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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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Is European humanity skin deep?

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At the border crossing between Ukraine and Moldova at Palanca, refugees stand in line. © UNICEF/Vincent Tremeau

When talking about security the most common line of thought tends to be war and the actors involved in the attack, however, all the people who had regular lives within those territories that are jeopardized are as important. With the increasing tensions and armed conflicts happening within the Twenty First Century, the movement of people searching for shelter has increased. More asylum seekers leave their home countries every single day and contemporary politics is still struggling to find a way to catch up. Europe, history wise, is the zone of the world that deals with more refugees wanting to enter the continent due to different factors: geography, proximity, democratic systems, level of development and more. Nevertheless, with the Russia-Ukraine conflict, true sentiments towards refugees are now being put on display.

Even though all refugees are fleeing their countries because their lives are in mortal danger, authorities and government officials do not seem to care. Processes to apply for the refugee status are getting harder and harder. In Europe, to apply for a refugee passport, people are asked for identifications, online questionaries and many other unrealistic aspects that if not answered correctly, the whole process is cancelled. It is ridiculous to believe that when people are scaping in order to stay alive, they will take under consideration all these requirements to receive help, sometimes even from neighboring countries. Which inevitably leads to the following question: why are refugees accepted based on the legality of their applications and not of their status?

By 2016, nearly 5.2 million refugees reached European shores, which caused the so called refugee crisis. They came mainly from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq: countries torn apart by armed conflicts. Similarly, with Russia’s invasion over the Ukraine in 2022, only few days deep within the fighting,  874,000 people had to flee their homes. Nonetheless, the issue seems to be that, for Europe, not all refugees are the same. When the refugee crisis in 2015 was declared, the European Union called for stopping and detaining all arriving refugees for around 18 months. There was a strong reluctancy from Europeans towards offering them shelter. On the contrary, countries such as Poland and Slovakia have said that Ukrainian refugees fleeing will be accepted without passports, or any valid travel documents due to the urgency of the situation. Therefore, stating with their actions, that Ukrainian refugees are more valuable or seem to be more worthy of help than refugees from Asia, Africa, or the Middle East.

Correspondingly, it is true that not all countries inside Europe deal and act the same way towards refugees, be that as it may, with the current refugee crisis it has been proved that they all share strong sentiments of xenophobia and racism. For instance, Hungary is a country that refused to admit refugees coming from outside Europe since 2015. In 2018, Prime Minister Viktor Orban described non-European refugees as “Muslim invaders” and “poison” to society, in comparison with Ukrainian refugees who are being welcomed without hesitation. In the same way, Jarosław Kaczyński, who served as Prime Minister of Poland and is the leader of the Law and Justice party, in 2017 said that accepting asylum seekers from Syria would be dangerous and would “completely change our culture and radically lower the level of safety in our country”. Furthermore, Germany in 2015 with Chancellor Angela Merkel in charged said that they would accept one million of Syrians. Although, as time passed, Europe’s solution was to make a deal with Turkey, who is not part of the European Union, to close the migrant route. Moreover, the promise of letting refugees integrate into German society was not fulfilled since. Seven year later, an impressive amount of refugees are still in camps and centers, with their lives frozen in time. Sadly, most European governments gambled towards the idea of sending them back once the armed conflict was over, without caring for the aftermath of war’s destruction.

The common narrative until now pushed by leaders, politicians, and mass media has been that Ukrainians are prosperous, civilized, middle class working people, but refugees coming from the Middle East are terrorists, and refuges from Africa are simply too different. Despite, refugees are all people who share similar emotions and struggle to grasp the fact that their lives may never be the same; having lost their homes, friends, family and so much more. Plus, being selectively welcomed based on their religion, skin color or nationality by the continent which’s complete rhetoric is universal rights, just adds another complex layer to the issue. Conjointly, the displacement of people due to war displays how regular individuals are always the ones who suffer the most in consequence to the interests of the few that represent larger powers. Hence, greed, envy, and cruelty are stronger than recognized, even in a developed continent such as Europe.

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What Everyone Should Know About Preventing Ethnic Violence: The Case of Bosnia

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Image source: srebrenica.org.uk

When the Balkans spiraled into violence and genocide in the 90’s, many wondered what caused this resurgence in militant ethnic nationalism and how a similar situation may be countered.

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The 1990’s were a vibrant decade, that is unless you were living in the Balkans. 1995 was especially bad, as the 11th of July of that year marked the Srebrenica Massacre, which saw Serbian soldiers murder over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims over the span of two weeks. This shocked the world, as it was the first case of a European country resorting to extreme violence and genocide on ethnic lines since World War II. After World War II, the idea that a European country would resort to genocide was unthinkable. As Balkan nations continue to see the consequences of the massacre after over 25 years, it is increasingly evident that more needs to be done to curb ethnic violence.

