Vassiliou: In the face of the result that came out, the failure at Crans Montana, the word ‘upset’ is not adequate. It was, to me like, if you had put a knife on me you wouldn’t get any blood out.
Vassiliou: If you ask Mr. Anastasiades, he will tell you that the reason is because Mr. Cavusoglu was refusing to commit that there would be an end to intervention rights. But at the same time the Secretary General was saying that, in addition to what is submitted in writing, as important and as acceptable is what is said to him directly.
Vassiliou: For me what counts is the result- that we failed. And by failing, we are creating an unknown future. A future in which neither Turkish Cypriots nor Greek Cypriots can feel safe...
Vassiliou: The fear that Turkish Cypriots may make the federation dysfunctional or try to work for Turkey’s interests is - permit me to say - nonsense. This is an argument that is being repeated by those, who have the illusion that they could -in some way- have a solution in which the Turkish Cypriots will simply be a minority without any rights other than the human rights up to a point. But this is like saying to the Walloons ‘accept a federation in which you have no say because the Flemish are more than the Walloons.’
Vassiliou: In the military sense, there is not a chance -in my opinion- in a million of Turkey carrying out another intervention. I am prepared to take any bet that, with a solution, whatever would have happened, there would be not a chance in a million for Turkey to intervene in Cyprus.
Esra A.: You followed very closely the negotiations process between Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades. The process at the beginning was very positive and hopeful. There was great chemistry between the leaders. They were courageous and determined. What happened? How did the process end like this?
Vassiliou: You are absolutely right to ask how could it happen? Why did it happen? What I want to point out at this point to start with, is that, in the face of the result that came out, the failure at Crans Montana, the word ‘upset’ is not adequate. It was, to me like, if you had put a knife on me you wouldn’t get any blood out. That’s the degree to which I was upset and sorry, because I had visualized the benefits to Cyprus of a solution. It is natural that if you know and you are convinced about the benefits, then you would be that much more sorry and upset.
Esra A.: You were in Crans Montana until Wednesday noon. The critical dinner was on Thursday. As you were leaving, were you optimistic that an agreement could be reached?
Vassiliou: I will tell you frankly. From the moment that it was announced that the UN Secretary General is coming, I was optimistic that he would succeed in solving the last problems that there were. That was an extra reason for which I was very upset, because despite his arrival it just didn’t happen.
Esra A.: Why?
Vassiliou: As you know, there have been a lot of descriptions and stories about what happened in Crans Montana. If you ask Mr. Anastasiades, he will tell you that the reason is because Mr. Cavusoglu was refusing to commit that there would be an end to intervention rights. But at the same time, we have the report of the Secretary General about the whole period. And the Secretary General was saying that in addition to what is submitted in writing, as important and as acceptable, is what is said to him directly. So there was this division of opinion. The Secretary General was saying ‘you can trust me.’ President Anastasiades was saying ‘but if it is so, why don’t they write it?’ So if you go on discussing this you don’t arrive anywhere… For me what counts is the result, that we failed. And by failing, we are creating an unknown future. A future in which neither Turkish Cypriots nor Greek Cypriots can feel safe.
Zurich-London agreements was essentially a federation
Esra A.: There are many, who see the federation as a risk, think that the structure on the table would not be functional and say that they would feel less safe in case of a solution than they do now…
Vassiliou: These and many other statements like these are the usual arguments of our nationalists, who don’t want a solution. Or rather, who think that they can have a better -in their minds better- solution than the Zurich-London agreements. Because don’t forget that the Zurich-London agreements was essentially a federation with a Turkish Cypriot vice president and Turkish Cypriot ministers. Of course, the federation we are now talking about will be better than that, because we will part of the EU. One argument is, ‘what shall we do if the Turkish Cypriot members of the government say ‘no’ and block decisions? What will happen? Well don’t forget that most important decisions about everything from environment to respect to human rights in all the member countries are taken in Brussels. The countries need to implement them. Therefore, the fear that Turkish Cypriots may make the federation dysfunctional or try to work for Turkey’s interests is - permit me to say - nonsense. There cannot be such a fear because the Turkish Cypriots, whatever they want to do, they cannot do anything that risk EU laws, rules and regulations. So this is an argument that is being repeated by those, who have the illusion that they could -in some way- have a solution in which the Turkish Cypriots will simply be a minority without any rights other than the human rights up to a point. But this is like saying to the Walloons ‘accept a federation in which you have no say because the Flemish are more than the Walloons.’
In the military sense, there is not a chance -in my opinion- in a million of Turkey carrying out another intervention. I am prepared to take any bet that, with a solution, whatever would have happened, there would be not a chance in a million for Turkey to intervene in Cyprus.
Since the 70s the only solution on the table is a bi-zonal bi-communal federation
Esra A.: But the politicians are using these arguments and a significant segment of population believes and has fears…
Vassiliou: It’s not a question of believing. It’s that there was not a significant campaign by the government and parties that support a federation -which is DIYS and AKEL- in order to explain to people what a federation is.
