At an address at the Kennedy School on Tuesday (June 1), Tassos Papadopoulos, the president of the Republic of Cyprus, defended his rejection of a United Nations plan led by Secretary-General Kofi Annan that would have united the divided country. He said the rejection did not mean that Greek Cypriots were against reunification.
“I want to stress that no one is more interested in a quick solution to the problem than Greek Cypriots,” he said. “But this should be about reunification, not creating two separate states in Cyprus. We will not accept that.”
The tiny island in the Mediterranean Sea has been split since Turkey invaded the country in 1974 and began occupying the northern part. Hundreds of thousands of Greek Cypriots living in the area were driven from their homes. Today, the country is divided into a northern section (controlled by Turkish Cypriots) and a southern section (controlled by Greek Cypriots and the internationally recognized government led by Papadopoulos.) The two sections are spliced by a military-occupied buffer zone.
In April, despite international pressure, two-thirds of Greek Cypriots voted “no” to the United Nations plan. A majority of Turkish Cypriots voted in favor of the plan. Both sides would have had to agree in order for the plan to go through. It was the first time since the 1974 invasion that citizens had a chance to vote on a reunification plan.
“Our position should not be mistaken or misunderstood. We do not ‘reject’ the Annan Plan,” he said. “We still believe it is a good basis for an eventual solution. We still accept a bizonal, bicommunal function federation, but this version of the plan was not [that]. It is a huge and involved set of documents which run thousands of pages and tens of thousands of words. It proposes a system of governance which has not been tried in any other country – a Swiss-inspired head, with a Belgian-inspired body grafted onto our little island, which is neither Switzerland nor Belgium.”
Papadopoulos said he was concerned that under the United Nations Plan, many displaced Greek Cypriots still would not be able to return to their northern homes. He also worried about “the ability of the Cypriot government to ensure for its citizens the ability to live in an efficient and prosperous state which respects democracy and the rule of law.”
Outsiders disappointed in the “no” vote, however well-meaning, must respect the people’s vote, the Cypriot leader said.
“It is very telling that about 70 percent of the refugees that had hopes of returning to their homes and properties or getting compensation in lieu, voted against the plan,” he said. “They cannot all be naïve. They cannot all be deceived. The people of Cyprus are a highly literate society and have a proud tradition of democratic process and freedom of expression. The decision of the people must be respected by all.”
The president also said the issue was about the right of a people to judge the best solution for themselves. “The issue concerns mainly us and the generations to follow us,” he said. “We expect the international community to understand that our disappointment with the provisions of the Annan plan is greater. After all, it is our country which is under occupation.”
The address was co-sponsored by the Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership; Kokkalis Program on Southeastern and East Central Europe; Program on Intrastate Conflict, Conflict Prevention, and Conflict Resolution; the Center for International Development; and Harvard School of Public Health.