Sunday’s Cypriot election brought victory for nationalist hardliner Nikos Christodoulides. The Left’s vote held up, but the campaign also showed its weaknesses in combining class politics with answers to the country’s enduring division.
It was probably the most polarized presidential election in Cyprus’s recent history. In the February 12 runoff vote, former foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides, a nationalist hard-liner, edged out the leftist-backed Andreas Mavroyiannis by a narrow two-point margin.
For the Progressive Party of the Working People (AKEL), Cyprus’s communist main opposition party, this marks the third failure in a row to oust the Right from power. AKEL had nominated Mavroyiannis, a liberal technocrat, on a program to restart stalled negotiations with the Turkish Cypriot community to reunify the island.
Cyprus has been ethnically divided since 1974. Following a far-right coup backed by the Greek junta against an elected president, Archbishop Makarios III, Turkey invaded under the pretext of protecting the island’s Turkish Cypriot minority. While the Greek Cypriot–controlled Republic of Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, the northern part forms the internationally unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
Serving as chief Greek Cypriot negotiator under five administrations, Mavroyiannis was regarded as best placed to attract a cross-class constituency favoring a federal solution. Seen from this perspective, the election of Christodoulides with the backing of several anti-federal parties appears to cement the normalization of the geographical partition that has de facto existed since 1974.
However, rather than cementing anything, the elections expose the deep fissures of Greek Cypriot politics and society, and not just along the issue of reunification. Despite AKEL’s insistence on framing the elections purely as a referendum on the danger of final partition, the elections also had clear class undertones.
Arenegade member of the ruling right-wing Democratic Rally (DISY), the winner Christodoulides had broken ranks in this contest to run as an independent. Picking up a sizeable chunk of DISY’s base, he knocked out his former party and its chairman from the runoff for the first time in history. It is widely rumored that he enjoyed the covert backing of incumbent two-term president Nicos Anastasiades, a now-disgraced figure embroiled in a series of corruption scandals.
In the week between the two rounds, Christodoulides attacked Mavroyiannis as potentially damaging to Cyprus’s “economic stability,” while enjoying the backing of the island’s employers’ association. This was despite Mavroyiannis’s economically liberal credentials, his constant invoking of “fiscal discipline” between both rounds, and his backing in the runoff by around two-in-five of DISY’s voters. The latter opted for Mavroyiannis either on pro-reunification grounds, to punish the “traitor” Christodoulides, or both.
Christodoulides’s red-scare tactics predictably invoked AKEL’s record in government between 2008 and 2013, which coincided with the outbreak of the global financial crisis. Back then, a massive media operation successfully convinced most of the electorate that the crisis was not caused by banks, but by the late former AKEL president Demetris Christofias’s “excessive” public spending. It is a lie so powerful that even the Guardian has parroted it in its election coverage. It was on the back of an anti-left offensive and the discourse of “competent” crisis management that Anastasiades and a unified right took office in 2013.
Political analysts often conflate electoral results for tendencies within society. From this angle, the elections reveal a continuing right-wing shift of Greek Cypriot society, itself reflecting its deeply conservative and patriarchal nature. Such readings, however, are flawed. For despite its defeat, AKEL held its ground. Within an extremely hostile environment, it fielded a virtual unknown outsider in a contest framed long in advance by the media as a derby between two well-known right-wing candidates. It knocked DISY’s chairman Averof Neofytou — a self-declared Thatcherite — out of the race, causing an internal crisis within Greek Cypriot capitalism’s first party. Its voters displayed the highest level of cohesion behind the party’s chosen candidate, with up to 97 percent loyalty.
AKEL’s historically efficient mobilizing mechanism might be weakened after ten years of crisis, but it is still a force to be reckoned with. Moreover, the Right’s victories since 2013 have not been landslides characteristic of “right-wing shifts” but runoffs between the Right’s candidates and candidates solely backed by AKEL. The latter attracted voters well beyond the party’s base. “Polarization” might be a better word to describe Greek Cypriot politics. To understand the meaning of this election, a look into the particularities of the Cypriot political system is in order.
