VOLUME 17 ISSUE 6 December 2020

Nicos Rolandis
Former Foreign Minister of the Republic of Cyprus


I have been heavily involved in international affairs, ever since I became Foreign Minister, in March 1978. Involved not only with the United Nations, but, also, with other important international organisations. Out of this experience, I’ve realised that although these organisations are useful and may offer a few things to countries, when it comes to resolution of major issues, they are not very effective. This is the experience of everybody. Unfortunately, might makes right in this world. Where might exists, the right is created by this might.

I was there when we started efforts at the United Nations for a solution. We used to have one presentation at the General Assembly every year. We knew that resolutions of the Assembly were not executed anyway, but it was a reminder to the world community that this problem existed.  In parallel, we had some recourses to the Security Council. Today, all these resolutions are there and are not implemented.  As I had said (and many people in Cyprus disliked it back then), the resolutions of these organisations are similar to a bouncing cheque.

Nevertheless, a number of efforts were made, mainly by the United Nations[1] for a solution, since the late ‘70s. Yet, we have reached a very difficult point. The mistake is on our side, as well, but, certainly, the intransigence of Turkey and its objective from the very outset of dividing the country were there no doubt. Nowadays, the whole matter has gone into a larger frame, which includes the Eastern Mediterranean and also, the Aegean-the whole area. I wouldn’t necessarily describe this as good or bad, but it’s certainly neither simple nor easy. In addition to this, the other side has taken a stand of partition and the creation of two states and the question is who is going to change it. The United Nations? They cannot. Europe, I believe, cannot. And they would not be so interested anymore. They may try, but once you have Turkey and the Turkish-Cypriot leadership in favour of this solution, I think the situation will be extremely difficult.  Neither would the Americans want to be involved strongly, because they have to gain back Turkey. Turkey is playing a very astute game. Erdogan is now playing between East and West. Biden will feel obliged to win him back.

Most of our politicians try to say there is some hope, but I am wondering whether this hope is still there. Thus, if I were a decision-maker now, I would go to the talks with a will to work out a federal state on a loose federation, with two federated states and a central government. The federal government should only have the powers necessary to keep the unity of the country intact, while the two federated states would decide their own affairs. As a matter of fact, most of the federal states are like that these days. If you go to Canada, if you go to the US, if you go to Australia, the states have their own rights and are very strong. In the case of Cyprus, the federated states should be stronger, if we are truly seeking a solution to this problem.

Still, there is the possibility that the other side says no even to this proposal, insisting on two sovereignties. Something which we cannot accept, at this juncture at least. I do not know whether this, at the end of the day, will be imposed on us by the events. I say this because we’ve made a number of blunders from 1974 until today. I know it, because I am one of the very few living persons involved in politics who was there from the very beginning.

Take the issue of hydrocarbons. When I started working on the hydrocarbon possibility and signed the agreement in Cairo, with the Egyptians, regarding the EEZ of our two countries, I also made, a little later, a proposal that we additionally sign a disclaimer between the two communities in Cyprus.  Meaning that we should disclaim any legal or political precedent and then, decide how much out of each dollar that would go into the coffers of the Republic of Cyprus would, then, go into an account in favour of the Turkish Cypriots, a percentage to be agreed. An escrow account, that is. That amount would go there, stay there until the solution of the Cyprus Problem. Or, in case of no solution, in 10 or 15 years, the Turkish Cypriots could take their own share.

When I mentioned that, Talat was interested. He invited me twice to talk about this.  He said, ‘Mr. Rolandis, if you think that what you are proposing might be accepted for negotiation by your own people, I am prepared to proceed and take the matter up with Ankara.’ Tassos Papadopoulos did not react. He left it. Things became worse and worse. Now, fifteen years later, Anastasiades makes a similar proposal. However, in politics, what matters is not only what you propose, but also when you propose it. Timing. If you miss the right timing, you miss everything. Now it is the Turkish Cypriots that do not accept it anymore. Now they want to be co-administrators of the situation. From those days, I had said that Ankara will pump our oil and gas, if we do not move. We didn’t move.  And who is going to stop them now? Erdogan is prepared to use force and grab what he can.

My sense of urgency stems from the fear that the 46 years will easily become 50 years. I feel that we missed the opportunity many times and now the train is gone. I hope that if we run after the train, we may still catch it.

[1] The Anglo-American-Canadian plan had American clout behind it and might have worked for that reason.