turkish friendship. Like Straw’s views on Cyprus, the sentiments expressed by Turkey’s president, Abdullah Gul, are so outrageous as to be almost comical. Below is the article in full. (I don’t know why Straw’s trip to Ankara to pick up his prize, which must have involved flights and accommodation, presumably paid for by Straw’s Turkish hosts, was not mentioned in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests).

Blackburn MP Jack Straw is honoured by the Turkish government
Jack Straw has been given one of Turkey’s highest awards for being ‘a politician who approaches the Islamic world and Muslim societies with sincerity and friendship’.

He flew to Turkish capital Ankara to receive the country’s highest order available to individuals who are not heads of state.


The citation for the Order of the Republic or Turkey made by President Abdullah Gul highlights the Blackburn MP and former Foreign Secretary’s commitment to multiculturalism.


He praised Mr Straw for his role in issues such as the British military’s position in Iraq and Afghanistan, highly controversial issues in the Islamic world.


President Gul said he hoped the award would be a ‘strong symbol of the longstanding friendship’ between Britain and Turkey and its peoples.


Mr Straw said: ‘I am delighted and honoured to receive this award. Turkey is a vital country to Europe and the modern world.’


Giving Mr Straw the award, President Gul said: ‘I am especially honoured to present to my very close friend Jack, the Order of the Republic which is the highest order presented to persons other than heads of state.


‘In our generation, Jack Straw is one of those few politicians who embodies the qualities of a statesman.


‘He has valued multiculturalism throughout his political career and is a politicians who approaches the Islamic world and Muslim societies with sincerity and friendship.


‘The key to his popularity in his constituency of Blackburn lies in these very qualities.


‘Jack is a democrat with a conscience of the kind greatly and collectively needed in Europe in order to fight against racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.’


President Gul praised Mr Straw as being a ‘friend to Turkey and the Turkish people’ and highlighted his efforts to bring Turkey into the European Union and supporting the case of the Turkish Cypriots.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Kazantzakis on screen: Jules Dassin’s He Who Must Die



I finally managed to track down and watch Jules Dassin’s He Who Must Die (Celui qui doit mourir), the American filmmaker’s (1957) version of Nikos Kazantzakis’ Christ Recrucified (aka The Greek Passion), which is about destitute Greek refugees fleeing Turkish persecution only to be refused shelter in a well-off village, which, ironically, is gearing up for its traditional Passion play.

The film’s not bad, a little tedious in places, and is hindered by such a quintessentially Greek story being shot in French, though the performances are mostly excellent – the Francophone actors make quite convincing Greeks and Jean Servais’ depiction of Papa Photis is particularly good and Dostoevskian. In fact, only Melina Mercouri (again playing a prostitute) is insufferable and indeed the film’s occasional descent into Dassin’s typically gushing philhellenism – exemplified by the inappropriate (to Kazantzakis’ vision) renditions, throughout the film, of the Greek National Anthem and patriotic folk songs, including Σαράντα παλικάρια and Πότε Θα Κάνει Ξαστεριά – is no doubt attributable to the influence of (Dassin’s wife) Mercouri’s own melodramatic and whimsical nationalism. All somewhat patronising – especially when you factor in the deployment and purpose of the Greek extras in the film, which is to die and keen and through their suffering become, for the leftist and McCarthy witch hunt exile Dassin, revolutionaries – but the film has its moments, and is as good and as bad as the other two efforts to film Kazantzakis, Michalis Cacoyiannis’ Zorba the Greek and Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation.

The above clip is the opening sequence to He Who Must Die. Go here or here to download the entire film as a torrent. The English subtitles are embedded in the film.

Kazantzakis scholar Peter Bien has written a short survey of the three attempts to film Kazantzakis, in which he is critical of Dassin, Cacoyiannis and Scorsese, who, Bien argues, each in their different ways, significantly distort Kazantzakis. Bien’s essay can be accessed here.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Turkey: an unreliable partner and regional bully

There’s an excellent account (in English) of what Turkey’s ‘zero-problems with neighbours’ foreign policy has meant in practice by International Relations professor, Ilias Kouskouvelis, and which I came across here, where the article can be read in full.

In the piece, Professor Kouskouvelis analyses how Turkey’s new foreign policy has played out in its relations with Greece and Cyprus; the former Soviet republics in the Caucasus; Iraq and Syria; Iran; and Israel, and concludes that the ‘zero-problems’ policy was insincere from the start, had nothing to do with the creation of an era of peaceful co-operation and co-existence and was more a thinly-disguised assertion of Turkey’s imperial, neo-Ottoman ambitions. As such, the professor argues, Turkey’s new foreign policy is creating more problems than it is solving and Turkey is coming to be regarded as an ‘unreliable partner by its allies’ and a ‘regional bully by its neighbors’.

Below is the part of the article that deals with Turkey’s relations with Greece and Cyprus.


The Eastern Mediterranean
Achieving a zero problems status with Greece and Cyprus would seem to be the most difficult goal for Ankara to attain, given both countries’ painful history with Turkey.

Even if one could put aside the long and tortuous past – from the Greek war of independence of the 1820s, to the 1923 uprooting of Greeks from Asia Minor, to sporadic crises over Aegean islands (1976, 1987, 1996), to the continuing standoff over air space and territorial waters – the AKP’s rise to power has exacerbated, not allayed, tensions.

Far from following a zero problems policy with Greece, Turkey maintains existing problems and adds new ones: It has made alleged violations of the Muslim minority’s rights in Western Thrace an item on the Islamic Conference’s agenda and has muddied the waters over what constitutes Greece’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) by questioning the role of the Greek island of Kastelorizo (one mile off Turkey's coast) in determining that EEZ. And Davutoğlu’s ambitions did not stop here:

‘The security of the Balkans is increasingly identified with the security considerations of Turkey’s western border. The security zone that has been established in eastern Thrace during the Cold War should be extended to the west with multilateral and bilateral agreements which should be made on a Balkan level.’