Cyprus is a presidential republic, where the head of state enjoys sweeping executive powers and parliament is reduced to approving, amending, or rejecting government-proposed bills. Presidential contests are highly personalized affairs, where candidates strive to win over the middle ground to gain absolute majorities.
It’s not far-fetched to assume that this system was designed with the goal of excluding AKEL, the island’s oldest and most organized party, from power. The institutional field is thus rigged against the Left, with apparatuses like the education system firmly in the hands of the nationalist right. AKEL only pursued the presidency once under Christofias, while participating only twice in government with its own ministers. It traditionally uses its social weight to elect candidates further to its right, usually without participating in governments.
Historically, the Cypriot left’s agenda encompassed several elements. Core to its identity is the defense of labor and the welfare state. A second element was the preservation of a nonaligned foreign policy and a corresponding rejection of NATO. After the 1974 split, the goal of reunifying Cyprus based on a bizonal and bicommunal federation topped its priorities. This is closely connected to the goal of social modernization, which predates the 1974 war. In his seminal ethnography of the Cypriot village, the anthropologist Peter Loizos speaks of the communists’ championing of independent figures from the liberal right, who are “progressive” or have positive personal attributes, such as being honest or cultivated.
AKEL’s support of Mavroyiannis conforms to the latter pattern. Mavroyiannis made sure to appeal to the Left’s base by emphasizing social justice and demanding the reinstatement of a troika-suspended automatic mechanism adjusting wages according to inflation. On the Cyprus question, he emphasized his credibility with key Turkish Cypriot pro-reunification figures, while advocating for an educational system free of church influence. AKEL’s campaign extolled its candidate’s “modesty” and love of poetry and the theatre. While this may appear somewhat apolitical, it reflects the historical and geographical context, where the Left remains the largest force advocating for social modernization.
The institutional field is rigged against the Left, with apparatuses like the education system firmly in the hands of the nationalist right.
AKEL has opted for different electoral strategies in the past. In the island’s first election after gaining independence from Britain, it backed a liberal right-wing figure against Makarios. With the turn to nonalignment, AKEL switched to backing Makarios, even as it remained firmly excluded from the institutions of the postcolonial state. Following the 1974 events, AKEL opted for propping up the center-right Makarios-inspired Democratic Party (DIKO) in power, the third-largest party and framed in Stalinist terms as representative of the “national bourgeoisie,” based on shared views on foreign policy and economic planning.
Up until the neoliberal transition of the 1990s–2000s, Greek Cypriot politics was polarized along two axes. In terms of foreign policy and the welfare state, AKEL sided with DIKO and the minor socialist EDEK party against the economically liberal and firmly pro-Western DISY on the Right. But AKEL and DISY’s views on the Cyprus question converge, as both have historically shown a greater willingness to compromise with the Turkish Cypriots, unlike the more rejectionist DIKO and EDEK. For AKEL, the goal stems from its own internationalist traditions and its official framing of reunification as the precondition for pursuing explicitly socialist politics. For DISY, accepting the principle of political equality with Turkish Cypriots is a minor price to pay in a context where Greek Cypriot capital is infinitely stronger than its Turkish Cypriot counterpart.
The Janus-faced character of DISY partly explains this paradox. Its founder, the once Makarios-aligned Glafcos Clerides (president from 1993–2003), became a political pariah in the two decades following the 1974 events. The reason was the widely held perception that he had prevented Makarios’s return from exile following the coup’s collapse, but also his perceived willingness to sign “disgraceful” agreements in light of the Turkish army’s advance. His party offered the far-right coup-plotters a respectable home, where they coexisted with middle-of-the-road conservatives and liberals. Free-market economics and anti-communism provided a glue to bind irredentism with “political realism” and social liberalism with regressive social conservatism.
Occasional tensions arise within this coalition. In the referendum for the United Nations’ 2004 Annan Plan for reunification — rejected by Greek Cypriots and accepted by Turkish Cypriots — Clerides, Anastasiades, and the more business-oriented wing of DISY advocated a Yes vote, whereas much of the party base voted No on nationalist grounds. However, the clientelist character of right-wing politics means that such differences can be papered over quite easily, especially when faced with the shared goal of rolling back working-class gains.
