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Cyprus History: Ignore at your own peril

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Scratch the surface of the Cyprus Problem and what will you find? The ever-popular answer to that question could probably be the post-modernist, constructivist explanation of differing historical narratives of a local power-sharing struggle between two ethnic communities, whose perceptions and misperceptions of each other and of their history of conflict supposedly matter more than realities on the ground-such attempts even taking at times the form of a self-imposed Jesuit flogging of shame, especially among Greek Cypriots. Alas, more often than not, we nowadays jump into an overt analysis of the inter-relationship between these two deeply divided communities-although there are actually a few more on the island- still struggling with their own identities, riddled by the past and confused by the future. If only these perceptions and narratives changed- or so the story goes- perhaps a new sustainable bi-communal state can rise from the ashes of ethnic conflict and a common future can be established. But, then, separating analysis from emotion, history comes calling and its calling is not very sweet.

Enter history and the obvious becomes inescapable. Conflict in Cyprus has always been less of an ethnic and more of a political affair, reflecting power politics in the region. Historically-wise, who ruled the region ruled Cyprus, who ruled Cyprus ruled the region. Being the final yet incomplete chapter to the Eastern Question, there was undoubtedly little else to expect than the bloody mess we ended up with. With the last spoils of the late Ottoman Empire (still) open to the loot, history took its toll by repeating age-old patterns the moment the pot was stirred.

Sensing the danger of colonial instability sweeping the island in the first half of the 20th century, the British proceeded to divide and rule Cyprus, as they pretty much did elsewhere; first enlisting the local ‘Muhammadans’, as they called them, to poise themselves against the raging Greeks and then, as a last resort, inviting Turkey to take its pick- despite Ottoman claims having being waived by modern-day Turkey through the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. They, thus, added a regional game-changer to an otherwise ordinary, for its time, colonial struggle between peoples and empire, a struggle hitherto chaperoned on national grounds only by Greece. Thus, the scene was set for what was to follow.

The dynamics of this power mix were only made worse, but not truly created by the two communities themselves. Yes, they might have been completely oblivious to each other’s needs and concerns to which they did not pay proper heed, but this had always been the case in Cyprus. The way the two communities treated each other is deeply rooted in the island’s history, as past historical paths of these communities had never borne any semblance of commonality.  In Ottoman times, the Greeks were the slaves to their Turkish masters; in 1821, concurrently rising against such rule as other Greeks did elsewhere. In 1878, the very first day the British landed in Cyprus, a Greek delegation met their new rulers and petitioned enosis with Greece, while at that very same time the Turkish elites sent their own petition of fears and concerns about their new-found status on the island to the Sultan. Daily personal relationships aside, there had never been throughout the history of Cyprus a precedence of equal and rightful political co-existence of the two communities; they had been used to positioning and defining themselves against each other, had sometimes managed to survive side by side, but had never felt of or  with each other. Perhaps this would not have mattered much, had not Turkey decided to take up the Turkish Cypriot cause. And take it up it did. In the way Great Powers usually do.

In fact, the history of Cyprus and the way Cyprus has been treated throughout the centuries bears witness to the fact that the Eastern Mediterranean has never been much of a post-modern civilized place. In this part of the world, disputes had rarely been settled by refined arm-twisting and diplomacy, but instead mostly taken care of by the sheer force of the sword and the bayonet. As much as Turkey does now, aspiring regional hegemons did then: given the opportunity, they claimed Cyprus, as part and parcel of establishing and sometimes restoring the balance of power in the area. For thousands of years, the tide of history has washed states and peoples away on this very same Mediterranean shores, on which 40,000 ‘peacekeeping’ Turkish troops, aptly named after Attila the Hun, have now landed and laid claim, with Turkey still trying to administer at peace the land it has gained through war.

