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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 27, No. 7. 1964.

Foreigners Meddle In Cyprus

page 3

Foreigners Meddle In Cyprus

It is common knowledge that the Agreements reached in 1959 between the British, Greek and Turkish Governments in Zurich and London and which provided the basis for the 1960 Constitution of Cyprus, have been responsible for the recent tragic events on the Island.

Because of the importance of these Agreements for the political future of the Cypriots themselves and because of the implications a Cyprus crisis can have on the Atlantic Alliance as a whole and peace in the Eastern Mediterranean in particular, it is necessary to glance more deeply into the spirit of the Agreements and spend some time on some of their provisions which have since found their way into the Constitution.

The main characteristics of the Constitution were based on the Zurich and London Agreements, formulated in the absence of the Cypriots themselves. The Cypriot leaders tried very hard to bring about the change of that Agreement. They failed, however, in that effort and were faced with the dilemma either of signing the Agreement as it stood or of rejecting it with all the grave consequences which would have ensued. In the circumstances they had no alternative but to sign the Agreement. This was the course dictated by necessity.

It was stated at the time of the signing of the Agreements that the Constitution could be made to work if there was goodwill and understanding between the two communities. But in actual fact, it was this same spirit of goodwill and understanding that was lacking from the Agreements themselves. The various provisions of the Constitution agreed upon by the three Powers instead of aiming at a return to a unified country as had been in existence (and quite happily so for all Cypriots) for almost 400 years, introduced various separatist elements, thereby widening rather than bridging the differences between the two communities living on the Island. As a result of intercommunal troubles initiated and directed from abroad for about three years (an amazingly short time in the life of a country) and with the pretext of providing safeguards for the minority, so many privileges were created for a community numbering less than one-fifth of the population that the normal functioning of the machinery of the State could not but break down. The will of four-fifths of the population was equated with that of the one-fifth; instead of majority rule and minority check, the Cypriots were given dualism in Government; instead of co-operation and co-existence, the Constitution contained the seeds of discord and enmity: no wonder that this "most bizarre and complicated of Constitutions" (The Economist 4/1/64) has failed completely.

But let us now examine some of the most undemocratic characteristics in the Cyprus Constitution:

In the first place, Cyprus is not a truly independent country since it is tied hands and knees by the notorious Treaty of Guarantee which gives the right to the three Guarantor Powers—Britain, Greece and Turkey—to meddle in the domestic affairs of the Republic whether the latter likes it or not. One cannot but wonder how lax a term "independence" can be.

One of the biggest sources of friction in the Constitution has been the provision that the Public Service of the Republic shall be composed by Turkish Cypriots to the extent of 30% and Greek Cypriots 70%. This same percentage applies to the Security Forces while in the case of the Army the Turkish percentage is even raised to 40%. What bigger privilege for a minority of 18% of the population can be imagined than to be given 30% and 40% of the posts in the Public Service and the Security Forces! Especially so, when one remembers that at the end of British administration the Turkish percentage in the Public Service did not exceed 18%. The implications of the provision have already manifested themselves in various ways. Greek qualified applicants to the Public Service are rejected summarily while posts remain vacant awaiting prospective Turkish applicants to finish their higher studies!

On other occasions, new posts have been created in an endeavour to accelerate the achievement of the 70%-30% ratio. Further, Greek civil servants are victimised in cases where promotion of competent people is frustrated as it will interfere with the desired ratio. One could go on enumerating similar cases illustrating the unfairness of this Constitutional provision. What mainly happens here, however, is a complete disregard of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations, which provides that, "Everyone has the right of equal access to the Public Service of his country." Instead of this, we have flagrant favouritism which fosters friction, incompetence, unnecessary expense.

Under the Constitution, separate municipalities on a communal basis must be created in the five main towns of the Island. Apart from the fact that this provision serves no useful purpose, it has also proved unworkable. The impossibility of finding a way to define geographical areas and create separate municipalities, based on communal criteria, is due to the fact that never before did the Greek and Turkish Cypriots contemplate living in separate areas. Greeks live in so-called Turkish Quarters, Turks live in Greek Quarters. In the same way, there are no geographical boundaries in property ownership. But even were geographical separation feasible, separation of municipalities would prove financially detrimental with the duplication of municipal services that any such separation would bring.

Justice has also been separated lest a Greek be judged by a Turkish Judge or vice versa. It is indeed difficult to imagine a provision less likely to promote confidence between the two communities. It is a division not only unnecessary but detrimental as well. The very concept of justice defies separation. Not only is it a slur on the impartiality of judges but is also helps to establish the idea that a judge is no more than an advocate for his community.

According to the Constitution the Vice-President of the Republic has the right of veto in matters concerning foreign affairs, defence and security. In other democratic countries, the President has the right to return a decision for reconsideration but here we have a negative power in the sense that the Vice-President's veto, which is a final veto, prevents the implementation of a decision of the Council of Ministers or of the House of Representatives.

Perhaps the most ill-thought out minority safeguard contained in the Constitution is that providing for separate majorities, always on a communal basis, of deputies in the House of Representatives in the case of Laws relating to taxation, municipalities and the electoral law. This means that the majority of the Turkish deputies actually voting, can at any time and at their absolute discretion stop the passing of a Bill even if such a Bill receives the majority of votes in the House of Representatives. If for example, the 35 Greek members of the House and 7, out of a total of 15, Turkish members vote in favour of a Bill, it will still be defeated in the House. In fact, even two Turkish representatives can defeat a Bill if only three Turkish representatives take part in the vote. This provision has already caused serious adverse effects on the State by preventing or delaying the enactment of taxation legislation. Cyprus has remained for some time now without a custom tariff and also without an Income Tax Law, not because the Turkish Representatives had any objections to any part of the Bill, but their effort to further causes completely unrelated to taxation. In a word, this provision in the Constitution has been used as a tool for blackmail.

The 1900 Cyprus Constitution has proven an abysmal failure for various and diverse reasons: it created privileges where safeguards were needed; it produced dualism which made the majority rule unworkable; it gave powerful weapons to the minority which could and have already been used for political blackmail; it tied Cyprus hands and knees in the foreign field making a joke of true independence.

Perhaps the recent tragic events on the Island have shown to one and all that constitutional experiments of the Zurich and London sort cannot work in Cyprus. What the Island needs instead is: true independence free from foreign interference; internal democratic self-government based on majority rule and minority safeguards. Nothing more or less than exists in practically every free country of the world.