Old-fashioned Cyprus Problem in a “Brave New World”

The island of Cyprus, just like many other politically-insignificant, periphery/semi-periphery countries, is a part of the world-system, constantly being shaped and reshaped by forces beyond its control. As a part this world-system, developments are merely reflections of global economic, political and cultural trends. Hence, taking the world-system as our unit of analysis can provide us with insightful ideas and a more accurate sense of direction. Today, I would like to take a few steps back and try to put developments into this broader historical perspective. A broader approach does not only provide a better understanding of the status quo but may also provide a more accurate picture of our future prospects. When considering future scenarios for Cyprus, the discussion should not be based on a “pessimism vs. optimism” dimension but rather on the eventual impact of inevitable global changes.

Global Paradigm Shift and the Cyprus Problem

In the discipline of international relations, the period between the end of the Second World War and the fall of the Berlin Wall is defined as the period of bipolarity during which the world was split between Socialist and Liberal ideologies. The two superpowers of the period were indirectly fighting with each other through their extensions in many countries in order to become the victorious side of the ideological war. The war was not only fought between guerillas vs. counter-guerillas and armies vs. rebels groups. The war was not only economic but also psychological, aiming to win the “hearts and minds” of people. It was economic because the real purpose of military coup d’états in countries like Argentina, Chile, Greece and Turkey; and structural transformations/uprisings of Russia and the whole of Eastern Europe was to “open up” the markets of these countries to the flow of global capital and integrate them into the global market. The Cold War era came to an end with the victory of liberalism over the Soviet-style communism. The Berlin Wall fell and the world-system entered into a new era that is usually referred to as “globalization”.

Just like any other historical development, globalization should be understood from a dialectical point of view as well. Today many economists agree that the “invisible hand” of the free market does not always produce humane outcomes even if these outcomes are economically efficient. On the other hand, those who are critical of liberal economics should embrace the positive structural changes and progressive ideas that facilitated the leap of the human civilization into a new era.

The emergence of what some call “super-identities” is perhaps one of the most notable aspects of the process. “Super-identities” are new definitions -or a “new state of mind” if you will- that overarch existing ethno national, religious, provincial and linguistic identities.

This is the beginning of a new era in the history of human civilization. There are strong signs that this transitional era will be defined by major structural/paradigm shifts in the understanding of the current state of human civilization and the direction towards which it should be evolving.

In the face of the overarching “super identities”, the arbitrary concepts of “nations” and “nationalism” are doomed to collapse because of a very simple reason: they are strictly static concepts which desperately resist redefinition. The mere progress of time, which is a universal law, will gradually eradicate the “nations” as we know them today. This has already been happening. The European Union is a new type of governance that emerged as a result of a necessity (the need for transformation). Today we are talking about a “European identity” which is characterized by its famous motto “united in diversity”.

Economic realities are the most tangible and measurable part of this process. Increasing world population makes it obligatory to constantly reform the mechanisms that we use to govern and satisfy our needs. The efficient use of the world`s resources may mean “capitalist exploitation” to many people but increasing the efficiency and sustainability of the regional and world economies has become essential in the face of rapid population increase and depletion of resources.

The Place of Cyprus within the Big Picture

Cyprus problem is a creation/result of forces bigger than the two communities. It emerged as one of the many outcomes of the Cold War-era politics. The East-West confrontation and the ideological war manifested itself on the domestic issues of many countries including Cyprus. The eventual division of the island following the intercommunal fights survived from 1974 until today.

“Why it hasn’t changed for 37 years” is a question outside of the scope of this paper and it has already been discussed sufficiently for many years. Instead of thinking about “why it hasn’t changed” we should look at the issue from a different angle and try to answer the question “why the change is inevitable”. Due to the “paradigm shift” that was mentioned earlier, the status quo in Cyprus, being a by-product of the Cold War politics, is also destined to change.

At this point, it is essential to underline an underestimated factor that has been largely contributing to the emergence of a “new perspective”. The youth in Cyprus today is a transitional generation bridging two different periods of the recent history of the island. What separates these two periods from each other? Many would think of the Annan plan referenda. The referenda were certainly an important milestone in our recent history. However, the beginning of crossings through the Green Line presents a much more important turning point – the long term repercussions of which have not been fully evaluated since Cypriots found themselves in the middle of the “Annan Plan” discussions in the months leading to the referenda of April 2004.

Any Turkish Cypriot who was born before 2003 was born into a Cyprus where 60% of the island was inaccessible which was inhabited by some “hostile” people, as it was thought in the history books. The “south” was an insignificant and foreign zone, usually shown as a yellow-colored territory, bearing no markings of any kind on school maps.

