Espen Barth Eide interview on (6 Aug 2015 – recording and transcription)

Radio show: Cyprus 360 – on /

Interview with Espen Barth Eide

Espen Barth Eide interview MYCYradio

Listen / download the audio recording, here

Beran Djemal (BD)

Yiorgos Kakouris (YK)

Espen Barth Eide (EBE)

Transcribed by:

1st half: Marita Anastasi

2nd half: Divina Meigs

Yiorgos Kakouris (YK): So good afternoon everyone, we are here for a special edition of Cyprus 360, we are here with Espen Barth Eide, the special advisor of the Secretary General of the UN regarding the Cyprus Problem. We are gonna have a talk not only for the negotiations but everything else, Beran is here, good afternoon Espen.

Espen Barth Eide (EBE): Good afternoon, I am very happy to be here with you this afternoon

YK: So how was your day?

EBE: Well it has been a very intense day, for the last few days I have been travelling around, I’ve been everywhere else but in Nicosia so I have just come back here and what I have been spending these days on is going to see villages, meeting people from both sides, with civil society organisations and I am going to see some monasteries, all kinds of things in order to reach out to people beyond the people I am speaking to on a daily basis at the negotiations and I find that very worthwhile effort in trying to build the best possible understanding, of you know what people care about and wonder about and what people of Cyprus actually want to see in a possible settlement.

YK: So how do you find the people, on a personal level on a reaction as yourself rather than your from your position I mean how

Beran Djemal (BD): Can I make it more specific

YK: Yeah

BD: In the sense that it is very important to take the discussion outside the capital I mean all of us or most of us who have been working on bicommunal initiatives and the people who are aiming reconciliation to happen in this island we find that it’s harder to reach people outside Nicosia and the people in the capital are more you know used to the bicommunal discussions  and in their daily lives as well it’s more the traffic from north to south I mean it’s more normal for them but the people outside Nicosia in Famagusta and Lefka or Paphos  don’t have the same reactions they do you  find that to be true?

EBE: First I would like to say that just like in my own country Norway most people don’t live in the capital that’s true for Oslo and Norway and that’s true for Nicosia and Cyprus, it’s very important for people who are spending most of their days in the capital in this case Nicosia to remember that at the end of the day this is a question that will be decided by all Cypriots and you know when the leaders will eventually have found a solution which I think they will they will present it to referendums of both communities Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot community and then everybody will have a vote everybody who is a Cypriot and I am not a Cypriot so I will have zero vote but everybody who is a citizen of Cyprus will have one vote hence we have to meet people where they are to understand and feel  and think and learn about their experiences to get the best possible starting point for the discussion and  one thing I don’t want to do is to generalise people, I meet all kind of people with all kind of views and the more people I meet the more interesting it gets because I get the richness of the Cypriot experience in the broad sense and through that I meet people who tell me this might be the best chance ever or some people who are saying this might seem to be the last chance and there are also people who are deeply  sceptical and I am trying to talk to everyone in order to get the best possible understanding. What I can say about all the people I meet is that welcoming attitude and people are generally happy when they see  that my colleagues reach out to them and that’s true for people who are really positive and people who are more sceptical and they at least they are people who generally like being listened to so this is not only talking to people this is also listening to people.

YK: Do you thing that sceptical people are ready to be convinced, that there is space for them to move towards accepting things changing?

EBE: Well what I can tell you is that I have been speaking lately to some people who are known sceptical people um I don’t wanna mention names right now with people who are on the record for now and for living memory has been very critical of a solution who after our conversation tell me that maybe there might be something in this and that they will give it the benefit of the doubt. And that’s something I think is very positive, because I actually whether people trust me or not is up to them. The question is what people think of the final solution but people might  be faced sooner than they think with the question and then it’s the responsibility for everyone in Cyprus to make up their mind and to give a vote on this thing and then I think it’s incredibly important to start talking about it sooner rather than later.

YK: Just before we go into the more uh specific questions and things such as what are viewers or listeners as I have mentioned. We would like to know you a little bit better I mean to talk a little bit more about your background, your personal view of things about how you see the region for example or Cyprus specifically if you like, let’s talk a little bit about your background before Cyprus, before being a minister. What’s your academic background?

BD: When did you start getting involved politically?

