Friday, February 29, 2008

Christofias should use good will to mend fences

IF ANYONE had any doubt about the depth of diplomatic isolation into which Tassos Papadopoulos had dug himself, it will swiftly have been dispelled this week, with the broad international welcome given to his successor Demetris Christofias.

The turnaround is all the more striking given Christofias’ participation in the Papadopoulos government, his personal responsibility for swinging the ‘no’ to the Annan plan through his bizarre “soft no to cement the yes”, and his grotesquely anachronistic Communist rhetoric and political imagery.

This after all is the man who branded Britain as the evil demon that had tormented Cyprus throughout its history, who regularly raged against Anglo-American imperialism, and who has warned against neo-liberal forces of global capitalism tearing through the European Union.

One may have been entitled to expect him treated with about as much enthusiasm as Hugo Chavez. Instead, within hours he had been invited to talks in London by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and had received warm messages of congratulation from US President George W Bush (welcoming the election of a Communist!) and from the European Commission, as well as from many other European leaders.

In five years, the closest Tassos Papadopoulos got to the British Prime Minister was at European summits, while his official visits were hardly a roll call of Europe’s great powers. That Gordon Brown is so swiftly extending the hand of friendship to the man who railed against the “evil demon” is a sign of how personal the isolation of Tassos Papadopoulos had become. It shows that the international community has no axe to grind against the Greek Cypriots; that it fully respects the community’s ‘no’ to the Annan plan.

What the world had come to resent was the unremitting bad faith of Mr Papadopoulos, his trench warfare against any attempt to take the slightest step forward, his utter contempt for the Turkish Cypriots and for any effort to relaunch the solution process. What they are welcoming in President Christofias is his repeated desire for a solution and the mandate given by the fact that more than 60 per cent of the electorate voted for pro-solution candidates in the first round of the elections.

President Christofias starts his term with a remarkable reservoir of good will from the international community, and the opportunity to reverse the isolation of the Greek Cypriots. Indeed, his decision to appoint European Commissioner Marcos Kyprianou will consolidate the impression that he is serious both about mending fences and negotiating a solution.

But he cannot be complacent. Were he to slide back into the comfort zone of empty rhetoric and sterile disputes over procedures and semantics, such good will would fade away as swiftly as the early morning mist. No one expects him to deliver a solution. But he is expected to engage with sincerity, vision and good will.

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