As steady as empires rise and fall, invaders have always come and gone to Cyprus. Missing the perennial power games in the international system and focusing only on the bi-communal proxy piece of the puzzle, as a convenient cause celebre, would be as naïve as offering the existence of a Turkish Cypriot minority as the reason and not the excuse for Turkey permanently stationing itself in Cyprus, as short-sighted as explaining the shipping of illegal settlers on the island as a humanitarian act of concern and not a strategic move to change the demography of the place- in the same manner this was done in Alexandretta (Hatay) and is now done in Afrin. In fact, history bears testimony to the cause of many similar military interventions in the name of ‘justice’- they have been as old as humankind.  Power is as power does.

So, power politics lessons aside, why else does history matter? Blaming only the grand scheme of things offers no amends to the past and no hope for the future. Even if not the whole story, it is necessary, albeit not sufficient, to examine and understand community dynamics on the island. Glancing through history, on the one hand, the Greek Cypriots saw themselves as the rightful owners and heirs of the state structure which, although if initially for most of them was the means to another ultimate end, still was and is the direct product of their very own proud and rather painful struggle against the British Crown with whom, in fact, the Turkish Cypriots had sided early on. It was quite an affront to every sense of justice that the Turkish Cypriots had won, through Turkish patronage, disproportionate representation in a state for which they had never fought and to whose emergence had, in fact, placed immense obstacles. Simultaneously, the Turkish Cypriots, on the other hand, had no sympathy for the Greek Cypriot Enosis attempt, majority or no majority- that is to formally establish Cyprus as a bastion of Greekness. Their only hope in the face of such calamity (their second fall from grace in the space of a less than a century) was the guiding hand of Turkey, which they, too, made sure they forced, on a number of occasions. As cliché as it may sound, you cannot understand evolving future dynamics unless you are able to understand what has preceded them in the past.

Thus, history matters because you can rarely escape from it. Trying to sweep history under the carpet, without at least first trying to understand it, creates a backlash at best or a time-bomb at worst. Keeping the ruthless exercise of powerby Turkey in the area and its predominantly growing importance steadfastly out of a community-based historical narrative will not exorcise Turkish presence in any way. Akinci or no Akinci, no one bites the hand that feeds him and Turkish Cypriot leaders have only felt this too well through their decades of climbing up the slippery ladder of hierarchy in their community – a ladder that is steadily guaranteed by the presence of the Turkish army and held in place by Turkish funds and Turkish endorsement and can be as easily removed as it was once placed from under someone’s feet.

Moreover, even if reconstruction of revised historical community-based narratives and perceptions could sometimes help remold memories of experience, it can rarely help reshape or change existing experience based on hard reality itself.  It is no coincidence that attempts for rapprochement between the two communities, have through the decades remained elitist, exclusive and have failed to trickle down or convince grass roots on either side, their perceived high-handedness and intentional ignorance of history often blocking  rather than helping any possible intra-community multiplying effect.  Turkish troops stationed in Cyprus are no perception. Properties defiantly occupied by illegal settlers are no perception. The refugees, the murdered, the missing, the raped, are products of no one’s imagination.

So, what is, then, the way forward? Even putting the 1974 violent experience behind them (to which the Turkish Cypriots will quickly juxtapose the 1963 bi-communal troubles), for many Greek Cypriots, the 1990s lynching of Tasos Isaak by a manic mob, supervised by ‘police’ authorities, under the gaze of the UN, and the cold-bloodied murder of Solakis Solomou which followed (by someone, nonetheless, who still finds himself rooted in the upper echelons of Turkish Cypriot power structures, despite being on Interpol’s wanted list) act as strong reminders of the anarchy of lawlessness on the other side, only made worse by the absence of true democracy and the rule of law- an anathema to any citizen. For many decades, the two communities in Cyprus have trodden down increasingly divergent historical paths of social, economic and political development. Janus-faced as they have become, one is rooted in traditions of the West, the other fast headed towards traditions of the East. Any future discussions of a possible solution should bear this in mind. As much as the presence of army guarantees for one’s civic liberties in a state may seem acceptable to the mind forced to be comfortable with such a notion, the more preposterous this idea would seem to the other. At the moment, the dictatorial Mr. Erdogan is no easy bed-fellow and certainly no guarantor of civil rights and liberties for his own citizens, let alone others. No Greek Cypriot in their right mind would ever accept that he is. History is a stern teacher.