EBE: Em first I am er I am 51 years old which means I am exactly as old as the UN presence in Cyprus we were born more or less on the same day ,spring of 1964 and while I think 51 is not much of an age for a human being it’s quite an age for a peace keeping operation so of course one of our tasks is to see if we can help find a solution so we can overcome this anomaly that we have for so long time an international presence in this country that should be able to reunify and run its own businesses. I became involved in society and politics at the age of 15 when I joined the young social democratic movement because I was recruited by people I knew, one long haired young man whom I met at the rock n roll concert who convinced me that this was the right political affiliation for me and his name was Jens Stoltenberg. He is currently the secretary general of NATO but neither he nor anybody else would think so at that time. But I was also engaged in international solidarity work so one of my first political posts was in the anti-Apartheid movement you know working for the end to Apartheid in Southern Africa and throughout my political life first as a volunteer and later on as somebody more professionally engaged in politics, I was always related to international issues, and issues involving solidarity and global togetherness to put it that way. And then I went on to study and I thought that I was looking for an academic area and l was for many  years in academia as a researcher and teacher and for several years I at the Norwegian institute of international affairs and international relations and one of the things I was specializing in was UN peace keeping operations. But then one day I was called to become deputy foreign Minister which position I didn’t seek nor did I expected to get from then on I gradually realised that I was becoming a politician more than an academic so sometimes I refer to myself as former intellectual.

BD & YK : Yeah you could be, that’s what we are gonna ask

YK: Starting out as an academic does you think it gives another perspective when it comes to practising policy or to acting out as a the young representative in the negotiation do you feel like there is something from your academic years that’s giving an edge perhaps?

EBE: Yes, I think so and I think its eh at least in my case again uhm I am careful about generalising cause everybody’s life experience is different but in my case I found it very useful when I was for many years in politics and at the end becoming defence minister  and then foreign minister that I had spent many years thinking about issues writing about issues  working academically in international issues. And in the meantime between 2 governments that I was involved in I was actually back in academia and then I felt that it was also very good being in academia that you had the opportunity to practice because there are assumptions you make in theory that may or may not be correct when it comes to real political life so there is an experience that goes in both directions and if you know from the American system it is actually quite common that people go between universities or research institutes or think tanks and politics and back and forth and there are some merit in that. Because rather than having a class of politicians who are always politicians and always somewhat different from everyone else and once in parliament always in parliament I think it’s more healthy to be a little bit in and out but in my life this has been useful.

YK: So from what you say I am sure you have studied the Cyprus problem a little bit before perhaps and you probably met a lot of academic style of research when you were appointed here.

EBE: Yes, it’s a famous problem! So in the literature of peace keeping and peace resolution Cyprus figures centrally because it’s in the academic world it is seen as so called first generation peace keeping into positioning between 2 sides, it’s a classical, the quintessential classical of peace keeping operation where I think it was fair to say and his is something I completely agree with uh my very good friend and colleague Lisa Buttenheim who runs UNFICYP office, that the UN presence here is both part of the solution and part of the problem and we know that and I think it’s fair to say that it’s probably good for the Cypriots that you had the UN presence because it’s avoided a continuation of violence and for many many years now without any political violence to speak about in Cyprus and this is good news. But a static presence might also help preserve an issue that would otherwise have been solved in one way or the other. So the current set up is that we as the UN think that the peace keeping presence is necessary for the moment but the purpose of the good offices is to help the leaders, the elected leaders and the representatives of the Cypriot society all this inclination to find a solution so that eventually it can be faced down and you can reunify and we can go and help somebody else. And I’m saying that although your question was academic in the first phase of peace keeping in which UNFICYP belongs to because it was a mandated back in the early 60’s and they actually came here as we mentioned in 1964, it was very much about trying to restore status quo ante, sort of the previous situation. Later peace keeping missions have had more dynamic and maybe also more robust type of presence and the jury still out after all these years about what is the  softer approach better or the robust approach is better but yes indeed Cyprus always there as something we referred  to as a specific category of piece keeping operation as an academic.

YK: How do you see this situation in the context of the region now? The interconnections with the Middle Eastern problems?

EBE: Thank you for it …

BD: I just want to add something to that question because I mean to put it also in a different context because in Cyprus maybe you have also noticed, maybe it’s normal for a small country, and in small communities like ours to be so much involved  in our own problems and we have this Cyprus Problem that is going on for so many decades but we tend to forget which region we are in, I mean if we ask everyday Cypriot what’s going on in the Middle East uhm they might not really be aware of what’s going on and for us Turkish Cypriots specifically  there is not many Turkish Cypriots who are really aware of Turkish politics and what really means when something happens in Turkey and how it will influence us in that sense. So it’s a big missing part for our communities in our opinion I guess that we don’t have the tools to read what is going on and we tend to think that “oh it’s the super powers business and it doesn’t really concern us we are here in Cyprus, in our small island and it doesn’t affect us”.

YK: Being that we’re an island, we don’t have land borders with any of these countries and we tend to think that perhaps the sea somehow separates us we do so we do not have that perspective as much as we should have.

