Stand up for federalism (The Cyprus Weekly, 7 February 2016)
By Esra Aygin
As negotiations to reunify Cyprus under a bi-zonal federation based on political equality reach a critical stage, there is little sense of ownership in either community for the concept of federalism.
While the Turkish Cypriots, guided by insecurities and fear, view federation not as equal and partnership but rather domination by Greek-Cypriots, the larger and more powerful Greek Cypriot community views federation as an unfair deal.
Such perceptions of federation have led Turkish Cypriots to seek as much power as possible for the constituent states and look up to Turkey for security.
Greek Cypriot politicians, on the other hand, including leader Nicos Anastasiades, frequently voice that a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation is a “painful compromise” reproducing the sense of dissatisfaction within the society.
In reality, federation is the way for peaceful coexistence, where Turkish and Greek Cypriots can enjoy the advantages of a united, stable, prosperous EU country, without one dominating the other; while at the same time, they have a degree of self-government and protection of their ethnic identities.
It is a successful means to handle differences and power struggles that are likely to occur between ethnic groups in systems where all the power is in the hands of a central government.
And like any other political system, a federation needs committed citizens to be able to survive.
Therefore, it is high time for both leaderships to lead all Cypriots into seeing a potential federation in a safe and positive light and developing a sense of ownership for it.
Professor Niyazi Kizilyurek, Faculty of Humanities dean at the University of Cyprus, argues that Cypriots need to see the prospect of federalism as a political virtue that has arisen on the basis of historical facts.
He said, throughout history, the larger Greek Cypriot community viewed numerical majority as political superiority and believed that it has the right to decide on the future of the island.
The Turkish Cypriot community, on the other hand, rejected being the minority and insisted it also has a say. “These opposing views coincided with the British divide-and-rule policy, and the question of ‘who has sovereignty’ turned into armed conflict in 1958,” says Kizilyurek.
“The two ethnic groups in Cyprus came into conflict not because of ethnic differences or hatred, but because of a difference in their political aims. ENOSIS and TAKSIM were fights over who was sovereign and who was a minority. They were fights of how the future was imagined and by whom it would be decided.”
Neither were Greek Cypriots able to become the sovereign power determining the future, nor wereTurkish Cypriots able to become a people with the right of self-determination.
Even when they claimed to establish a separate state, they were in fact unsuccessful.
“The failure of two historical processes on the island has led to the conclusion that federalism is the most ideal solution for Cyprus,” says Kizilyurek.
The latest round of negotiations is seen as the best and probably the last chance to find a federal solution in Cyprus.
But while creating a federation on the table, the leaders must start concentrating on creating federal citizens, who see a united federal Cyprus as a golden opportunity rather than a threat or a painful compromise.