Christodoulides’s election and the failure of DISY’s candidate have reignited these tensions. Hailing from the party’s more plebeian far-right constituency, his meteoric rise is perceived as a product of his grooming by Anastasiades, and the latter’s transformation from a “realist” on the Cyprus question to a de facto champion of a two-state solution — albeit framed in the more politically acceptable language of maximalist claims vis-à-vis Turkish Cypriots.
However, Christodoulides’s ascent is also emblematic of another reconfiguration of Greek Cypriot politics. The parties of the “middle ground,” with which AKEL has historically sought to cooperate based on the legacy of shared resistance against the 1974 coup, have long been transformed as well. DIKO, a notoriously opportunistic and power-obsessed party, is today as economically neoliberal as DISY. EDEK’s relation to “socialism” remains highly questionable. Once a radical “Third-Worldist” party praised by the late Christopher Hitchens, EDEK has gone as far as to oppose the creation of a national health service. Its sole remaining selling point is hard-line nationalism and anti-federalism. Both parties joined DISY in the crusade against Christofias, who they helped elect in 2008, once the banks and the international rating agencies launched a war against his government for his perceived inflexibility in bailout negotiations with the troika.
These parties’ backing of Christodoulides, descended from the far right, makes a mockery of any claims to uphold the principles of the 1974 democratic resistance, but it did add a certain oppositional veneer to Christodoulides’s candidature. This former diplomat’s campaign remained almost comically vague on key issues, and he repeatedly contradicted his own statements. Soft-spoken, employing only platitudes of “unity,” and praised by supporters as a “good lad” (kalo paidi), he is an empty signifier par excellence, to which both dissatisfaction with and support for Anastasiades’s record in office can be projected upon. In the rare occasions when Christodoulides was explicit, it was in warning against an “economic disaster” should “AKEL return to power” (AKEL insisted it would not join a Mavroyiannis government).
Meanwhile, it was DISY’s Neofytou and the party’s liberals who had to shoulder the responsibility of ideologically defending the incumbent president Anastasiades’s record. The latter publicly urged supporters to vote for Neofytou, even as he was rumored to favor Christodoulides behind the scenes. Extolling an economic miracle after the disaster of previous left-wing “mismanagement,” amidst rising social inequality and corruption scandals Neofytou and DISY were punished by the electorate, and rightly so.
Crisis Neoliberalism, Cyprus-Style
Cypriot society has been significantly transformed during the past decade. Following the concerted witch hunt against the Left that brought him to power, Anastasiades soon accepted an EU “bail-in” which raided depositors’ savings to help pay for the banking sector’s collapse. A near-violent outburst of public anger at the government for blocking access to bank accounts led to a change so that the measure would only affect deposits over €100,000. Yet this fueled apathy rather than radicalization among growing segments of the population, especially since AKEL had been absurdly but successfully framed as a culprit of the global financial crisis.
Nonetheless, Anastasiades quickly regained some legitimacy by riding the wave of a modest global recovery. The government drastically expanded a preexisting program, whereby Cyprus sold EU citizenships in exchange for million-euro investments in real estate. Legitimized as a strategy to exit the crisis, the citizenship-by-investment program (CIP) generated hundreds of millions for a nepotistic web composed of government officials, real estate agents, building contractors, and law firms processing the citizenship applications of individuals, often tainted by criminal records in their home countries.
Anastasiades’s government drastically expanded a preexisting program, whereby Cyprus sold EU citizenships in exchange for million-euro investments in real estate.
The president’s personal involvement and interest in the program was laid bare for everyone who bothered to look. His law firm handled a large portion of passport applications, whereas his son-in-law’s real estate firm sold property to beneficiaries. In a telling episode, Anastasiades and his family flew for a vacation to the Seychelles (where he is rumored to have deposited his personal wealth) on a private jet owned by a Saudi tycoon, who along with his family was granted citizenship. Clientelism and personal corruption were perennial features of the Cypriot state. However, under Anastasiades, the state was transformed into a well-lubricated kleptocracy. The judiciary was filled with the president’s associates, rendering any investigation of corruption ludicrous, whereas the media retained and expanded its role as a cheerleader of the Right.