BD: Somehow we’re immune for some reason, maybe the UN presence for so many years and us being on the agenda of international organisation gave us the impression that “oh we’re immune we kind of live in a bubble somehow and it doesn’t affect us”

YK: What’s your take on these interconnections?

EBE: I am glad you asked because I think this is a very very crucial point I am I since you already said it with all possible respect to Cypriots there is a certain truth to what you have just said, many, many Cypriots and again I will never say all because not all people think the same thing but many Cypriots I have met seem to have this perception of being completely isolated from the surrounding world, maybe with the exception of guarantor powers what’s happening in Turkey and so on but the broader Middle Eastern issue is not principally Turkey, it’s principally, we are witnessing a historic, dramatic historic transition where a system of states that were put in place around the first World War at the end of the Ottoman Empire and the end of the first Great War that worked of sorts for this hundred year are now breaking apart fundamentally. This is not the normal trouble in the middle east which we always read about the Israelis and the Palestinians and so on, this is really major it’s very dramatic and it’s getting worse in my view we see entire countries basically collapsing as we speak and we see the rise of very dramatic extreme movements, several, including the DAESH or the so called self- proclaimed Islamic State which in my view has very little to do with Islam but still has cached that name. This is of a magnitude which means … which dwarves any other issue hundreds of thousands have been killed millions have been fleeing only in the last years, in Syria of course, in Iraq and the surrounding region as well as in Northern Africa. So this is very dramatic. I think for Cyprus it is imperative to understand  that this is a very bad time to maintain a non-solution because a non- solution as the current state of affairs is, may seem stable here now and it might be stable still for a while even if there is no solution but you never know how long that kind of stability will last so if there was ever a geopolitical argument for trying to overcome the after all relatively limited differences that are between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots compared to the conflicts I talked about around the place, it is now. And I think it would be very helpful if Cypriots took this more into account and I must say I really want to commend the 2 leaders mr.Anastasiades and mr. Akinci because they are really focusing on what I would call the big picture rather than the miniscule detail. And all of miniscule detail has been impediment to a solution in Cyprus for so many years but trying to lift to a more strategic analysis of actually agreeing that a solution would be good and then say “how do we get there?” is helpful. So em to the region matters you actually over the recent decades you’ve actually been quite lucky and believe it or not it remains dramatic to say so and I am saying so fully aware and cognisant of all the pain and suffering and bad memories and tragedy that exist in every Cypriot family involved in the past so we are talking about the recent past after the events of the 60’s and the 70’s it’s been quite peaceful after all. But let us not just assume that this relative calm will be maintained if we don’t deal with this issue which means I think it’s very important to understand this regional context.

YK: Speaking of the leaders and the things that they are realising and the bigger picture,  there is a bigger picture that we are weary on whether putting it in the negotiations is there increasing discussion on the new state being environmentally viable on respecting minority rights beyond Greek and Turkish Cypriots on respecting individual liberties and ensuring those, ensuring transparency as well is a question we had from our listeners, it’s a growing concern among the citizens of both sides that the political leaders are not necessarily as open minded as progressive as if and uh transparent as they should be. Do you feel the leaders are catching on to that concern and are trying to build on something different in the future?