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Iceland’s Historic(al) Elections

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The morning of September, 26 was a good one for Lenya Run Karim of the Pirate Party. Once the preliminary results were announced, things were clear: the 21-year-old law student of the University of Iceland, originating from a Kurdish immigrant family, had become the youngest MP in the country’s history.

In historical significance, however, this event was second to another. Iceland, the world champion in terms of gender equality, became the first country in Europe to have more women MPs than men, 33 versus 30. The news immediately made world headlines: only five countries in the world have achieved such impressive results. Remarkably, all are non-European: Rwanda, Nicaragua and Cuba have a majority of women in parliament, while Mexico and the UAE have an equal number of male and female MPs.

Nine hours later, news agencies around the world had to edit their headlines. The recount in the Northwest constituency affected the outcome across the country to delay the ‘triumph for women’ for another four years.

Small numbers, big changes

The Icelandic electoral system is designed so that 54 out of the 63 seats in the Althingi, the national parliament, are primary or constituency seats, while another nine are equalization seats. Only parties passing the 5 per cent threshold are allowed to distribute equalisation seats that go to the candidates who failed to win constituency mandates and received the most votes in their constituency. However, the number of equalisation mandates in each of the 6 constituencies is legislated. In theory, this could lead to a situation in which the leading party candidate in one constituency may simply lack an equalisation mandate, so the leading candidate of the same party—but in another constituency—receives it.

This is what happened this year. Because of a difference of only ten votes between the Reform Party and the Pirate Party, both vying for the only equalisation mandate in the Northwest, the constituency’s electoral commission announced a recount on its own initiative. There were also questions concerning the counting procedure as such: the ballots were not sealed but simply locked in a Borgarnes hotel room. The updated results hardly affected the distribution of seats between the parties, bringing in five new MPs, none of whom were women, with the 21-year-old Lenya Run Karim replaced by her 52-year-old party colleague.

In the afternoon of September, 27, at the request of the Left-Green Movement, supported by the Independence Party, the Pirates and the Reform Party, the commission in the South announced a recount of their own—the difference between the Left-Greens and the Centrists was only seven votes. There was no ‘domino effect’, as in the case of the Northwest, as the five-hour recount showed the same result. Recounts in other districts are unlikely, nor is it likely that Althingi—vested with the power to declare the elections valid—would invalidate the results in the Northwest. Nevertheless, the ‘replaced’ candidates have already announced their intention to appeal against the results, citing violations of ballot storage procedures. Under the Icelandic law, this is quite enough to invalidate the results and call a re-election in the Northwest, as the Supreme Court of Iceland invalidated the Constitutional Council elections due to a breach of procedure 10 years ago. Be that as it may, the current score remains 33:30, in favor of men.

Progressives’ progress and threshold for socialists

On the whole, there were no surprises: the provisional allocation of mandates resembles, if with minor changes, the opinion polls on the eve of the election.

The ruling three-party coalition has rejuvenated its position, winning 37 out of the 63 Althingi seats. The centrist Progressive Party saw a real electoral triumph, improving its 2017 result by five seats. Prime-minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s Left-Green Movement, albeit with a slight loss, won eight seats, surpassing all pre-election expectations. Although the centre-right Independence Party outperformed everyone again to win almost a quarter of all votes, 16 seats are one of the worst results of the Icelandic ‘Grand Old Party’ ever.

