Lobby for Cyprus is a non-party-political human rights organisation campaigning for a reunited Cyprus.
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Media Watch 2005

31 July 2005
Source: Sunday Mail
Comment: The following article appeared in the Sunday Mail of Nicosia on 29 July 2005.
Building bridges: it’s about time

PRESIDENT Tassos Papadopoulos has hailed his meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair this week as “excellent”, insisting the two countries had more to unite than to divide them.
“The bitterness of the past has no place,” he said. “National interest necessitates the building of strong bridges to revive the traditionally good friendship.”

It is reassuring to hear such statesmanlike language. After all, Britain is Cyprus’ biggest economic partner and its biggest provider of tourists. Britain is home to a huge expatriate Cypriot community, while the number of British nationals settling in Cyprus rises every year. Thousands of Cypriots graduate from British universities, bringing home with them an understanding and appreciation of many British qualities.

Politically, there are clearly differences, stemming from Britain’s past role as a colonial power and its continued interest in Cyprus since. This is the “bitterness of the past” to which the President was referring. Yet today we are partners in the European Union, and many of our interests are by definition shared, constantly negotiated through a combination of partnership and compromise.

Yet for all his good words, the bitterness of the past remains extremely topical. On the eve of his meeting with Blair, Papadopoulos was still referring to the divisive policy pursued by Britain since independence, while it was barely a few months ago that his main government ally, Demetris Christofias, was describing Britain as the “evil demon” haunting Cyprus for the past half century, feelings wholeheartedly endorsed by the President at the time.

We hope that a page has genuinely been turned, for – whatever our differences – our interests will always better be served by diplomacy and close partnership than by strident rhetoric. At the conference table, there is evidence that the government knows that. It will never go head to head with a great power, and within European council meetings has even shown an ability to give way with grace while fighting rear guard actions on causes that can still be saved. This is the stuff of politics.

What it has failed to learn is that it cannot give way on the one hand and then speak a raucous discourse of paranoid isolationism back home. We can of course, seek to play off the one against the other, gain credit for our conciliatory behaviour abroad, then regret our public opinion’s failure to follow through. But you can only play the game once, and we used up that trump with our resounding ‘no’ at the Annan plan referendum. If we are to regain the kind of credibility required successfully to pursue our interests on the international stage, we must match our pronouncements abroad with our behaviour back home.

We say we’re building bridges – let’s hope we really mean it this time."