EBE: Well that’s a very good question, let me break the question into 2 parts, because on the latter part of your question about liberal values personal rights yes. This time I think you will see and I think I can safely say that now, that the 2 leaders and the negotiating teams and the 2 excellent negotiators mr.Nami and mr.Mavrogiannis they are really in full agreement that we are looking into individual rights this is not collected this is people and people are individuals. And we are trying to break down this traditional focus of my group versus your group as in everybody are equal. So on that front I think there has been major progress into a modern, in the right sense of the word, liberal not as in a political direction, but of human rights oriented law abiding, basically saying that the citizen is about a state when it comes to rights the state is there to protect the rights of the individual I think we are making significant progress or more precisely they are making progress because we’re there to help them but it’s the leaders who lead us. When then were a number of questions on when the jury is out on whether they are being environmentally friendly, or not I have no reason to say that they are not I’m just honestly saying that has not been so far a key ingredient of the talks. But I hope that it will be because as one of the things I have been speaking about and discussing and engaging with the civil society about this is that Cypriots and I use Cypriots for everybody living, all the citizens of this island, either Turkish Cypriots or Greek Cypriots should remember that there are so many issues that has absolutely nothing to do with whether you speak Turkish or Greek or hail from a Greek Cypriot or a Turkish Cypriot family. I mean it’s questions about all young women and men, and old and young, and urban and rural and more environmental and less environmental friendly and so on and all these issues matter in the broad sense in the Cyprus solution and in any issue, this is not unique to your case in any issue where you have defined the issue as either a conflict between or a solution between 2 groups you may overlook all the other groups. That means all the minorities, my next visit by the way is to a Maronite village which is part of the answer that yes we do engage with people you know from all the minorities, but there are old minorities and new minorities and so on and I think that it’s important that in the settlement or at least around in the surrounding discussions around the settlement it’s very important to introduce also the ecological and environmental issues. Em there are parts of this island which has been relatively dramatically developed for mass tourism for instance and there are other parts which are pristine and beautiful and which has a tremendous potential for becoming anything between a natural park or have a more a different type of development but if you just leave it to individual choice you may not necessarily have that insured so I think some kind of grand planning on what you want your united island to look like and how to manage its energy needs and these issues, should not be forgotten just because we discuss the percentages of memberships in certain committees between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots. So this is an encouragement from my side to everyone, the leaders and everybody else included to think of all the other issues too. And I think you may be, you the Cypriots, you may be on the verge of writing a new constitution relatively soon. This is not something countries do all the time, last time we did it in my country was in 1814, in United States it was 1776. Those constitutions they work. There have been small adaptations but they basically work. But they work because the people who wrote them wrote the constitution about the future. If your trying to write a constitution about the past it won’t last very long I can assure you that. So if you create a vision for  how this country will be rather than what it was, I think that’s extremely important that’s not to say that you should not be aware of history and what happened, the good and the bad, but that the vision is future oriented  and that is a constitution written in 2015 or 2016 must look like it was written in 21st century and not like it was written in 1960, 77 or 2004.

YK: This brings us to something else, there is this impression that we are fixing a constitution and that we are fixing it into a new situation of bi-zonal bi-communal federation and there is a concern perhaps, that societies change, populations change things that people want change all the time. Is there any understanding on the fact that this constitution is to be dynamic in nature that the state of affairs that we are gonna build needs to be able to change and not ossified into another challenging situation?

EBE: Yes. I think I am happy to say and I am very happy to say my sense is this is something the 2 leaders and their negotiating teams are fully aware of, that there must be you know, you need to build bridges in order to have a solution because the solution, what I can say for certain is that there is only a solution if the majority on both sides endorses it and if there is less than 50% on either side, as we know from before, there is no solution. So a solution must have the understanding from both communities and more than a bare majority. And that means that some issues that has been important based on tradition and where you come from has to be tackled otherwise you won’t get there. But to build the opportunity to keep modernising to keep updating, to assist you as  you move into, you know, a fully integrated country within the European Union  and the whole island in a 21st century modern democracy is imperative and I think that this is respected. I hear people at the negotiating table saying exactly that you know over time assumption is that people won’t principally think of their identity as Greek Cypriots or Turkish Cypriots but increasingly as Cypriot and Europeans and citizens of the world I would hope and that things will change. I wanna insert here an observation I made from having worked on many other conflicts some of which have eventually being overcome is that this preoccupation with the past is something very normal, it’s not unique to Cyprus it is perfectly normal and it lasts more or less until the solution and a few years more and then it’s radically changed because when, if, when or if we will be on a situation where there is settlements where both communities feel safe and secure not only for their physical survival but also for their community, integrity and community survival then you will be amazed about how much easier it will be to talk about history. That has been the case almost everywhere else and I think it will be the case also here but this difficult to envision before you are there because it’s a surprise to people to discover that you can really look together at what happened eh and look at it as a shared past rather than a past that broke you apart.

HALF – 30:41

BD: Do you think there’s a possibility for us to have a truth and reconciliation commission established in Cyprus? For that to actually initiate the process Annan plan period because what’s been discussed in Cyprus is that people feel like if justice hasn’t been done, they’re not going to be able to understand the terms and the positive things that the solution will bring, and they will be sceptic again. One criticism for the Annan period was the people were not informed, maybe true maybe not true, but maybe there would have been different innovative ways of approaching people, or giving them the feeling that the justice will be restored, somehow. People will feel that justice is done. And through that reconciliation commission might be a way of giving that feeling to people. Do you think there’s a possibility for it to happen?

