AKEL: Strength comes from struggle: Hope comes from the Left

by New Worker correspondent

THAT WAS the watchword for Cypriot communists charting the way forward in the fight against austerity and for the peaceful reunification of the island. Fraternal observers from all over the world, including New Communist Party leader Andy Brooks, joined some 1,500 delegates from the island and from the overseas Cypriot community, in Nicosia for the 22nd Congress of the Progressive Party of the Working People (AKEL) last week.

Seventy fraternal observers representing 55 parties and movements took part in the Congress and an AKEL-sponsored conference on the threats of fascism and reactionary forces in the era of imperialism and wars. Ruling communist parties were in the hall including delegations from People’s China, Cuba and Vietnam, as well as Sinn Féin, the Kurdistan National Congress and some parties of the European Left movement including Greece’s Syriza and Podemos from Spain.

AKEL was founded in 1941 but it has a much longer history as it is the direct heir of the old Communist Party of Cyprus (KKK) that was established in 1926 and later banned by the British colonial authorities. Following independence in 1960 AKEL struggled to defend the island from imperialist plots that culminated in the 1974 coup organised by the reactionary Greek military junta that gave Turkey the pretext to invade and occupy northern Cyprus.

AKEL formed a left-leaning government after it won the Cyprus parliamentary elections in 2006 and its then leader, Dimitris Christofias, won the presidential race in 2008. Working people made considerable gains when AKEL and its allies were at the helm. But welfare, pension rights, public health and education are being cut to bone by the right-wing, who took control of parliament after the 2011 elections and defeated the AKEL candidate in the presidential race in 2013.

The new government is implementing austerity with a vengeance to meet the demands of the European Union and the banks to make working people bear the entire burden of the so-called “bailout”. Unemployment has doubled in the last four years — officially now at 15.6 per cent. In reality it’s much higher if part-time and seasonal employment is taken into account. Tourism, the major industry, was hit by the worldwide capitalist slump that began in 2008. The drop in numbers of visitors from western Europe was partially off-set by others coming from Russia. But now even that sector has dipped as Russians, angry at the European Union’s sanctions over Ukraine, cross the EU, including Cyprus, off their holiday lists.

“Today, one could say that we are at the most dangerous juncture of this difficult path of struggle. The Cyprus problem remains unresolved with the danger of permanent partition growing day by day. Our people’s gains and rights, all that it has so painstakingly built and won over the years are under attack,” AKEL general secretary Andros Kyprianou declared.

“The elderly on low pensions, the unemployed, refugees, single parents, large families, recipients of public assistance, young scientists, farmers and workers are all thinking that perhaps for the first time in their lives they cannot hope that tomorrow things will get better.”

Nicosia is now the only divided capital in the world and the continuing division of the island, of course, dominated much of the Congress. The Turkish government publicly says that it will never betray the interests of the Turkish Cypriot community to obtain admission into the European Union. But everybody knows they would if that was the price to join the European club. And everybody also knows that Turkey’s accession is as far away as ever in these days of slump.

If the Turks were seriously concerned about the fate of the Turkish Cypriots they would have done more to preserve their community in northern Cyprus rather than seeing it evaporate over the years through immigration. Although the ethnic balance is maintained through immigration from the poorest parts of Turkey, about half the original Turkish Cypriot population now live in Britain and other parts of the European Union while the rest are outnumbered by Turkish immigrants encouraged to settle since the invasion in 1974.

Some 200,000 Greek Cypriots were driven out of their homes after the invasion while 50,000 Turkish Cypriots were incited to move to the north. Turkey occupies 36 per cent of the island, which is administered by “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” — a phantom state governed by Turkish Cypriot leaders and recognised by no one apart from Turkey itself. Real power lies with the Turkish “ambassador” and the 40,000 Turkish troops based in the north.

The end of partition and the restoration of a united republic with full rights for both the Turkish and Greek communities has, all along, been the paramount objective of AKEL and its allies. But no major advances can be made while the island remains divided and occupied by Turkish forces. Now there are glimmers of hope on the horizon.

The first is the search for oil and the development of natural gas fields in Cypriot waters, which has fired hopes for an economic turn-around based partly on offshore reserves. The Aphrodite natural gas field off Cyprus is commercially viable and plans are being prepared for producing eight billion cubic metres a year and the construction of a pipeline to Egypt. The big oil corporations along with Greek and Israeli oil and gas companies are all looking at the potential in the eastern Mediterranean. And so is Turkey, which has intervened, supposedly on behalf of the Turkish Cypriots it claims to represent, but in reality because they too want a share of this new energy cake.

The second was the victory of Mustafa Akinci in the northern Cyprus presidential elections. Akinci is a social-democrat and his Communal Democracy Party (TDP) is committed to reaching a compromise to end the division of the island. Following his election in April Akinci held talks with the Turkish government in Ankara and reported that they would support the resumption of negotiations with the Greek Cypriot side amid speculation that Turkey would respond realistically to long-standing Cypriot government demands in return for concessions on the oil and gas issue.

The Cypriot communist movement has always fought against nationalism and chauvinism. The Party has Turkish Cypriot members and from the very beginning the Cypriot communist movement worked to end ethnic divisions, to build united unions and a united working class. AKEL considers that the Cyprus problem should be resolved on the basis of the UN resolutions and calls for an end to the Turkish occupation and for the demilitarisation of the island and the closure of the British, Turkish and Greek bases.

Andros Kyprianou said that the party was working with other peace-loving forces on the island to help create a “dynamic solution” to the Cyprus problem. “But not just ‘any solution’, he said, “a solution that will reunite the island on the basis of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, which will lead to a state with a single sovereignty, international personality and citizenship; a solution without guarantees, without intervention rights and foreign armies; a solution based on the relevant UN resolutions, the High Level Agreements, international and European law; a solution that will serve the people of Cyprus, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots and the cause of peace in the region.”

No one knows what the future will hold but the talks are going ahead and many Cypriots on both sides of the island are hoping that, at long last, an end to the conflict is in sight.