Initially, the DISY government could convince many that the benefits of economic recovery would trickle down in the form of jobs and higher wages. However, the poisonous effects of the CIP became more pronounced following Anastasiades’s reelection in 2018. Attracting global elites to buy real estate on (one half of) a small island of barely a million inhabitants has led to rents skyrocketing to absurd levels; the average rent for a flat in the coastal city of Limassol is probably higher than in Berlin. Monstrous near-empty luxury apartment towers sit awkwardly in cities drowning in congestion due to the lack of any public transportation worthy of its name, whereas construction is accelerating environmental destruction.
As in other southern European countries, the young and skilled have been particularly affected, often having to live with their parents and finding no employment corresponding to their higher education degrees. Proficiency in a language other than English may land them a job in one of the numerous sleazy “Forex” companies on the island, pestering foreign customers on the phone to buy foreign exchange or cryptocurrencies.
The labor market has been deregulated to a grotesque extent. University lecturers and schoolteachers are classified as self-employed “service providers” and robbed of any social protection. At the same time, public education curricula remain notoriously out-of-step with society, dominated as they are by extreme nationalism and social conservatism.
The Anastasiades government has been consistent in manufacturing moral panics about the “flooding of Cyprus” with (dark-skinned) foreigners. With Cyprus holding the highest per-capita percentage of asylum seekers in the EU, “immigration” has been elevated by the government to a major issue. The government runs the notorious Pournara processing camp, where refugees are cramped in unhygienic conditions and forced to sleep on the mud during the cold winter months.
Anti-corruption discourses can be a boomerang, far more successful against the Left than the Right.
Christodoulides’s credentials on the subject are well known. The amorphous coalition backing him is convinced that migrants are part of a “grand replacement” strategy by Turkey to alter the island’s demography. Meanwhile, the “liberal” Neofytou engaged in well-publicized dog whistles to the far right, such as traveling to Congo to negotiate repatriation agreements.
Common avenues of discontent have been declining voter turnouts, but also diffuse racism directed against migrants. Accepting the constraints of fiscal austerity and fetishizing “economic growth” — as well as internalizing the idea of “being on the same boat” — has endowed racism with the character of a displaced class consciousness, whereby the least class-conscious segments of the working class tread on those below them rather than those above them.
This dynamic lies at the heart of the incrementally rising vote for the leader of the Cypriot branch of Golden Dawn, the “National People’s Front” (ELAM), who gained 6 percent in the first round and indirectly endorsed Christodoulides for the runoff by calling on voters to “vote against AKEL.” Normalized by the mainstream media and racist discourses for years, the extreme right has played a skillful game. It has maintained an ideologically rigid hard core, tacitly supported the mainstream right in critical conjunctures without identifying with it, and always been around to pick up the pieces of the Right’s failed promises. That ELAM has so far refrained from using the stormtrooper tactics employed in the past by its Greek parent organization is no reason for complacency in dismissing it as “just another party of the rejectionist Right”.
Initially presenting himself as a liberal modernizer who would save Cyprus from fiscally promiscuous communists, Anastasiades’s international standing took a sharp dive in late 2020. An undercover report by Al Jazeera exposed (a likely tiny fraction of) the corruption involved in the CIP, forcing the EU to pull the plug on the program. Since then, Anastasiades has been singled out as an exceptionally corrupt leader by a heterogenous assortment of actors. These included not just AKEL and the wider Greek Cypriot left, but also countless of disappointed liberals who had enthusiastically joined his war against the Left ten years earlier.
There is much that can practically unite workers on both sides of a divided island littered with British bases and only three hundred kilometers away from the Gaza Strip.