The results of the Social-Democrats, almost 10% versus 12.1% in 2017, and of the Pirates, 8.6% versus 9.2%, have deteriorated. Support for the Centre Party of Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, former prime-minister and victim of the Panama Papers, has halved from 10.9% to 5.4%. The centrists have seen a steady decline in recent years, largely due to a sexist scandal involving party MPs. The populist People’s Party and the pro-European Reform Party have seen gains of 8.8% and 8.3%, as compared to 6.9% and 6.7% in the previous elections.

Of the leading Icelandic parties, only the Socialist Party failed to pass the 5 per cent threshold: despite a rating above 7% in August, the Socialists received only 4.1% of the vote.

Coronavirus, climate & economy

Healthcare and the fight against COVID-19 was, expectedly, on top of the agenda of the elections: 72% of voters ranked it as the defining issue, according to a Fréttablaðið poll. Thanks to swift and stringent measures, the Icelandic government brought the coronavirus under control from day one, and the country has enjoyed one of the lowest infection rates in the world for most of the time. At the same time, the pandemic exposed a number of problems in the national healthcare system: staff shortages, low salaries and long waiting lists for emergency surgery.

Climate change, which Icelanders are already experiencing, was an equally important topic. This summer, the temperature has not dropped below 20°C for 59 days, an anomaly for a North-Atlantic island. However, Icelanders’ concerns never converted into increased support for the four left-leaning parties advocating greater reductions in CO2 emission than the country has committed to under the Paris Agreement: their combined result fell by 0.5%.

The economy and employment were also among the main issues in this election. The pandemic has severely damaged the island nation’s economy, which is heavily tourism-reliant—perhaps, unsurprisingly, many Icelanders are in favor of reviving the tourism sector as well as diversifying the economy further.

The EU membership, by far a ‘traditional’ issue in Icelandic politics, is unlikely to be featured on the agenda of the newly-elected parliament as the combined result of the Eurosceptics, despite a loss of 4%, still exceeds half of the overall votes. The new Althingi will probably face the issue of constitutional reform once again, which is only becoming more topical in the light of the pandemic and the equalization mandates story.

New (old) government?

The parties are to negotiate coalition formation. The most likely scenario now is that the ruling coalition of the Independence Party, the Left-Greens and the Progressives continues. It has been the most ideologically diverse and the first three-party coalition in Iceland’s history to last a full term. A successful fight against the pandemic has only strengthened its positions and helped it secure additional votes. Independence Party leader and finance minister Bjarni Benediktsson has earlier said he would be prepared to keep the ruling coalition if it holds the majority. President Guðni Jóhannesson announced immediately after the elections that he would confirm the mandate of the ruling coalition to form a new government if the three parties could strike a deal.

Other developments are possible but unlikely. Should the Left-Greens decide to leave the coalition, they could be replaced by the Reform Party or the People’s Party, while any coalition without the Independence Party can only be a four-party or larger coalition.

Who will become the new prime-minister still remains to be seen—but if the ruling coalition remains in place, the current prime-minister and leader of the Left-Greens, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, stands a good chance of keeping her post: she is still the most popular politician in Iceland with a 40 per cent approval rate.

The 2021 Althingi election, with one of the lowest turnouts in history at 80.1%, has not produced a clear winner. The election results reflect a Europe-wide trend in which traditional “major” parties are losing support. The electorate is fragmenting and their votes are pulled by smaller new parties. The coronavirus pandemic has only reinforced this trend.

The 2021 campaign did not foreshadow a sensation. Although Iceland has not become the first European country with a women’s majority in parliament, these elections will certainly go down in history as a test of Icelanders’ trust to their own democracy.

From our partner RIAC

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EU-Balkan Summit: No Set Timeframe for Western Balkans Accession

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From left to right: Janez JANŠA (Prime Minister, Slovenia), Charles MICHEL (President of the European Council), Ursula VON DER LEYEN (President of the European Commission) Copyright: European Union

On October 6, Slovenia hosted a summit between the EU and the Western Balkans states. The EU-27 met with their counterparts (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo) in the sumptuous Renaissance setting of Brdo Castle, 30 kilometers north of the capital, Ljubljana. Despite calls from a minority of heads of state and government, there were no sign of a breakthrough on the sensitive issue of enlargement. The accession of these countries to the European Union is still not unanimous among the 27 EU member states.

