Interview with Andros Kyprianou, General Secretary of AKEL Cyprus Progressive Party of Working people with the Fileleftheros newspaper, Sunday 11 October, 2015
One can’t say that the climate within the Greek Cypriot side, due to the developments on the Cyprus problem, is the best, with the effort to divide the people into two camps obvious. What is your view?
AK: I want to express my regret about this situation which does exist and to repeat that we must understand what choices we have before us. One option is to do nothing, for fear of maybe ending up with a bad agreement. This choice, however, will lead us inexorably to the permanent partition of Cyprus. And we have specific samples when between the years 2006 and 2008 negotiations were not being waged: as a result the issue of direct trade with the occupied areas was promoted; the EU adopted a decision to grant a subsidy of 259 million euros for the Turkish Cypriot community. Other measures were subsequently to follow had the 2008 elections not taken place and subsequently a completely different environment on the Cyprus problem was established. Therefore, if you opt for a prolonged stalemate, listening to the calls of those who argue that we should not proceed with negotiations, the danger of the permanent partition of Cyprus will be very visible.
The other option is a difficult process for which no one disagrees that it also harbours dangers, as well as hiding traps. It is for this reason that we insist that we need to be very careful about how we handle the various problems in order to avoid pitfalls and dangers. It is for precisely this reason what the greatest possible unity is demanded. And it’s sad, because no such unity exists.
Our own view is that we should see how we all work together to achieve the best possible outcome and at the end we will assess whether what we have achieved is acceptable enough to then say “Yes” to an agreement or whether to reject it. The choice is therefore between a difficult procedure and that of the final partition of Cyprus. AKEL between the two chooses the option of the difficult procedure.
The example of 2006 you cited demonstrates that whenever negotiations are not being conducted, it is our side that comes out damaged and the Turkish side gains. Do you foresee that if this current procedure does not move forward, there will be a similar result?
AK: It depends on how we will handle the issues before us. If we constantly affirm our good will at the negotiating table without abandoning the basic principles of the solution of the Cyprus problem, then I think any attempt by the international community to act in an incriminating way against us will be very difficult. This is why how we act at the negotiating table is extremely important. Our approach is that we must act based on the principles of the solution of the Cyprus problem with flexibility with regards tactics, aiming at achieving a solution that meets the visions and aspirations of the Cypriot people. If we do not succeed, at least it should be clear that the responsibility for the stalemate will lie with the Turkish side.
AKEL is being attacked and criticized in relation to the support it gives to President Anastasiades with regards the talks. What are your comments?
AK: We bypass these attacks without attaching a special significance to them. For the sake of history I want to say the following: A poll that was carried out recently by AKEL shows that 85.1% of those who voted for AKEL in 2011, which is the highest percentage that has ever been recorded by the Party, support the party leadership’s handling on the Cyprus problem. That in itself says a lot. Going one step further I would say that AKEL for 38 years, having agreed to the framework of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federal solution, expresses with admirable consistency the same positions over time. Today we are saying exactly what we were saying during the Demetris Christofias administration and which had been demonized so much.
We have not deviated from our positions at all in order to converge with the positions of certain forces and circles. If someone has indeed moved from its positions, then it is not AKEL. AKEL repeats continuously and consistently the same positions that it has supported all these years over time. Proof of the correctness of our positions is that as soon as Mr. Anastasiades counted on the Christofias-Talat convergences it became possible to achieve progress on the Cyprus problem. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have registered any progress whatsoever.
Does this therefore also mean a vindication for AKEL which insisted all along on the need to utilize the Christofias-Talat convergences?
AK: It is not a question of AKEL being vindicated. I think it is a matter of creating the conditions to provide a perspective for a solution. That is our goal. Permit me to say something else. Recently another poll was conducted where I noted with satisfaction that the basic principles of the solution of the Cyprus problem, as AKEL supports them, are precisely those policies that are supported by the majority of the Cypriot people. And that pleases us because all that AKEL has supported consistently for 38 years seems that the people of Cyprus, in its majority, understands and adopts them, as well as considering that these are the positions that can lead us to an agreement with the Turkish Cypriots.
And what positions are these?
AK: We are referring to a bi-zonal, bi-communal federal solution with a strong central government, without any NATO guarantees, without guaranteed property or population majorities. And everything else that encompasses our approach to the Cyprus problem.
Are these also AKEL’s “red lines”?
AK: I would say that these are the issues that AKEL gives huge emphasis to. I would not call them red or blue or yellow lines. They are the points on which AKEL will insist to the very end.
How do you respond to the accusations or attacks that AKEL appears as a counsellor for Mr. Akinci whenever he is being attacked by Greek Cypriot parties?
We are not apologists of Mr. Akinci. We are the advocates of truth. I am sorry that political parties are misrepresenting Mr. Akinci’s positions in order to defend their own positions and opinions.
For me it is clear. Everyone has seen the polls that show a large percentage of Greek Cypriots declaring they back the hopes for a solution to the Cyprus problem because of the presence of Mr. Akinci in the leadership of the Turkish Cypriot community. It is obvious that certain forces and circles in seeking to kill this hope, are trying to denigrate Mr. Akinci.
Where and whenever the positions of Mr. Akinci are misrepresented, AKEL will state that distortion is being attempted so that certain forces and circles can force their own opinions.
From there onwards, AKEL has no problem in talking about the issues it disagrees with Mr. Akinci. For example, let’s take the issue of guaranteed majorities. Mr. Akinci may have verbally moved from his predecessor’s positions, but he continues to insist on certain issues.