The appeal of the self-Orientalizing discourse of Cypriot exceptionalism — as well as laments about the damage caused to “our reputation” abroad — are understandable, given the sheer magnitude of the personal corruption of Anastasiades’s inner circle. For AKEL, condemning the “most corrupt government in Cypriot history” has been a convenient way to rehabilitate itself politically after the 2011–13 witch hunt and to legitimize potential electoral alliances with actors to its right.
However, anti-corruption discourses can be a boomerang, far more successful against the Left than the Right, as evidenced by numerous Latin American examples. Anastasiades’s corruption is not the cause but rather a symptom of the rapacious character of capitalist crisis and dwindling political legitimacy. Increasing the rate of exploitation by liberalizing the job market and commodifying nature (and even citizenship) do not result from personal failings but are morbid symptoms of the system’s decay and inherent inability to offer any kind of hegemonic project based on productivity and growth.
Ironically, the omnipresence of “corruption” in public discourse has indirectly benefited the vacuous Christodoulides. By presenting himself as a modest everyday man who goes to church and is “beyond ideologies,” he was able to rally many of those disappointed by the disastrous effects of the Right’s decade-long rule but unable or unwilling to look at their deeper structural causes. That this key insider and nodal point of the entire rotten system of corruption was able to get elected — or indeed that Anastasiades managed to get him elected — is truly an act worthy of a Machiavelli.
Where is the Left?
On the surface, conditions in the past years have been ripe for a sustained left-wing challenge. Indeed, there have been many mobilizations, both by AKEL and by forces to its left, against attempts to allow land development into a protected nature reserve, against high rents, and against British military bases, alongside massive teachers’ and nurses’ strikes. A recent strike by food delivery drivers was probably the first recorded self-organized migrant strike, with the AKEL-aligned union federation taking up the representation of drivers (many of them refugees with pending asylum applications) in collective bargaining.
However, the most important mobilization took place in early 2021, to protest the near-blinding of a young woman — who was participating in a protest the previous week — by an Israeli-provided police water cannon. An estimated twenty-one thousand people marched during the Os Dame (“Enough”) protest, called for by a coalition of anarchist and other radical left-wing groups to protest not only against police brutality, but also against government corruption, military-style curfews during the pandemic, and the ill-treatment of asylum seekers.
There are multiple reasons why such pressure could not be translated politically. AKEL has toned down its defense of its record in government substantially, disguising instead its critique of the status quo in the meritocratic and not particularly radical vernacular of “anti-corruption.” Such an indirect admission of guilt pleases no one and is prone to unintended consequences, as mentioned previously.
Cultural factors are also at play. “Left” and “Right” in Cyprus are often identities related to family backgrounds, sometimes bearing little resemblance to actual class positions. Hence a non-negligible part of the working class votes for right-wing parties, against its material interests. At the same time, AKEL’s socioeconomic agenda is blunted by the existence of layers close to it with no relation to the working class. One of those particularly hit by the Al Jazeera revelations was a property developer and AKEL MP, who was promptly expelled. While AKEL is nowhere close to the levers of economic power like the other parties, such incidents tarnish the Left’s reputation, making all parties appear as “one and the same.”
Another reason for the absence of a political challenge is that AKEL and the various radical social movement milieus to its left are engaged in a well-known division of labor. On the one hand, the autonomist-minded movements reject representation and the question of political power. On the other hand, AKEL deals with “high politics” and political bargains with other parliamentary forces, or takes up issues thrown up by the movements in parliament. It will sometimes provide the numbers for mobilizations called by the movements — albeit discreetly — to generate political pressure where it sees fit. Such an unspoken arrangement serves both sides. It allows the movements to fudge the difficult question of political hegemony, while allowing AKEL to appear “responsible” and keep open channels of communication with actors to its right.
On the one hand, the autonomist-minded movements reject representation and the question of political power. On the other hand, AKEL deals with ‘high politics.’