During her final tour of the Balkans three weeks ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the peninsula’s integration was of “geostrategic” importance. On the eve of the summit, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz backed Slovenia’s goal of integrating this zone’s countries into the EU by 2030.

However, the unanimity required to begin the hard negotiations is still a long way off, even for the most advanced countries in the accession process, Albania and North Macedonia. Bulgaria, which is already a member of the EU, is opposing North Macedonia’s admission due to linguistic and cultural differences. Since Yugoslavia’s demise, Sofia has rejected the concept of Macedonian language, insisting that it is a Bulgarian dialect, and has condemned the artificial construction of a distinct national identity.

Other countries’ reluctance to join quickly is of a different nature. France and the Netherlands believe that previous enlargements (Bulgaria and Romania in 2007) have resulted in changes that must first be digested before the next round of enlargement. The EU-27 also demand that all necessary prior guarantees be provided regarding the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption in these countries. Despite the fact that press freedom is a requirement for membership, the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the EU to make “support for investigative and professional journalism” a key issue at the summit.”

While the EU-27 have not met since June, the topic of Western Balkans integration is competing with other top priorities in the run-up to France’s presidency of the EU in the first half of 2022. On the eve of the summit, a working dinner will be held, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, called for “a strategic discussion on the role of the Union on the international scene” in his letter of invitation to the EU-Balkans Summit, citing “recent developments in Afghanistan,” the announcement of the AUKUS pact between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, which has enraged Paris.

The Western Balkans remain the focal point of an international game of influence in which the Europeans seek to maintain their dominance. As a result, the importance of reaffirming a “European perspective” at the summit was not an overstatement. Faced with the more frequent incursion of China, Russia, and Turkey in that European region, the EU has pledged a 30 billion euro Economic and Investment Plan for 2021-2027, as well as increased cooperation, particularly to deal with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Opening the borders, however, is out of the question. In the absence of progress on this issue, Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia have decided to establish their own zone of free movement (The Balkans are Open”) beginning January 1, 2023. “We are starting today to do in the region what we will do tomorrow in the EU,” said Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama when the agreement was signed last July.

This initiative, launched in 2019 under the name “Mini-Schengen” and based on a 1990s idea, does not have the support of the entire peninsular region, which remains deeply divided over this project. While Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro are not refusing to be a part of it and are open to discussions, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, who took office in 2020, for his part accuses Serbia of relying on this project to recreate “a fourth Yugoslavia”

Tensions between Balkan countries continue to be an impediment to European integration. The issue of movement between Kosovo and Serbia has been a source of concern since the end of September. Two weeks of escalation followed Kosovo’s decision to prohibit cars with Serbian license plates from entering its territory, in response to Serbia’s long-standing prohibition on allowing vehicles to pass in the opposite direction.

In response to the mobilization of Kosovar police to block the road, Serbs in Kosovo blocked roads to their towns and villages, and Serbia deployed tanks and the air force near the border. On Sunday, October 3, the conflict seemed to be over, and the roads were reopened. However, the tone had been set three days before the EU-Balkans summit.

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German Election: Ramifications for the US Foreign Policy

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Image source: twitter @OlafScholz

In the recent German election, foreign policy was scarcely an issue. But Germany is an important element in the US foreign policy. There is a number of cases where Germany and the US can cooperate, but all of these dynamics are going to change very soon.

The Germans’ strategic culture makes it hard to be aligned perfectly with the US and disagreements can easily damage the relations. After the tension between the two countries over the Iraq war, in 2003, Henry Kissinger said that he could not imagine the relations between Germany and the US could be aggravated so quickly, so easily, which might end up being the “permanent temptation of German politics”. For a long time, the US used to provide security for Germany during the Cold War and beyond, so, several generations are used to take peace for granted. But recently, there is a growing demand on them to carry more burden, not just for their own security, but for international peace and stability. This demand was not well-received in Berlin.