EBE: I think I will restrict myself to say that it has worked in some societies, who have done it, and who felt afterwards that while it was painful, it was also useful. But you need to know that it’s painful, because if anyone believes that all the evil was done by the others, any truth and reconciliation committee will tell you that actually there was a little bit of everything. And while you may not be personally responsible, there were people acting in your name, that did things that you were not told about in school. That can be a painful process. But the outcome of the process is hopefully more understanding that if your own life experience is having lost your parents at a young age from violence, that experience is actually quite similar to somebody on the other side who lost their parents at a young age due to violence. You can understand each other on the human nature. But I’m not the one to say whether that’s correct for Cypriots, because that’s a decision that Cypriots should make. As of now it has not been introduced into the talks, and I will simply follow the advice of the Cypriots on what is correct in your case. But there are important institutions like the comity of missing persons which is not the same thing, but which helps at least bringing closure on private histories. “What happened to my family? What happened to my friends?” And it’s extremely important that everybody works with them as much as they can. Their leaders Akinci and Anastasiades have issued early in this process a very important appeal, first time ever joint appeal, saying that everyone, and really that means everyone that sits on any insights that have not been shared should do it now, because time runs by and so on… of course there’s another dimension on that which is the property work, where I think that the individual justice that will follow from, what I would call the “ breakthrough recognition” that individual rights to property shall be respected. It’s important for this feeling of justice. I personally am sympathetic to truth commissions but I don’t want to have an opinion on behalf of the Cypriots, because this is a legal aid process.

BD: Yes but the main reason I was asking that is actually something more general. We discussed before the program, the main fear the pro-peace people have in Cyprus is based on the stories, and probably most of them based on true stories, that Cyprus Republic in the first place was actually destroyed because of spoilers, and planned spoiling attempts, and provocations. We know that the situation is very fragile, and even if we reach a settlement, we feel like their needs to be a mechanism to ensure that people learn from, that it’s something definitely not acceptable to target someone because they are coming from a different community and especially in our case, that everything has people waiting for a trigger, let’s say, some groups unfortunately. Is there room for discussion for something like this how to actually manage these provocations if they happen? Because they’re, I think, very very important before the referendum as well.

EBE: Yes. One key feature or premise for the discussion we’re having is this idea of a European solution. and that has many… it is much more than becoming a member, being a member of the EU. It also means that European values and principles. And in most modern European states there is ones that move to outlaw hate speech for instance. They actually prohibit it. It’s very strict criteria, what it is, because it must be allowed and we want freedom of speech and it’s not all love and harmony. But there are certain types of incitement to violence which are actually illegal, and that’s something that I think it would be useful to think about in the process here. Because it’s not, remember, it’s not only to get towards a political agreement between two leaders, and it’s not only to have that endorsed, it’s also to implement. And since we know for a fact that there will be some people who are against a settlement, and there will be people on both sides, you need to think about how to manage that transitional phase. And it would be simply wrong to assume that that will go by itself. To think about these things is important. Politically the two sides are working systematically and hard on introducing resolving mechanisms into the political set-ups, because of course we want a system that is representative in a federal sense. Meaning that it both represents majority voting and the rights of the … we don’t say minorities, but of the smallest of the two communities at the same time. But that simultaneously is able to make decisions and move on. That you do not create opportunities for just locking the system so that the system can collapse by non action. I think there are some very creative and constructive ideas on how to ensure the balance between representation and avoiding deadlocks in the system. And the system is not only a fair weather system, but also one for rainy days.

YK: In the negotiations towards getting to that system and that discussion, it’s important from what you said, and from what some listeners have asked us on our website, on how to get civil society involved not only in voicing an opinion, but also contributing answers to these questions. Has there been any movement to that end? Or is it just a theoretical inclusion at this point that is completely dependent on the leaders to open up an avenue?

EBE: First, let me preface any answer I give now and the rest of the program by saying this process is leader lead, it’s not lead by the leader of UN, I am facilitating, which means that the real addressee of the question is Mr. Akıncı, Mr. Anastasiades. What I can say is that there is… both of these leaders have an open and transparent attitude that their part, is my sense. I think we all need to recognise that at the current state where some major strategic alignments are being made, it’s difficult for them to speak of everything that happens, because unfortunately experience is that both opposition politicians, or other political forces or media, may take elements of what actually makes perfect sense in the whole solution, but maybe looks strange on it’s own, and take it out and discuss it, and ask for red lines and demand modifications and so on. So there is a phase in which we are still in where certain care has to be taken about protecting the integrity of the whole process but I think that is increasingly achieved. I mean we are more and more moving from that phase, to a phase that can safely be more open. Because some of these parameters will be established. That’s the time when the broader discussion has to happen. So I would be happy to see more of that. But I also want to say that I feel, you know, I see the people I work with, the two leaders, the two negotiators, increasingly out there with people, and meeting with people, and negotiating, and I would also say that what would really enrich the proposals is that all the… there’s a myriad of very interesting civil society organisations, I meet many of them, as many as I can, but that they, again, not only discuss this as yes or no. I mean there may be people who are perfectly in favour of a solution who still have different views on the inside of that settlement which is not whether yes or no,” maybe there’s a way we will work, yes we are in favour, we want to solve the problem, but I want to introduce let’s say the gender perspective, the environmental perspective…” and that’s not an argument pro and against. It’s an argument for having a political voice on an aspect of this, and I really hope that in the months to come that there will be more opportunities to do that.