However, the more general reason is the unresolved issue of the island’s division. As previously mentioned, Anastasiades has been criticized by everyone from the radical left to the liberal right for abandoning his previous pro-reunification stance, in favor of effectively accommodating to an eventual de jure partition. A common left-wing argument holds the ongoing division to be the root cause of all the island’s ills, from social inequality to racism and environmental degradation. In a less crude form, it is claimed that Anastasiades walked out of the last round of negotiations in 2017 because the tangible prospect of reunification would endanger his kleptocracy’s material privileges.
Such arguments are true insofar as the Right’s attitudes toward reunification are economically determined. For decades, maintaining tensions with the Turkish Cypriots has served a range of capitalist interests, not least by invoking the need for “unity on the internal front” to cow AKEL into political submission.
But the Greek Cypriot ruling class was notoriously split during the 2004 Annan Plan referendum. Anastasiades represented an “enlightened” fraction that trusted in its ability to quickly gain the economic upper hand over the island. It could point to a beneficial regional and global framework: Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was being courted by the West as a liberal modernizer, the United States and Britain were wreaking havoc on Iraq, and the Greek economy was booming on account of cheap credit.
Whether the Cyprus question will be solved — or not — is not contingent on the whims of a corrupt elite on a small island.
But 2023 is not 2004. Crisis-plagued Greece and Turkey are engaged in a dangerous game of brinkmanship in the Aegean. The US pivot to Asia has left a power vacuum in the region that numerous players are vying to fill. The scramble for fossil fuels beneath the Eastern Mediterranean seabed is exacerbating tensions. Turkey and the West are engaged in a competitive relationship, especially after the 2016 failed coup attempt against Erdogan. Both sides want to preserve their alliance but differ substantially on its terms.
In other words, “solving” the Cyprus question — or not — is not contingent on the whims of a corrupt elite on a small island. It depends on a far larger equation that stretches from the Libyan desert to the Caucasus, and from the Aegean Sea to the Persian Gulf. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Greek Cypriot ruling class has also dumped its decades-long game of balancing between Washington and Moscow. It has thrown its weight behind EU sanctions against Russia that, along with inflation, have hit an economy especially dependent on Russian tourism and bank deposits. On this point — as well as on expanding relations with the United States and neighboring Israel — both Neofytou and Christodoulides were essentially in agreement, whereas Mavroyiannis has repeatedly highlighted his “Europeanist” credentials.
In running Mavroyiannis, AKEL has tried to rally all those who share a federal vision for Cyprus, and indeed, the candidate has picked up virtually the entire left-wing vote, both within and outside AKEL, as well as DISY liberals, including Neofytou himself and even the Clerides family. But even if Mavroyiannis had been elected, there is no guarantee that he would have been successful in negotiating a settlement.
More importantly, there is no guarantee that reunification would lead to the land of milk and honey many on the Left imagine. It could mean an arrangement allowing for Greek and Turkish Cypriot workers to collectively fight for their rights. But it could also mean a dysfunctional setup like that in Bosnia, where ethnic separation remains intact, while nationalist elites retain their privileges and pit the two working classes against each other. The outcome depends on struggles in the here and now, not on some undefined point in the future, from which everything will almost magically flow.
The point here is not to “normalize” a partition, which on the social level has already been normalized since the late 1950s. The division of Cyprus is a very serious question, given the absence of peace and the possibility of war between two communities and their leaderships — backed as they are by different regional players in a world increasingly resembling a powder keg. However, the dominant perception of the Cyprus question as primarily a matter of high diplomacy necessarily leads to a subordination of all radical politics, when push comes to shove. For one, it robs the Left of any agency and reduces it to the position of spectator, whether in closing ranks with the Right against “Turkish expansionism” (as it often did in the past), or prioritizing reunification above everything else (as it has done in recent years).
The dominant perception of the Cyprus question as primarily a matter of high diplomacy necessarily leads to a subordination of all radical politics.
In the past two decades since the establishment of free movement between the island’s both parts, many commendable actions have been undertaken to mend ties between both communities and to recognize mutual suffering inflicted during the past century. AKEL has been more vocal in condemning massacres by far-right paramilitaries against Turkish Cypriot civilians in 1974, something virtually impossible during the decades-long suffocating climate of (Greek Cypriot) “national reconciliation” following the Turkish invasion. But most of these efforts have been coded as abstract rejections of nationalism, rather than as expressions of common class interests.