Since the 77 – 79 High Level Agreements, the only solution on the table is a bi-zonal bi-communal federation. And we have never tried to fight that. Even Nicholas Papadopoulos now says he wants a bi-zonal bi-communal federation, but ‘with the right content.’ And that is the argument that his father also used, which means ‘not a federation.’ ‘The right content’ means ‘we Greeks do whatever we like.’ But they don’t say that.
There is possibly 20-25 percent of Greek Cypriots, who are still dreaming of a Greek Cyprus, although the benefits of a united Cyprus, which will not be Greek or Turkish, but only Cyprus, will be such that any worry is insignificant compared to the benefits.
The secret is to realize what is desired and what is feasible
Esra A.: Why weren’t the people ever prepared for a federation that has been on the table since the 70s?
Vassiliou: I will tell you why. Because every time, you deal with what is urgent and important. If something is not feasible or for that moment doesn’t look probable, then it is not a priority. Essentially, the Turkish Cypriots accepted federation for the first time with the Annan Plan.
Look, the secret for anybody, who is involved in politics, is to realize what is desired and what is feasible. And this conflict between efkteo (the desired) and efikto (the possible) has been with us for all our lives. Before you were born before I was born. And even today, all those people, who are criticizing or wanting to find excuses, are dreaming of the efkteo. And they don’t have the courage to accept that, to get a solution, you have to negotiate and you have to compromise.
The problem is lack of determination to compromise
I have said it many times in various occasions but I will repeat it to you now. In 1992, I met Mandela in Davos. I found an opportunity to speak to him to express my admiration to him and what he did for his country. And then I said to him: ‘How did you succeed Mr. President Mandela to ensure that whites and blacks can live peacefully and work together for the benefit of their country?’
He said: “Well it’s simple. If you want to solve a problem, the first thing you have to do is to say ‘I want to solve this problem.’ Once you have made up your mind that you want a solution, then the next step is to understand that a solution cannot come just out of the sky. It has to be the result of negotiations. Not of a war. And then thirdly, once you start negotiations, you must realize that you have to compromise. If you think that one side will impose its will by putting the pistol in the others’ brain and say ‘Do you accept it or not?’ then you are a failure and it is not real peace. So we come back to compromise. You have to compromise. And the problem with us was the lack of the determination to compromise.
We have solved 9 out of 10 problems
The argument of the nationalists, who don’t want a solution, was that all efforts before Akinci and Anastasiades failed because at some stage, the UN came up with proposals. And they were saying that ‘this is not of our making and that’s why it failed.’ Because proposals usually meant compromises. UN’s ideas included compromises that we did not make. That’s why they insisted to have negotiations of Cypriot ownership. And that’s what we had. So now we cannot blame anybody else. The responsibility of our side and of the Turkish Cypriot side is much bigger now than it was before. Because we know that we have solved 9 out of 10 problems. People say ‘But the 10th is very important.’ Yes it is important, but you cannot gain any sympathy if you keep on repeating that.
When I was elected president in 1988, the tragedy of the invasion and 150,000 refugees was still huge and very much in our hearts. You can understand it. This however, does not give you the right to dwell on it. I did it too. I tried to convince leaders – Thatcher, Mitterrand, Reagan about how right we were. And the answer was ‘Yes we know, a huge injustice has been done to you, but sit down and talk.’ Nobody said ‘We will go to war with Turkey or impose things.’ ‘Sit down and talk. That’s the only way out.’ Once I heard that from Mitterrand, from Thatcher, from Schroeder, from Bush, from Gorbachov, I said ‘I have to sit and negotiate.’ ‘Forget about trying to convince them, nobody will do anything. Negotiate.’
Esra A.: You said we solved 9 out of 10 problems. Is the remaining one security and guarantees?
Vassiliou: Everything is there. They have agreed on everything. According to the report of the Secretary General, essentially it was the issue of security and whether the Turkish army will remain. The Greek Cypriot side and Mr. President is saying that Turkey was not ready to guarantee that guarantees would not continue.
Esra A.: Because they didn’t put it in writing?
i elpida den petheni - hope doesn’t die…
Esra A.: There is a huge bulk of work, very important convergences and so much effort. What should be done so these don’t go to waste?
Vassiliou: All people like you and me, who realize the significance of a solution and the benefits of a solution as opposed to non-solution have to never give up. Some of these arguments have to be heard clearly and repeatedly. People need to convey the message that they want the restart of negotiations and a positive result clearly and loudly. There will be elections in February. It doesn’t mean that in March, talks will start again automatically. It is not as simple as that. It will take a lot of effort. And some people need to change the way they think. The leaders have to realize that there is no future in division. We have to keep insisting and hoping. There is a song in Greek, which says ‘i elpida petheni teleftea – hope dies last.’ We have to, in our case, say: ‘i elpida den petheni - hope doesn’t die…’