YK: I remember asking about when do we get to transparency a few weeks ago, and recently after the latest meeting by the leaders, you had said “that we are going to start informing people in September”. So we’re looking toward getting more and more information in a few weeks?

EBE: That’s my sense, but the point is that we’re talking more about a point in the process than a date. And I would, again, it’s up to the leaders, I take their advice so I never say more than what we agree to say with them, but if they agree to say more, I’m happy to contribute. But I think that they feel that we may be at a stage sometime in September where it will be possible to open much more. But rather than saying this happens on X date in September, it happens at a point where this is responsible, in a sense. But of course, at the end of the day this will be a perfectly democratic process, because it will be inevitably presented at the referendum but the point is that before between… Between the point where it basically seems that yes there will be a settlement, and the final spelling out of that settlement of course is an important phase in which to get all these new ideas, and all the ideas into the picture. That’s why we hope that also through the surrounding work, you know there’s a number of working groups on economy, on EU matters, on gender issues, on cultural issues and so on… and these groups are again in contact with a plethora of other people, so there are ways to feed in ideas into the process already, via these groups, and that’s one of the ways. But I think a lot about this, and I really agree with the gist of the question that it is important to have a more open and transparent process when the timing is right, when it’s not going to undermine the process.

YK: Do you see any point in the process now, within the process itself and the negotiations, that might lead to a sort of deadlock? And what’s the mechanism for breaking that deadlock when it comes to a point where the two sides can just not simply agree in a common position of a certain aspect?

EBE: Well the history of the negotiations process has taught me to be very careful about saying things, you know, to be too sure of anything, but I must say that given the amount of progress made, and the climate developed between the leaders, it’s at least hard to see a specific remaining issue that is of such a nature that it will break apart inside the talks. So if you want to be concerned about something, I would be more concerned about some kind of external shock, something that happens that, I don’t know, I really honestly do not have anything in particular in mind, but that something nobody thought about outside of the talks that happens and just resets the parameters of the whole thing. The good news, seen from those people who believe in the settlement is a good idea, is that the leaders know this. So there’s a sense that this is a momentum, it’s a wind of opportunity, and as we know about windows they can open and close, and for the moment it’s open you never know when a side wind comes and you have to close it again, and hence we’re trying to get as much done, as much critical mass of strategical element. Because at the time there’s a broad agreement about the main issues then there will be complicated and cumbersome and surely at times difficult process of writing all this up into more a more constitutional form, but I really do not think it’ll break down as long as the surrounding environment allows the process to continue.

YK: One of the specific external factors that we can talk about for now is the stance of the Turkish government.

EBE: Yes.

YK: And you know that in the Greek Cypriot community we’re a bit … not clear on what happens within the Turkish government. I would always think that Turkish Cypriots would be, but from what Beran tells me these past few years, they’re not really clear themselves. Do you think that any way that the Turkish government might go to is manageable towards finding a solution? Would the Turkish government be able to throw a spanner in the works if something goes wrong inside the country? Or if they need to show a harder stance because of internal considerations?

EBE: What I can say is that Turkey follows closely what is happening, they know all the broad parameters in development and they are supportive of it. And they are explicitly supportive of it. They tell me and a number of other people engaged in this, including key countries in the Security Council that they are supportive, but they also say that publicly. The latest in connection of that was President Erdoğan visit to the Turkish Cypriot community, where he gave a speech which was a clear endorsement to what was going on and actually also praised Mr.Anastasiades and his commitment to this and of course also of Mr.Akıncı, the same line of argument has been heard both from Prime minister Davutoğlu and the Foreign minister Çavuşoğlu. I’m in quite frequent contact with Turkey, and I know Turkey well, from my past political jobs, where we in many cases engaged closely with Turkey. So I feel quite confident, I must say, that the Turkish government wants to see this problem closed, which would also be good news to them. It’s good news for them on their quest for improving relations to Europe. It reduces the long list of challenges that Turkey faces in it’s neighbourhood by at least one. And it would also improve general relations in the Eastern Mediterranean sea, for instance over hydrocarbons issue which they have expressly said that they would like to see as well. So I think the answer is yes, that the Turkey will remain supportive, but again, as on the talks themselves, we’ll know at the end of the day, but we’re doing what we can and I haven’t detected anything to suggest otherwise so far. What you need to know however is that early June there were parliamentary elections in Turkey that changed the political landscape, and there have been attempts to form a coalition government since then. And the jury is still out on whether they will actually have that or there will be a call for new elections, and see if the AK party can have a majority again, even if most likely not constitutional majority, but maybe a simple majority. And I think that those conversations are ongoing as we speak in Turkey. This is not necessarily of very big importance to the Cyprus issue, but it’s something to follow.