These are not mere words. Ankara has recently signed a military cooperation agreement with Albania, allowing docking privileges for Turkish warships at Durës, thereby marking the return of the Turkish navy to the Adriatic Sea after centuries. The press has reported that Turkey is responsible for the cancellation of an agreement between Athens and Tirana over the delimitation of maritime zones, and Turkey has also initiated major programs of military assistance to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, a state with which Greece is in dispute over the use of the name ‘Macedonia’. Finally, Turkey continues to flood Greece and the European Union with tens of thousands of mostly Muslim illegal immigrants.

Meanwhile, the already fraught relations with Cyprus have worsened. Turkey not only works against ending the continued and illegal occupation of the northern half of the island but seems bent on increasing problems. Such behavior is not all that surprising considering Davutoğlu’s belief:

‘It is not possible for a country that neglects Cyprus to have a decisive say in the global and regional politics… Even if there was not one Muslim Turk there, Turkey had to maintain a Cyprus issue. No country can stay indifferent toward such an island, located in the heart of its very own vital space… Turkey needs to see the strategic advantage which it obtained… in the 1970s, not as the component of a Cyprus defense policy, directed toward maintaining the status quo, but as one of the diplomatic main supports of an aggressive maritime strategy.’

Small wonder, therefore, that Ankara reacted to the discovery of new energy resources in the Cypriot EEZ in a heavy-handed manner, stating that it too had rights and interests in the region and warning that support for the Republic of Cyprus on this issue would have consequences in future negotiations with Nicosia. It attempted to stop Cyprus and Noble Energy, which planned to drill for natural gas off [the] southern Cyprus coast, from proceeding, then signed an agreement delimiting the continental shelf between itself and the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ (recognized by no one except Ankara), so as to carry out its own energy exploration in the area. This culminated in Ankara dispatching a research vessel into the Cypriot EEZ to protect its ‘national interests’, simultaneously ignoring US and EU entreaties and alarming Israel.

Notwithstanding claims about zero problems then, Turkish behavior in the eastern Mediterranean remains impenitent, bordering on the aggressive, and seemingly indifferent to the consequences it may have for any possible future with the rest of Europe.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Jack Straw, the Annan plan and the dissolution of the Republic of Cyprus



Apparently, Turkey’s Ministry for EU Affairs and Turkish state broadcaster TRT are preparing a propaganda video for release this summer that seeks to portray the EU’s acceptance of Cyprus as a member in 2004 as a mistake.

According to this report (in Greek), to back up Turkey’s narrative, the video will contain contributions from some leading European politicians from the 2004 EU accession era, including former chancellor of Germany, Gerhard Schröder; former UK prime minister, Tony Blair; Blair’s foreign secretary, Jack Straw; and Sweden’s foreign minister, Carl Bildt (in other words, the usual Turkey apologists and lobbyists). The above clip has excerpts from interviews with Straw and Schröder.

What does Turkey want to achieve in this campaign to prove that the EU’s decision, almost 10 years ago, to accept the Republic of Cyprus as a member was an error?

Obviously, it wants to undermine the Republic of Cyprus, dispute its membership of the EU and encourage other EU member states to override Cyprus’ objections when it comes to Turkey-EU and Turkish Cypriot-EU relations.

Also, by dwelling on the Greek Cypriot rejection of the Annan plan (which Turkey suggests Greek Cypriots were obliged to approve as part of a package that would see Cyprus enter the EU) Turkey wants to portray itself as blameless in the continuing partition of the island and depict the Greek Cypriots as the real obstacle to reunification. Such a scenario allows Turkey to carry on with its genuine Cyprus policy, which aims at the upgrading of the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ and the incorporation of that entity into an Annan-style confederal Cyprus. What Turkey wants is to have full control in northern Cyprus and, at the same time, through partnership at the federal level between a Turkish Cypriot constituent state (essentially, the ‘TRNC’) with the Greek Cypriot constituent state, a large say in matters pertaining to island as a whole. The delegitimisation and dissolution of the Republic of Cyprus is, therefore, fundamental to Turkey’s ambition of bringing the whole of Cyprus under its sway; an ambition it would have gone a long way to achieving with the Annan plan.

This view of the Annan plan as providing for the dismantling of the Republic of Cyprus in order to satisfy Turkey’s aspirations is supported by the comments Jack Straw makes in the video, who admits that after the Greek Cypriots rejected the Annan plan, the UK government looked at ways that would have put a stop to the Republic of Cyprus joining the EU.

Now, although Cyprus passed all the technical and legal requirements for joining the EU with flying colours, being the first of the 10 members that joined in 2004 to complete compliance with the acquis communautaire; that to have tried to stop Cyprus joining in 2004 would have been legally and politically impossible – for example, EU states had agreed in 1995 that a resolution to the Cyprus problem was not a condition for the Republic of Cyprus joining the EU, and any last minute scuppering of Cyprus’ accession would have scuppered the accession of the other nine candidates as well; and we can, to a large extent, attribute Straw’s comments to his desire to say what his Turkish paymasters want to hear (I’ve written previously about how Jack Straw has, effectively, become a paid lobbyist for the Turkish government); it is still interesting that Straw admits how anxious the UK government and other allies of Turkey were to keep the Republic of Cyprus out of the EU in 2004. What such an anxiety reveals, unambiguously, is the inspiration and intentions behind the Annan plan, which had nothing to do with reunifying Cyprus and concerned instead the negation of the Republic of Cyprus and the denial to Greek Cypriots of the authority and legitimacy, emanating from their state, to impede Turkey joining the EU.