We must first investigate key causes of ethnic violence. According to V.P. Gagnon, the main driver of ethnic violence is elites that wish to stay in power. Ethnic nationalism is easy to exploit, as creating a scapegoat is extremely effective for keeping elites in power. This is exactly what happened in Yugoslavia, which had previously seen high levels of tolerance and intermarriage in more mixed areas that saw the worst violence during the war. Stuart J. Kaufman argues that elites may take advantage of natural psychological fears of in-group extinction, creating group myths, or stereotypes, of outgroups to fuel hatred against them. While they may take different approaches to this issue, Gagnon and Kaufman agree that the main drivers of ethnic violence are the elites.

David Lake and Donald Rothchild suggest that the main driver of ethnic conflict is collective fears for the future of in-groups. Fear is one of the most important emotions we have because it helps secure our existence in a hostile world. However, fear can easily be exploited by the elites to achieve their personal goals. In a multiethnic society such as Yugoslavia, the rise of an elite that adheres to the prospects of a single ethnic group could prove dangerous and sometimes even disastrous. The destruction of Yugoslavian hegemony under Josip Broz Tito and the resulting explosion of ethnic conflict at the hands of Serbian elites in Bosnia underline this because of the immense fear this created.

Regions with high Serb populations in Bosnia sought independence from the rest of the country when they found themselves separated from Serbia by the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Republika Srpska was formed by these alienated Serbs. The leadership and elites in Serbia riled up the Serb population of Republika Srpska by stereotyping and demonizing Bosnian Muslims as “descendants of the Turkish oppressors”. This scared the Serbs in Bosnia so much so that they obeyed the elites of Serbia in supporting and fighting for the independence of Republika Srpska by any means necessary. As was seen in Srebrenica, they were not opposed to genocide.

We know how the elites fuel ethnic tensions to secure power as well of the devastating effects of these tensions reaching their boiling point. But what could be done to address ethnic conflict? David Welsh suggests that a remedy for ethnic conflict could be the complete enfranchisement of ethnic minorities and deterrence towards ethnic cleansing. This means that we must ensure that ethnic minorities are able to have a say in a democratic system that caters to all ethnicities equally. Fostering aversion to genocide is also vital toward addressing ethnic conflict because it is the inevitable result of unchecked ethnic conflict.

There is also the issue of members of ethnic groups voting for candidates and parties on ethnic lines. For example, in the United States, White American voters have shown to prefer White candidates over African American candidates, and vice versa. Keep in mind that the United States has a deep history of ethnic conflict, including the centuries-long subjugation of African Americans by White Americans.

Ethnic violence is horrifying and destructive, but it can be prevented. The first measure would be the establishment of a representative democracy, where members of all ethnicities are accurately represented. Another measure would be to make ethnic conflict and ethnic stereotyping taboo so that the average person would not resort to genocidal behavior once things go wrong. Lastly, making people feel secure is the most important step towards preventing ethnic conflict. If the people feel secure enough, they will not even need to think about ethnic violence. In short, while it is important to consider the differences of the various ethnic groups in a multiethnic society, it is vital that each group is kept represented and secure, free of any fears of subjugation.

While the case of Bosnia was extremely unfortunate, it provides an integral view into what could happen if perceived subjugation and fear of eradication reaches a breaking point. As was seen in Bosnia, ethnic violence can be extremely violent, resulting in untold suffering and death. That is why we must take necessary steps towards de-escalation and remediation of ethnic conflicts. These measures can, quite literally, save millions of lives.

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French Presidential Election 2022 and its significance for Europe

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Eugene Delacroix’s infamous painting “la liberté Guidant le Peuple” reminds the whole world of the July Revolution of 1830 that toppled King Charles X of France. The lady in the centre of the painting with the French tricolour still symbolizes the concept of liberty and reminds the whole world of revolutions and sacrifices made for freedom. France indeed has a long journey from revolting against “if they have no bread, let them eat cake” in 1789 to establishing a modern democratic society with the principles of “liberty, equality and fraternity”.  

France and the United States are rightly considered the birthplace of modern democracy. The French revolution taught the whole world lessons about revolution, freedom modern nationalism, liberalism and sovereignty. In 2022, France celebrates the 233rd year of Bastille Day which led to a new dawn in the French political system. From establishing 1ere Republique (1st Republic) in 1792, France has evolved and is currently under the 5eme Republique (5th Republic) under the constitution crafted by Charles de Gaulle in 1958.

Today, France is holding its presidential elections. As the French believe, ‘You first vote with your heart, then your head’, the first round of voting was concluded on Sunday 10th April and the Presidential debate on 20th April 2022. While the whole world waits for the 24th of April’s second round of elections and their results, this article attempts to understand the French electoral system and analyze Why French Presidential elections are important for Europe?

French electoral system

France is a semi-presidential democracy; the president is at the centre of power and Prime Minister heads the government. The president of the French republic is elected by direct universal suffrage where all French citizens aged 18 and above can vote, whether residing in France or not. In France, there is a two-round system in which voters vote twice on two Sundays, two weeks apart. This two-round system is widely practised in central and eastern Europe as well as Central Asia, South America and Africa.

In order to apply, a candidate needs 500 signatures of elected officials and they should be at least from 30 government departments. A candidate can be an independent or he or she can represent a political party. There is no limit to how many candidates can run for presidential elections. For instance, in 2002 there were 16 candidates, in 2017- 11 and in 2022 there are 12. While all the candidates have the right to equal media presence, the amount of spending on campaigns is also monitored; for the 1st round, the spending must not exceed 16.9 million euros and for the second round, it has been limited to 22.5 million euros.