In April 2003, however, this unknown yellow-colored territory, together with its inhabitants, became easily accessible overnight. For the post-74 generation, this unanticipated development was something that needed to be adapted to. This change has certainly had an impact on how the post-74 generations perceive their island as well as their own place on it. The impact is somewhat comparable to the impact created by the photographs of the Earth taken from the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1960s. In an analysis that I have read, it was argued that seeing the very first photos of their own green & blue-colored planet shining on its own against the backdrop of the pitch-black space helped people to understand the insignificance of their differences and contributed to the emergence of a Universalist perspective on world matters.

The “opening of the gates” (as we frequently refer to it) has had a similar impact on the people of Cyprus. An era of comparison has started in which the new generations are discovering similarities in traditional and modern lifestyles based on daily observances. Being able to travel from northern to southern coast has raised curiosity among the young people to learn more about the history of this formerly-unknown land and how it was related to the version of history they had learnt. The process will be different for the post-2003 generation. They will not be born on an island separated by an impermeable division line. They will take the freedom of crossing as granted and they will come up with higher demands than we did.

Long debates have been made about the reason behind the “opening of the gates”. Some said it was the decision of that day’s Eroglu government, others said it was a maneuver of Denktas, some others said that it was a measure taken by the AKP government of Turkey. In fact, it doesn’t matter whose decision it was because it was not actually a “decision”. It was a development brought about by the changing global paradigm. In this “brave new world” where ships carry products from China to the US across oceans and where massive uprisings are organized in the cyberspace, keeping the inhabitants of such a small island forcefully separated from each other was simply unrealistic and unsustainable. It was unsustainable and it changed overnight. What happened with the Green Line is only a small indicator of what is there to come.

Regardless of the type of agreement that will eventually be reached, economic convergence and integration between the two sides is inevitable. Uninhibited crossing of individuals has put the two economies in a competitive position against each other which has created a certain degree of pressure on both sides for price harmonization. Even in the case of “confederation” or declaration of two somewhat independent states, cooperation between the two sides on various economic issues is still a necessity. Being within the realm of the European Union, the implementation of the three essential freedoms of movement of capital, labor and people is only a matter of time, regardless of the eventual outcome of the negotiations. Harmonization of taxes, customs practices and various other economic policies will be some aspects of any type of internationally-recognized solution. Movement of people and labor are partially in place today. The “economies of scale” problem, which is a common problem faced by island economies, can be dealt with by building a single, harmonized economy which can accommodate bigger local and foreign investments.

The division constitutes a gap/black hole for the economy of the region. There are difficulties in air & sea navigation, movement of people, capital and labor. Division is preventing businesses from making use of the principle of “economies of scale”. It is costing the governments of Turkey, Greece and the Republic of Cyprus millions of Euros in the form of military spending despite of the fact that there is virtually no threat of armed conflict. On a smaller scale, it is creating countless practical and irrational situations/problems in daily lives of people. One small example for these irrational problems is what happened on March 27th. On that day, there was a 1-hour difference between the north and the south of the island. You could literally travel in time just by walking from one checkpoint to the other.

Transformative Power of Ideas

Crossings through the Green Line have had another effect. The possibility of contact between the two communities has led to the emergence of a “mental middle zone” where ideas are collectively discussed as a part of the new universal understanding. A lot of work has already been done by different groups of the civil society movement. The aim of these movements should be to implement the “culture of federalism” rather than just a federation as a power-sharing model. “Federation” and “federalism” are two different concepts. “Federation” refers to a system based on territorial power-sharing whereas “federalism” is the culture of cohabitation among the citizens of a federation that must manifest itself from daily life of the ordinary citizens to the mentality of policy-makers. If “federation” is an engine, “federalism” is the fuel that makes it run properly. Without the correct fuel, we cannot make the engine run.

We should not have any doubt that the status quo is completely anachronistic unsustainable in every aspect.

Today’s youth will become tomorrow’s academicians, journalists, policy-makers, lawyers and politicians… If we can accurately alter the trends within which the new generations are growing up, we can certainly shape tomorrow’s Cyprus from today. The most powerful weapon is ideas – once they spread and take hold in minds, they are very difficult to challenge.

Instead of waiting for “the solution” to be delivered by the visionless politicians, our task must be to plant the seeds of a new culture in line with global trends, to build an all-inclusive collective identity embracing different ethnic, religious and gender groups. Such a collective wisdom can be the answer to the problems that other approaches fail to resolve. The persistence of the status quo for such a long period may be a discouraging fact. However, this delay only made the Cyprus problem gradually more anachronistic and absurd. This long wait is only preparing an even more sudden collapse for the status quo.

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