BD: There’s always a risk. I mean my personal view, and personal interest in Turkish politics and in Cyprus has always been used as an ideological tool. One might think that Turkey approaches Cyprus as a strategic location but more than that I think it’s been official for many governments, doesn’t matter which ideological background they came from most of the political parties use Cyprus as a tool for their own internal politics. And there is always a risk for us if the unrest goes on in Turkey, and if one of the major actors there feel like they can use Cyprus as a tool they will. So we can’t really comment on that. But another question I had, when it comes on energy, is there another parallel negotiation to ours, to outside Cyprus in the corporate world among the energy firms, coming from France, Italy, Turkey, Israel… is there a negotiation going on there, parallel that concerns us as well, or maybe can contribute to an agreement somehow if they agree on how to have their share in this?

EBE: Well a parallel negotiation I think I can safely say there is no parallel negotiation going on in the corporate world.  I do know that the key energy companies are, all of them, would be very happy with a solution, because Eastern Mediterranean is an interesting energy region, maybe not as much as people thought a few years ago because the finds have been relatively limited. But there are still expectations that there will be future finds, particularly of natural gas, and all those companies I’ve talked to, and I know them because of my second at the world economic forum, there members of ours, so I know them from that side, they believe that life in this region would be much easier if the geopolitical tension over Cyprus is taken away, and you had normalised relationships between all the states that border on the Mediterranean, obviously minus Syria, which is a case in itself, but for the other states if they could also have some common understanding, it would be much easier to operate. My sense for instance is that Israel would be happy to see a settlement also, because that could also make, open up new routes for their exports, and I know for a fact that energy companies follow this closely. But they do not have a role in the political process. And I think just reflecting on something we talked about earlier about some companies or the big powers, I think there is a certain tendency in Cyprus, which again is not unique to Cyprus we see it in many places particularly when you live in a difficult region with an old conflict, and you wonder why things are like they are, that there’s a certain tendency to believe that there is a grand plan, there’s somebody faraway who makes big decisions that we don’t really see, but we can sort of see the light of that, having been at the foreign policy and defence policy at the high level for many years, I can tell you that the world is actually more chaotic, and byzantine than that. That these grand schemes, either for good or bad, normally aren’t there. And international relations is generally one thing after another much more than a big plan, and I think sometimes you may create this sense that somebody, the great powers, some call Anglo-americans, or some would say Russians, kind of are designing the world around us. But no, I think most of them are actually trying to keep some influence in a very complicated world which is exactly as complicated for them as it is for smaller countries like yours and mine.

BD: Thinking like that would be an insult on human beings anyway, that we don’t have control on anything, and some people can control all of us. Of course it doesn’t work that way.

EBE: I think that’s the traditional defeatism, that kind of there’s this idea that “I can’t do anything anyway because of the big powers”. And maybe I’m disappointing people, but there isn’t really a war room, a secret war room, deciding moving the checker board on Cyprus somewhere that you haven’t seen. I tell you that it doesn’t exist. What I can say is that the Security Council in which all the greatest powers in the world are united are all behind the Cyprus solution, and I can say that very formally and without any doubt because I was just briefing the council just a few weeks ago, and every single member, all the 15 members, meaning the permanent 5 and the 10 rotating members, every single one explicitly took the floor, and expressed praise for the two leaders, and for the process and for the work that we are doing here as the UN and gave full support for this, and also saying that it’s in everybody’s interest that this problem is solved. So if there is a place where you are actually not subject to a game between the great powers right now, it’s Cyprus. I mean if you’re in Ukraine, or Syria, or northern Africa, then you are unfortunately, but Cyprus is now a place where the great powers are in alignment.

YK: That’s what I was going to ask. The impressions from people in difficult regions that there’s a grand plan, usually stems from the fact that there are great powers competing in their interest for specific areas and that usually marginalizes the wills of the people themselves. So the truth is somewhere in between. There’s more influence by some countries than others, that’s a fact. The question is as we move from a point of contention among powers to an area where all major powers agree on the things that need to be normalised as we come back into the fold as Cypriots as a player in the region, how do you see as an academic as well, our foreign policy. Evolution and perspective that we could have toward countries in the region, are we positioned to have influence ourselves? We’ve been taught so long, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, to be victims, and to feel as victims of foreign powers that we might not be ready…

BD: Yeah, always receiving guidance

YK: Yes that we might not be ready to start acting as international relations actors.