This year, the 1st round of voting was concluded on 10th April while the second one is scheduled to be held on 24th April 2022. In the first round, all 12 candidates were eligible but for the second round, only two candidates who got the maximum votes are qualified for the second round.

A brief overview of French presidential candidates

Emmanuel Macron, five years ago at the age of 39, became the youngest French president of the French republic. In 2017, he broke the dominance of the two major French parties- Republicans and Socialists- by running a campaign “neither left nor right”. During the tenure of Emmanuel Macron, a hardcore centrist, France has witnessed a 7% GDP growth, unemployment dropped by 7.2% and the crime rate has fallen to 27%.

A far-rightist, Marine Le Pen is the other presidential candidate who succeeded her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, as leader of the National Front (later National Rally) party in 2011. She was also contesting against Emmanuel Macron during the 2017 elections and before that in 2012, against Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande. While she embraced the party’s anti-immigration stance, she rebranded the party’s Euroskepticism as French nationalism.

This year, in the April 2022 elections, the current President of France, Emanuel Macron and far-right leader, Marine Le Pen are the two candidates with Macron running ahead with a lead of 4.7 per cent votes (Emmanuel Macron-27.8% & Marine Le Pen- 23.1%).

Why French Presidential elections are important for Europe?

While European defence is primarily assured by the US-led NATO military alliance, of which most EU states are members, French president Macron said,  “Europe needs to finally build its own collective security framework on our continent…”, advocating for a ‘European Security’ framework amid tensions with Russia over Ukraine.

On the other hand, Le Pen’s party has been looked upon suspiciously that it might have received financing from a Russian bank connected to the Russian President Putin. In an interview with French public radion, Le pen said, “It will be necessary diplomatically, when the war [in Ukraine] is over, when a peace treaty has been signed, to try to avoid this tie-up which risks being the largest danger of the 21st century for us,” she even further added, “Imagine … if we let the first producer of raw materials in the world — which is Russia — [create an alliance] with the first factory of the world — which is China — to let them perhaps constitute the first military power of the world. I believe that it’s a potentially great danger.” These statements only further reinforce the claims that Le Pen is more pro-Russia.

While Macron is anti-Brexit, Le Pen, on the other hand, has been known for her ‘Frexit’ plan, meaning, that she wanted France to leave the EU and abandon the euro. However, during the 2022 elections, it appears that Le Pen has softened her stance on Frexit. Another important issue pertaining to immigration has been significant not only for France but the whole of Europe. This issue of immigration is directly linked with the “economic and cultural concerns” which raises an important worry about immigrants’ socio-political and economic integration into the French society and abiding by the principle of laïcité (secularism with French characters).

As for Macron, he wants to create a “rapid reaction force” to help protect EU states’ borders in case of a migrant surge and is also pushing for a rethink of the bloc’s asylum application process. Macron also said that he urges the EU to be more efficient in deporting those refused entries. On the other hand, Marine Le Pen during her campaign stated, “I will control immigration and establish security for all.” It is pertinent to note that Macron has introduced strict laws pertaining to immigration and controlling Islamic radicalization. For instance, he introduced the bill to ban foreign funding to mosques.

What is more interesting to mention is the concerns about ‘energy’ in the presidential election. Evidently, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has gained more attention on the economic and geopolitical consequences of existing national and European energy supply chain choices. In France especially, there is a major rift between the pro and anti-nuclear power fractions. Interestingly, France has the second most nuclear power stations in the world after the United States.  Besides, in the last week of the elections, Macron has been attempting to win the hearts of the French voters with his proposal for a “complete renewal” of his climate policy. He has also promised to build up to 14 nuclear reactors by 2050 and regenerate existing plants. Meanwhile, Le Pen has promised to build 20 nuclear plants and aim to have nuclear power provide 81 per cent of France’s energy by 2050. While the current president Macron and far-right candidate Le Pen have both committed to the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming, it is evident that their approaches differ particularly on energy. Since France is Europe’s second-biggest economy, France’s climate policy could echo right across the EU.

Besides, in light of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis, Macron has played a significant role as he is the bridgehead for Russia and the US. He has also negotiated talks between Washington DC and Moscow and has also condemned the crisis by making the statement, “Russia is not under attack, it is the aggressor. As some unsustainable propaganda would have us believe, this war is not as big as the battle against, that is a lie.” Indeed, he has played the role of Europe’s de-facto leader vis-à-vis the Ukraine crisis. Nonetheless, with a marginal win in the first round against Marine Le Pen, winning the 2nd term is not as easy as it was five years ago.

More importantly, it is pertinent to note that France has the 2nd strongest military and 2nd biggest economy in Europe, further the 5th biggest economy in the world. France is not only the most visited country in the world but also ranks 1st in the global soft power index. It is also the founding member of the United Nations Security Council, North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union which makes it an important player in European politics. Consequently, the policies of the French leadership not only direct the political, social and economic lives of the French but also reverberate in Europe.

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