For us, this issue of guaranteed majorities is extremely important. It cannot be accepted. However if we also view it from its essence, Mr. Akinci’s position is wrong in the following sense: If, with a solution, such territories are returned under Greek Cypriot administration that will provide for the return of 90 to a 100,000 Greek Cypriots, then around 60,000 Greek Cypriots will have the right of return under Turkish Cypriot administration. Currently the Turkish Cypriots number around 200,000. They will be a majority. So why are they insisting on permanent derogations from the acquis communautaire? AKEL will not under any circumstances accept permanent derogations from the acquis communautaire and I make this clear in the strongest possible manner on behalf of AKEL.
Some question your clashes with the governing Democratic Rally party and say that this is all just a spectacle.
AK: I have not seen a more dogmatic approach. I believe that our disagreements with the DISY party are perceptible and everyone can understand them. They go back decades, they don’t just stem from today. With regards the Cyprus problem, we have different approaches; we don’t share the euphoria that certain circles of the DISY party tried to cultivate all this period. On socio-economic issues, our disagreements are extremely fierce and are expressed daily, both inside and outside the House of Representatives.
We are guided by completely different philosophies. We care about the many and they care for the select privileged few. All their policy in recent years has been focused on how to support the banks, regardless of the consequences on the people, on how they manage to make economic indicators better that have nothing to do with people’s prosperity. They are interested in the budget deficit and public debt. However, these do not reflect social indicators. Social indicators are reflected by the level of unemployment, the number of people living below the poverty line, the reduction of incomes and pensions amounting to 30-40%, while profits in 2014 were the highest recorded over the last 20 years.
From there on, we are also divided by issues such as housing. We disagree with the sale of family homes and will fight to the end on this issue. We disagree with the sell-off of national assets and wealth. We disagree also with the abolition of the rights gained by working people, using the Memorandum as a pretext.
During certain periods we saw AKEL had a good cooperation with the parties of the intermediate political spectrum. However recently the climate seems to have worsened. Is this due to developments on the Cyprus problem or to disagreements on issues relating to the economy etc.?
AK: We have not waged attacks on any political party. Other forces are attacking AKEL and generating a climate that does not permit a greater development of some positions. For AKEL things are clear: We want strategic and not opportunistic circumstantial cooperation with those political parties which generally have the same socio-economic policy as us. Of course there is the Cyprus problem. And as long as there is the Cyprus problem, AKEL will insist on positions that it has always supported, whether some forces and circles like it or not. AKEL is not going to change its positions to satisfy anyone. It is an ideological fixation to state in the 21st century that to collaborate with someone you should agree on everything or you shouldn’t express any different views.
We have disagreements and we express our positions. With regards the Cyprus problem, as the positions of these parties, namely Democratic Party DIKO, Socialist Party EDEK, the Alliance of Citizens, the Ecologists and the European Party are expressed , there is not much room for cooperation simply because we disagree even on the very strategic goal itself. We insist on a bi-zonal, bi-communal federal solution, which is the only feasible solution. Any other approach would lead us into adventures with incalculable dangers for the future of our country.
From the moment there is no possibility for strategic cooperation, we are ready to work with political parties inside the House of Representatives on the basis of agreements on concrete issues. In this context, we are cooperating with EDEK, DIKO and the Ecologists and so on. We have no problem to work with them on specific issues.
Is it difficult for cooperation to exist again as experienced in the past?
AK: With the positions expressed by certain parties on the Cyprus problem, yes it is difficult. Specific cooperation in some areas on some issues I consider that can be done.
Do you believe that certain forces see an opportunity to attack AKEL in order to win votes from the Left?
AK: AKEL faced the most devastating attack against it from all sides during the five year administration of Demetris Christofias. They had demonized AKEL and D. Christofias. We insisted on our positions, both with regards issues relating to the Cyprus problem and issues on the economy. We withstood all the attacks. They failed to break us, as some circles had anticipated and expected.
Now things are much better for us. Now, no one can isolate us as they had isolated us back then, neither on the Cyprus problem, but nor can they isolate us on socio-economic issues. Some forces are forced to align themselves with our own positions, others on the Cyprus problem and others on socio-economic issues. This is the reason why we do not worry and are optimistic about the Party’s perspectives and believe that better days lie ahead for AKEL.
The big issue is not better days for AKEL, but for our homeland.
In our previous conversations you did not hide the existence of discontent that existed within the ranks of AKEL. Has the climate changed at all?
AK: It is improving rapidly, not only in the spectrum of AKEL, but more broadly. In saying this I am not suggesting that AKEL has overcome its problems. A great effort will be required to win back the trust of the people as we had previously. We know that, we are patient and we try to act in a proper political way. We strive to have contacts with the people in order to convey our correct messages and hope that over time we will convince more and more people.
The people’s verdict will be shown in the forthcoming elections. Has the party process started in view of the elections?
AK: We have prepared the plan of action for the parliamentary elections. Contrary to what is said by various sections of the mass media, namely that AKEL is preparing for elections after the solution of the Cyprus problem. We are preparing for the parliamentary elections as they are fixed every five years.
We have the most democratic process with regards or example determining our candidate list which provides for: Party Base Organizations convening in sessions on the candidates, also involving friends of the party. They submit nominations that are collected by the District Party Committee of each organization. Those nominated are asked if they are interested in the process and those who accept are put on a list. The District Committee takes this list to a District Conference with the participation of a number of party members, corresponding to the members of each District organization. In Nicosia, for example, the Electoral Conference consists of 750 comrades. They will decide by secret ballot who will be the candidates of Nicosia.
We are not like other political parties where the party leader decides who will be on the candidate list. And we had such cases. In the previous parliamentary election former DISY President Nikos Anastasiades decided what the national DISY party candidate list would be. We operate completely differently with full democracy. Then they say that DISY is a democratic party and that we are a party where democracy is absent…
At what stage are you now at?
AK: The general meetings of party base organisations are beginning and this procedure is expected to end with a plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Party to ratify the candidate list in late January.