The Greek Cypriot left could do its share in ending the conflict by systematically mobilizing to curb the excessive powers of the chauvinist Archbishop of Cyprus and finally ending his influence over educational matters. It can also begin with explicitly defending the right of Turkish Cypriots to self-determination. The is not to promote territorial separatism, but to directly counter those forces — largely rallied behind Christodoulides — that question Turkish Cypriots’ right to any kind of political parity with Greek Cypriots, because “they are a minority.” This attitude is not the root cause of Turkey’s military presence and increasingly authoritarian stranglehold over Turkish Cypriot politics, but it definitely is its main source of legitimacy.
One of the most powerful moments in recent years was the eruption of massive cheers at a rally of striking teachers, following the reading out of a solidarity message from Turkish Cypriot teachers’ unions. It was an important gesture, considering that many teachers probably voted for Christodoulides this weekend. Such a perspective gives a practical and class-oriented content to the fight for peace, in contrast to the expectations heightened at deliberations in Alpine resorts, the state-centric fetishization of territorial unity, or invocations of a common Cypriot civic identity, however well intentioned or inclusive. In a world facing climate disaster and dangerous escalation over Ukraine, there is much that can practically unite workers on both sides of a divided island littered with British bases and only three hundred kilometers away from the Gaza Strip.
Concrete social and political changes have never resulted from political deals in a presidential system inherently hostile to the Left’s agenda.
More importantly, however, the framing of the “Cyprus question” as an intangible matter of diplomatic maneuvers is becoming increasingly irrelevant for a growing segment of the population preoccupied with day-to-day survival amidst rising living costs, labor precarity, and downward social mobility. The recent election result reflects brewing legitimacy problems for the crisis-management regime established a decade ago. Christodoulides’s heterogenous coalition is fundamentally unstable. It will most likely try to ameliorate contradicting expectations by resorting to more nationalism and anti-migrant scapegoating, much as the previous government did.
But the election has also shown that crises of legitimacy are not necessarily synonymous with left-wing advances. They can, however, throw up a range of possibilities for the Left. In this context, AKEL has three options. It can opt to read the election result as a triumph of nationalism and adjust its stance accordingly, adopting a tougher line on immigration and the Cyprus question. It can also use the same reading to transform its current tacit understanding with an unreliable Greek Cypriot liberalism into a full-fledged alliance, while further toning down any class rhetoric to “avoid the danger of final partition.” Both options would amount to trailing pro-capitalist forces, while further legitimizing the socially demagogic ELAM among the working class in different but equally dangerous ways.
A third, preferable option would have to involve a strategic move away from the wheeling and dealing of high politics, and toward a concerted class-centered, anti-fascist, and ecologically oriented intervention within wider society, able to undercut the growing appeal of the far right, whether in its openly fascist expressions, or in the more mainstream, implicit form represented by Christodoulides. Ultimately, concrete social and political changes have never resulted from political deals in a presidential system inherently hostile to the Left’s agenda, but from mass mobilization from below.
A social intervention strategy cannot take as its starting point the perception of the danger of (de jure) partition, but the common material interests of all workers on the island, whether Greek, Turkish, or migrant. We cannot know what concrete form such an intervention might assume. If the discreditation of Anastasiades and the Left’s resilience point to the fact that it’s feasible, then the acute global dangers of climate change and war show that it’s the only way.
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Leandros Fischer is a postdoctoral researcher in migration studies at Aalborg University. He has previously taught at the University of Cyprus in Nicosia and conducted fieldwork among migrants to Cyprus from the Middle East. He is active in movements for the right to the city in Limassol.
Categories: Cyprus, Europe, Europe and Australia, European Union, Turkey, Turks
The mistake the EU made was to admit Greek Cyrpus without having solved the partition problem. If the EU would have said ‘solve your partition first’ there would have been a chance that it would get solved. This way the Greeks did not have any incentive.