Then, the environment around Germany changed and new threats loomed up in front of them. The great powers’ competition became the main theme in international relations. Still, Germany was not and is not ready for shouldering more responsibility. Politicians know this very well. Ursula von der Leyen, who was German defense minister, asked terms like “nuclear weapons” and “deterrence” be removed from her speeches.

Although on paper, all major parties appreciate the importance of Germany’s relations with the US, the Greens and SPD ask for a reset in the relations. The Greens insist on the European way in transatlantic relations and SPD seeks more multilateralism. Therefore, alignment may be harder to maintain in the future. However, If the tensions between the US and China heat up to melting degrees, then external pressure can overrule the internal pressure and Germany may accede to its transatlantic partners, just like when Helmut Schmid let NATO install medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe after the Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan and the Cold War heated up.

According to the election results, now three coalitions are possible: grand coalition with CDU/CSU and SPD, traffic lights coalition with SPD, FDP, and Greens, Jamaica coalition with CDU/CSU, FDP, and Greens. Jamaica coalition will more likely form the most favorable government for the US because it has both CDU and FDP, and traffic lights will be the least favorite as it has SPD. The grand coalition can maintain the status quo at best, because contrary to the current government, SPD will dominate CDU.

To understand nuances, we need to go over security issues to see how these coalitions will react to them. As far as Russia is concerned, none of them will recognize the annexation of Crimea and they all support related sanctions. However, if tensions heat up, any coalition government with SPD will be less likely assertive. On the other hand, as the Greens stress the importance of European values like democracy and human rights, they tend to be more assertive if the US formulates its foreign policy by these common values and describe US-China rivalry as a clash between democracy and authoritarianism. Moreover, the Greens disapprove of the Nordstream project, of course not for its geopolitics. FDP has also sided against it for a different reason. So, the US must follow closely the negotiations which have already started between anti-Russian smaller parties versus major parties.

For relations with China, pro-business FDP is less assertive. They are seeking for developing EU-China relations and deepening economic ties and civil society relations. While CDU/CSU and Greens see China as a competitor, partner, and systemic rival, SPD and FDP have still hopes that they can bring change through the exchange. Thus, the US might have bigger problems with the traffic lights coalition than the Jamaica coalition in this regard.

As for NATO and its 2 percent of GDP, the division is wider. CDU/CSU and FDP are the only parties who support it. So, in the next government, it might be harder to persuade them to pay more. Finally, for nuclear participation, the situation is the same. CDU/CSU is the only party that argues for it. This makes it an alarming situation because the next government has to decide on replacing Germany’s tornados until 2024, otherwise Germany will drop out of the NATO nuclear participation.

The below table gives a brief review of these three coalitions. 1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism and 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism. As it shows, the most anti-Russia coalition is Jamaica, while the most anti-China coalition is Trafic light. Meanwhile, Grand Coalition is the most pro-NATO coalition. If the US adopts a more normative foreign policy against China and Russia, then the Greens and FDP will be more assertive in their anti-Russian and anti-Chinese policies and Germany will align more firmly with the US if traffic light or Jamaica coalition rise to power.

Issues CoalitionsTrafic LightGrand CoalitionJamaica
Russia213 
China312 
NATO132 

1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism. 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism.

In conclusion, this election should not make Americans any happier. The US has already been frustrated with the current government led by Angela Merkel who gave Germany’s trade with China the first priority, and now that the left-wing will have more say in any imaginable coalition in the future, the Americans should become less pleased. But, still, there are hopes that Germany can be a partner for the US in great power competition if the US could articulate its foreign policy with common values, like democracy and human rights. More normative foreign policy can make a reliable partner out of Germany. Foreign policy rarely became a topic in this election, but observers should expect many ramifications for it.

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