Cyprus Divided, Europe Endangered

The European Union has, of Saturday, admitted 10 new members, or to put it more accurately nine and a half, the missing fraction being the Turkish enclave of northern Cyprus, excluded after the island's Greeks voiced a resounding "no" on UN Secretary- General Kofi Annan's unification plan. Doing so has curdled a would-be victory for tolerance and unity within the bloc. Truculent Greek-Cypriot president Tassos Papadopoulos, in cynically nay-saying the referendum that would have unified the island as a loosely federated state, has stolen Europe's thunder and made his government an unwanted spoiler, taking on the role usually played by long time Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash. In exchanging positions with his opposite number, Papadopoulos risks eliminating the diplomatic leverage his government has heretofore possessed. By responding to European concerns with coarsely dismissive statements like "When I go to heads-of-state dinners, do you think the waiter will pass me over, not serve me?" -- that at a press conference in Nicosia following the failed referendum -- he ensures that he'll be the most unpopular kid in class.

Having failed to seize the moment for unification, the political, legal and economic problems posed by the island nation are legion. And the answers remain uncertain. Domestically this means a delay in the removal or diminishment of Turkish forces stationed in Northern Cyprus. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul firmly stated his government's opposition to the removal of the Turkish troops that have remained in Northern Cyprus since 1974, when they invaded in response to a coup fomented by Greece's then ruling junta: "If the plan had been accepted, this would have happened," he said. But the Greek rejection means the troops will remain, and that residents whose origins are on opposing sides of the Green Line, as the dividing line between Greek and Turkish sections is known, remain unable to reclaim homes and property abandoned in the chaos.

As for the international community, the issue of how to treat a state only half married to Europe is cause for migraines. Only recognized by Turkey, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is nonetheless being gingerly treated in light of the Greek's rejectionist vote. In order to reward the Turkish-Cypriots for their "yes" vote on unification and not isolate them on account of Papadopoulos' demagoguery, the EU is seeking to ease their isolation. Such efforts include 259 million euros in aid, the proposed legalization of exports directly to European markets as well as lifting Greek-Cyprus' restrictions on European citizens traveling between the island's two parts.

The United States is considering diplomatic moves that border on gymnastic; Agence France-Presse reports that the US may crib from its Taiwan playbook and consider offering northern Cyprus a lighter version of outright recognition of sovereignty. One idea suggested by an unnamed American official is the establishment of an American Institute for Northern Cyprus modeled on the American Institute in Taiwan, a private organization that represents Taiwanese concerns to America in lieu of a formal embassy. Meanwhile it is considering a financial aid package of its own, likely coming from the $400 million earmarked to implement the now moot UN aid plan, which had been predicated on a single island to receive the proposed monies.

The failed referendum hasn't met universally with the anguished gnashing of teeth. European states, already skeptical of admitting the relatively poor, albeit promising, states of central Europe to the Union, are seriously anxious about December's vote on whether or no to begin ascension negotiations with Turkey. Concerned with a flood of Turkish job seekers potentially bursting the damn of an already strained social welfare system, but at the same time not wanting to catch diplomatic flak themselves, the French, long hostile to Turkey's membership aspirations, are hoping that the Greek-Cypriots do their dirty work for them. Citing the lag between the passage of Turkish human rights legislation and its effects on the ground, President Chirac recently reiterated his stance that Turkey is unsuitable, at present, for membership. Considering that the December vote is hardly a consummation of Turkey's membership, but merely a foot in the door, Mr. Chirac's humanitarian concerns aren't entirely credible.

Of greatest immediate concern is how this will effect relations between Turkey and its neighbors. If after a blizzard of reform legislation the moderate Justice and Development party faces a political implosion, having failed to achieve European succor for its painful reforms, more radical elements may well come to power. If history is of any guide; when things are tight at home Turkey has a way of becoming belligerent, with its long time rival and fellow NATO member Greece as its target.


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