The Road to Unity: Tenuous Progress in Cyprus

Article excerpt

Hope for a different approach to reconciliation in Cyprus has brought new leadership to the long-divided Mediterranean island nation. Communist president Dimitris Christofias opened historic Ledra Street in the capital, Nicosia, in accordance with his campaign promises. Amid much fanfare, Cypriots crossed the "Green Line," the north-south barrier that symbolizes the national divide, for the first time in decades. The recent progress has been encouraging but not without stumbles. Ledra Street, for example, closed again on the very day of its opening, when Turkish troops mistakenly entered the UN buffer zone. Cyprus' fragile advances suggest that even though Cypriots now have the moderate leadership they have long sought, unity is far from guaranteed. Reunification in Cyprus will likely hinge on the most difficult of roadblocks--Turkish compliance.

Voters elected Christofias wanting to change the approach to the reconciliation process in Cyprus, where the Greek-controlled south has been divided from the Turkish-controlled north since 1974. Much of Christofias' wide-ranging support has hinged on his commitment to reuniting the island. He won the election on a moderate, pro-market platform--a stark contrast to his predecessor's obstructionism. His pro-unification stance attracted nearly 54 percent of Cypriots in the election, giving Christofias both a wide margin of victory and a mandate to follow through on his diplomatic promises.

The current situation seems to augur well for a political settlement. Most importantly, both governments are now led by moderate presidents. Christofias' northern counterpart, Mehmet Ali Talat, also defeated an obstructionist predecessor. The leaders have thawed a two-year diplomatic freeze in which little more than hardline rhetoric was exchanged between the two governments. The duo's resolve has generated several tangible successes that would have been difficult to imagine even a few years ago, including the high-level diplomatic talks that led to a joint opening of Ledra Street. They have acted on promises to convene nearly 100 experts to iron out details of reunification. The leaders have also publicly displayed goodwill measures, such as Talat's walk through shops in the Greek half of Nicosia's market. These efforts have been concrete enough to elicit high-level attention from the United Nations, the United States, Britain, and others.

But the current optimism belies the tenuous nature of Cyprus' progress. After the Turkish troops' mishap marred the opening of Ledra Street, Christofias sparked further diplomatic controversy by suggesting that his counterpart was unaccountable and not truly in control. However, obstacles larger than rhetoric further obstruct a settlement, however. …