Category Archives: Cyprus

Justice is justice, whatever the political climate

One of the Altitude directors recently came across the Labour Party’s 1990 policy programme and searched for the party’s policy on Cyprus:

“Labour believes that Turkish troops must withdraw from the island and that Cyprus should be reunited on a federal basis which restores the unity of the island with full safeguards for the Turkish minority.

“A Labour government, as one of the guarantor powers, will use its influence at the United Nations and elsewhere to help bring this about. Meanwhile, Britain should not agree to Turkish membership of the European Community.”

An easy bit of internet searching brought up the Conservative manifesto pledge on Cyprus from 1992, which reads:

“We seek a solution to the dispute which has divided Cyprus since 1974. A settlement must recognise that Cyprus is indivisible and that the rights of both communities must be assured. We will support the UN’s efforts to secure a fair and lasting solution.”

Of course, we now view things in the context of a world changed by the horrors of 11 September 2001 but should our principles as an international force really have changed so much to have diluted these stances down to what is now essentially a state of political ambivalence on Cyprus?

I think not. Justice is justice, and we should seek to impose it constantly and without wavering. Tell your MP.

Call me Mystic Meg, part two: making it harder to win new friends

A fortnight ago I wrote of how specialist interest groups may struggle to win the interest and support of new MPs after the election and cited the Cyprus lobby as an example. On Monday, the BBC’s Mark Easton broke news of how more than 20 MPs had visited foreign countries – one of them Cyprus – and then not properly declared their interests when asking questions in Parliament in respect to those countries.

To be clear from the start, there seems little doubt that some MPs had indeed failed to follow the letter of the rules to which Parliament requires them to adhere. There is at least a case to explain and possibly answer in that respect.

But other aspects of the story made me seethe. I haven’t done my research but I’m pretty sure that if the BBC had investigated whether MPs had acted similarly when visiting, for example, Afghanistan, Serbia or Sudan, they’d have found that there were similar discrepancies. But the focus was on Cyprus, the Maldives and Gibraltar. The sorts of places that viewers at home would like to visit.

The story shaped up as it did in order to play to the politics of envy and to rankle with the public. So, you might ask, what’s the harm? Well, the story may be short-lived but the implications for campaigns for positive change and the pursuit of social justice and human rights are likely to be disproportionately damaging.

As a Guarantor Power with security responsibilities and military bases in Cyprus, the UK has considerable responsibilities towards a fellow EU state and Commonwealth member in its 36th year of division and military occupation following Turkey’s invasion. The Maldives and Gibraltar also have genuine and important issues, the short-term effects of climate change and territorial sovereignty respectively, on which the UK cannot and should not turn its back. In fact, we should perhaps be asking why more MPs don’t visit them!

Andrew Dismore, on whom the BBC concentrated much of the story, has thousands of Cypriots in his north London constituency, as do Theresa Villiers, David Burrowes and others on the list. Their constituents demand representation in Parliament on the Cyprus problem. It is the duty of MPs to ensure that they are informed on such subjects and to seek to further their constituents’ interests. Their having acted in the spirit of what they are elected to do should outweigh that they did not act to the letter of the rules of Parliament.

In 1997, I went on a fact-finding visit to Cyprus with a delegation of newly elected MPs from the main parties. They did not enjoy a lavish break by the pool at a swanky hotel and neither did they expect to. They had two days of intensive back-to-back meetings with Cypriot politicians, UN officials and the British High Commission. They then got back on a plane and went home, better informed about the issues, possible solutions, potential consequences and the responsibilities of the UK in Cyprus.

Although Monday’s story is already fish and chip paper, if I were a new MP, I’d be reluctant to take up a trip to Cyprus, or anywhere that sounds nice, for fear of the consequences. For a cheap dig at politics, the BBC have risked real damage to the work of those who seek to better the lives of others, both abroad and in the UK.

Interest groups at risk in MP clear-out

Whichever party gains the most seats in the forthcoming general election, there is certain to be a higher proportion of new MPs in the House of Commons than for many years. While some current MPs have come to the end of their working lives and look forward to deserved retirements, the turnover in our political representation is also a direct consequence of the expenses scandal. The general public will widely regard this as a good thing: a positive outcome from a sleazy episode, which can restore some integrity in politics.

