Past and present n.1
“Past and present – European conflicts and their pertinence today”
In a century shaped by European disintegration and nationalism, we believe that the European family should resort to its historical legacy to surmount present obstacles. Indeed, the continent’s history can serve as a source of hope in times of upheaval - provided that Europe learns the lessons from the past.
In this spirit, we want to shed light on European history and its pertinence today with our new column “Past and Present”. By covering a wide range of geographic areas within Europe – from Cyprus to Catalonia – we will examine, every two weeks with an article, former and current animosities while emphasizing their impacts on the party that is concerned the most: the European people.
Gaetano, Francois, Daniel, Francesca, Pietro.
The wall that divides Nicosia. Author: Marco Fieber. Source: Flickr
9 November 1989: the collapse of the Berlin Wall, about thirty-two years ago.
It is strange, almost dystopian, to imagine that on European territory there is still a country that, with its capital, continues to be divided by a wall not too different from that which used to separate the German capital in the twentieth century.
We are talking about Cyprus, its capital Nicosia and why the division of the third island of the Mediterranean continues to be a defeat for the EU.
The history from the 20th century to today
The island of Cyprus, which has always been a strategic point of the eastern Mediterranean, was granted in 1878 to the British Empire by the Ottoman Empire after having been part of the latter for about three centuries. It was a guarantee of defense against a possible Russian attack on the Ottomans and a token of the alliance between the two empires, until it was officially annexed to the British Empire only at the outbreak of the First World War.
The suffering and hatred of the two world wars contributed to the growth of both Greek and Turkish nationalist sentiments, so much so that in 1960 an agreement was necessary to guarantee the autonomy but above all the peace of the island.
Cyprus was independent from both nations and from the United Kingdom itself (which still holds two naval bases), but at the same time protected by the three powers. Representation in parliament was divided between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots according to their percentage of the population.
It was the regime of the Colonels to subvert the situation of relative peace, an authoritarian military junta that with a coup d'état took power in Greece on 21 April 1967 and ruled for about 8 years.
Among the aims of the colonels was the annexation of the island to Greece, attempted also in this case by supporting a coup d'état aimed at removing the Cypriot President Makarios.
The response of the Turkish troops to the aggression was immediate, establishing the final start of the conflict that would generate the exodus of Turkish Cypriots from the South to the North of the island and Greek Cypriots in the opposite direction. Referring to this period, both populations claim to have undergone "ethnic cleansing".
To mark still today the separation between the Turkish North and the Greek South there is a demilitarized area called "green line", extended for 180km and controlled by the UN. It also crosses Nicosia, making it the only capital still divided in Europe.
What's wrong with the negotiations?
But let us return to the reasons why the situation in Cyprus is an extremely difficult issue for the European Union.
Firstly, because of the failure of the many attempts at reunification made over the years without any significant result. It seems that the EU and the UN can do nothing in the negotiations between the two states.
The last confrontation was in March 2021.
But, again, let us take a step back by analyzing the attempts that have come the closest to achieving the objective and the reasons that have led to the rejection of reunification.
The idea of all the secretaries-general of the United Nations over the years has been to proceed to reunification through the creation of a federal state.
The closest attempt to success was made in 2004, when a referendum was held on both sides of the island to test the will of the citizens. The majority of the Turks were in favor, while the Greek side was clearly against.
After 2004, another attempt that seemed to lead to a positive result was that of 2017, mainly thanks to the relaxed relationship between the respective presidents.
Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades called his Turkish counterpart Mustafa Akıncı, a serious supporter of reunification, a "friend".
Mustafa Akinci ( left )Turkish Cypriot leader with Nicos Anastasiades ( right ) Greek Cypriot leader during Cyprus talks. 28 june 2017. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré.
Even then, Nicosia and its island have not seen a reunification that to date seems to us very far away.
Among the reasons that distance the most the two parties are certainly the desire of the Turkish Cypriots to see recognized a substantial equality in the power of representation (objected by the Greek Cypriots who answer "they are only 18%, as they can expect a fifty-fifty"), the right to exploit natural resources and, finally, the request by the Turkish side to have as a guarantee of peace the possibility of intervention by allied member states in the event of aggression from the Greek side.
The Greek Cypriots have been complaining for decades about the dreaded presence in Cyprus of as many as 40,000 Turkish soldiers.
Only a few months ago, there was a last failed attempt at rapprochement, which gradually enshrined the loss of effectiveness of the EU and the UN in relation to the dispute.
Ankara is increasingly distant from Europe and, aware of the bargaining power it holds, it is increasingly provocatively pushing for the non-reunification of the island, even promising to make the Turkish side a province of the Turkish Republic.
Let us not forget that the Turkish candidacy to join the EU, started in 1999, saw extremely slow negotiations between Ankara and Brussels until 2016, when the EU called for the dissolution of the negotiations and Erdogan stated in a speech to the Turkish parliament in 2017 that Turkey does not need to join.
Meanwhile, the dispute over gas and energy resources inflames Europe and the Mediterranean, partly because of the shortage and rising prices.
Just the seabed that surrounds the island being rich in gas generates the interests of both sides and European companies, including the Italian ENI.
Several times the exploratory ships were surrounded by Turkish lookouts and the aforementioned ENI was involved in the seizure of its Saipem 12000 by Turkey.
The necessary final reflection cannot fail to lead us to the citizens of the island, to their sense of frustration towards the institutions and very often to hatred towards the other side.
Studying the past and analyzing the present of Cyprus can only be an opportunity to understand the mistakes made and act to first improve the lives of citizens and consequently the future EU landscape.