EBE: Yeah. Remember I also come from a small country and a small country that bordered the Soviet Union, and Russia and alliance with the US… so I have sympathy for this sense that some people might have that “what can I do in the big world where the big powers play?”, but a former colleague of mine who was at the time foreign minister of Australia, I’m not talking about Alexander Downer but the one before him, Gareth Evans, he said when he was minister and his civil servant said that “you know we’re not that important and we can’t really do this” he (Gareth Evans) said “Come on guys we’ve got nothing to lose but our insignificance”. Which I think is something for small countries to do, and other …

BD: We should use it as a slogan during the referendum propaganda actually.


EBE: And another good reference is the current Prime minister and foreign minister of Luxembourg who on their trip to China embraced the Chinese foreign minister and said this “incredible, between us we represent one quarter of the world population” so you don’t need to feel small, even if you’re small. I must say that the foreign policy of the Republic of Cyprus, over the last years have been quite impressive, strengthening its position in Europe, and at the same time building strong bonds to the Arab world and Israel. Well done. And thanks to Ioannis Kasoulides, and good friend, and a very strong and highly respected foreign minister. If you add normalised relations to Turkey to that mix, which you will do immediately after a solution, because one of the first things that will happen, WILL HAPPEN, is a mutual recognition between united Cyprus and Turkey. You will be perfectly positioned for being a small but active player in a very important region, with strong bonds to Turkey, Israel, the Arab states, Europe, and North America. What else can you ask for if you are here? I think there’s the potential for being relevant in many contexts as Cypriots between Europe and the Middle East, I mean you have the unique feature of being politically in Europe, geographically in the Middle East, and that’s where you are. Sometimes you’d probably like to sail away and move somewhere else, but you can’t. So your foreign policy has to be based on reality and the fact that Turkey is forty miles away will never change, and the best thing you can do is to have a foreign policy that incorporates that as a united Cyprus. I think it’s great potential, and I have had the pleasure of discussing that with your excellent current foreign minister in the Republic of Cyprus, and also with people who have been thinking about this issue in the Turkish Cypriot community.

YK: Or perhaps a foreign policy and an attitude relation that can help Turkey itself move to further democratisation and stability. That’s what we need.

BD: That’s my positive thinking. I want to believe we can positively influence.

EBE: Cyprus, now listen, Cyprus [ everyone talking at the same time]I can safely say as both a former defence minister and foreign minister and having been engaged in security and defence policy for many many years, is that a solution in Cyprus would unlock a lot of other questions. I cannot tell you to which extent, but I can tell you the direction which is to the better. It will make relations between Europe and Turkey better. How much better? I don’t know. But the directional change is positive. It will improve relations between the EU and NATO, in a positive direction. It will probably improve, help improve, Turkish-Israeli and Turkish-Arab relations. How much? I don’t know but the direction will be positive. We’re not doing it however for the rest of us, this is for the Cypriots. And I would like to, if since it looks like the end, I’d like to also say that this may be the best opportunity you had to take this issue in your own hands. Simply because most of the world is preoccupied with other issues. I’m sorry to say, but there are other issues out there which are also problems. I mean North Africa is a problem. Syria is a problem. Iraq is a problem. Ukraine is a problem. The East Asia is a problem. So actually now this may actually be the moment where strong leaders in Cyprus can take this into their own hands, and make a Cypriot solution to Cyprus. And the fact that that will help the rest of the world is a bi-product, but the purpose of being here is to help the Cypriots.

YK: So as we wrap up this program, apologies to any of our listeners that couldn’t get their question weaved into the discussion. Thank you very much for listening and being here. We wanted to ask you before, we didn’t get a chance, but we’re asking now, we would like to lead out with a song that you personally like. It doesn’t have to be anything with a grand standing message, something of your request.

EBE: Well the first that comes to mind is Led Zeppelins Stairway to Heaven.

[Laughter and Typing]

YK : That’s some really quick typing there.

BD: Before we go out, thank you again.

YK: We’re going to click it again before you go out. Thank you very much for joining us here for this show and a very interesting discussion. Good luck to everything else.

EBE: Thank you very much.

BD: We’re also optimistic.

YK: Thanks to your team to help us build this up. You’re team has been here watching, and they also need to be acknowledged.

EBE: And thanks to listeners for listening.

BD: Yes definitely.

YK: That too. Good luck with everything

[end of recording]

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