But another consequence of a large clear out of MPs will be the damage that it will do to specialist interest pressure groups, whether in health, manufacturing, biotech or any specialist sector, who may suddenly find themselves without the core of the support that has driven their lobbying and campaigning for years.

Worse still, if the interest group’s focus is of a historical nature, the new intake may not even be aware of the issue. Take my beloved Cyprus, for example, whose invasion by Turkey occurred in 1974. In order to have been alive at the time, an incoming MP would have to be 35. To have been aware of the implications and political backdrop of the tragedy, MPs would be old enough now to start thinking of retirement!

Such is the situation that those of us seeking an end to the Cyprus problem may soon face, as will other interest groups. But another common characteristic of such campaigning and lobbying bodies is that the reason they still exist is because the passion for their respective causes has not diminished over time.

Political change normally occurs at a glacial pace. But occasionally, something happens which changes the way we view the world and how we react to it. For Cyprus, and other interest groups, this is such a change. And the reaction must be to return to look at what it is that drives us to campaign. In the case of Cyprus it is social justice, the removal of foreign troops, a regard for international law and the chance for families to return to their homes and rebuild their lives.

We must go back to basics, restate the principles and reasoning behind our issue and present them anew, articulating them to new audiences who may know nothing and whose familiarity must not be assumed. It will represent a challenge, but this is no bad thing, for it is easy to persist with stale approaches when campaigning over a long time. If Parliament is to change, so must the approach of specialist interest groups.

The ram-ifications of sheep-worrying

An old joke tells of a man who was once the pride of the village. He built houses for the townsfolk, dug the village well and hunted the best meat for the town’s feasts. One day he is found moodily pondering why he isn’t known as ‘Tom the builder’, ‘Tom the well digger’ or ‘Tom the hunter’, but instead has a nickname relating to his sexual congress with sheep.

Some of Tony Blair’s most loyal supporters have recently lamented that the former PM will suffer a similar fate, remembered only for the Iraq war and not for any of his worthier achievements. And they’re probably right – it’s hard to shake off such a big mistake, made in good faith or otherwise.

Just ask Cyprus. For nearly quarter of a century I’ve been involved in lobbying on behalf of the Cyprus problem, mainly in a personal capacity as a second-generation British half-Cypriot, but also as a professional lobbyist on Capitol Hill and now as a consultant to the National Federation of Cypriots in the UK.

During that time the Turkish Cypriot administration in the occupied area has been relentlessly negative and intransigent and has built a fortress of impediments against a viable solution to the division of the island. UN resolutions, international law and rulings by the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice confirm in the clearest terms who is in the wrong: Turkey – an invading military force illegally occupying another sovereign country. International sympathy was unquestioningly with Cyprus.

Then, in 2004 the UN’s framework for a solution – the ‘Annan Plan’ – was conceived and put to an island-wide referendum. The Plan’s deep flaw was that rather than resolving the problem of an illegally-divided Cyprus, it aimed instead to legitimise the consequences of the 1974 Turkish invasion, in order to take the Cyprus issue off the table and facilitate Turkey’s accession to the EU.

The Greek Cypriots rejected the Plan by a ratio of three to one. Among the reasons for this rejection was that the Plan provided for Turkish troop presence in Cyprus (an EU member) in perpetuity. Why would anyone vote for foreign military occupation of their homeland? Yet because the opportunity to reunite the island was rejected, albeit for legitimate reasons, the Republic of Cyprus was immediately cast as the impediment to progress.

Years later, the media (particularly in the UK) still blames Cyprus for its supposed ill judgement and rails against Blair for his judgement in entering a military action in Iraq. Yet the similarity ends there: the difference is that Blair had an alternative, for Cyprus there was no real choice.

New negotiations between the leaders of the two communities in Cyprus have progressed beyond the levels of my (perhaps pessimistic) expectations. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, arrived in Cyprus yesterday to meet with the two leaders. I hope that he can look at the objective facts, see beyond the blame that his predecessor’s flawed plan unfairly heaped upon Cyprus, and guide this beleaguered island towards reunification. After all, he wouldn’t want to be known as ‘Ki-Moon, the man who buggered Cyprus’, would he?

(Note: the views expressed in this article are entirely personal to the author)