20 AUGUST 1948, Page 10



LORD WINSTER'S statement, made last week to the Consulta- tive Assembly in Cyprus, marks the failure of the attempt to restore constitutional government to the island. Indeed, so long as union with Greece was refused it was difficult to see any other out- come. There is a singular absence in the statement of any attempt to provide a reasoned justification for British policy. It says that the British Government, "having given ample proof of their sincere desire to give Cyprus a constitution enabling the island to advance along the road of political development, must now leave the matter as it stands." It goes on to say that "the constitutional issue has been to some extent obscured by manifestations in favour of Enosis or self-government." The final blow to Cypriot Greek hopes is contained in the following sentences. "No change in the sovereignty of the island is intended." That is "a question on which His Majesty's Government have decided their policy." These two sen- tences explain the present state of Cypriot politics—but not that of British policy.

Mr. Creech Jones made his original statement on the making of a constitution for Cyprus in October, 1946. At that time Cyprus had been without representative government, above the municipal level, since the old constitution had been withdrawn after the pro- Greek disturbances of 1931. The Colonial Secretary made four points: first, that union with Greece was not contemplated ; second, that a scheme for a central legislature was to be drawn up by a Consultative Assembly to be called together by the Governor from representative bodies in the island ; third, that a ten-year develop- ment plan would be put into operation ; and last, that the election of an Archbishop would be allowed. It has now become obvious that the constitutional proposal has failed, since, for the Greek majority, without whose assent no scheme will be workable, the issue of union with Greece, referred to in the first point, and the constitutional issue, referred to in the second, are identical. It is also obvious that the implied promise in the third point has been no more effective in producing political peace than any earlier example of a bread-and-circus policy, and that the concession to the religious element contained in the fourth point has only served to free the most effective medium of Enosis propaganda.

The activities of the Cypriot Church, and its relations with the political parties, explain the course of the negotiations. The Church itself has always wanted union with Greece, though ecclesiastically it is independent of the Orthodox Church of the mainland. In 1946 it was without an Archbishop, and its political activities had been severely restricted since the disturbances of 1931. When the old Archbishop died the British authorities had refused to allow the election of a successor, and the functions of leader of the Church were exercised by Bishop Leontios of Paphos, a powerful and vigorous character whom the Administration always found troublesome. In the summer of 1947 he was elected Archbishop, and immediately came out against Greek participation in the proposed Assembly. Now there had never been any doubt about either the position of the Church or of the Right. The election of Leontios had been important because he had unusual influence with the main Left-wing organisation in Cyprus, AKEL, led by Ploutis Servas, Communist mayor of Limassol. (Five of the six towns on the island have mayors who are either Communists or near-Communists.) When Archbishop Leontios denounced the Consultative Assembly his influence with the Left made it certain that all the Greek political parties of the island would refuse to co-operate. Since four-fifths of the population is Greek, this would have made the Assembly's work impossible. But almost at once the situation was changed by the death of Leontios. The new Archbishop, elected in November, was an old man who had been exiled by the British, and who, somewhat naturally, didn't like them. But he didn't like Communists either, and so AKEL, who had opposed his election, decided to disregard the Church ban on the Assembly. The solid Greek front was broken.

When the Assembly met, the eight Greek members (five of them AKEL) submitted a memorial asking for complete internal autonomy. This submission was rejected by the British Government in January, and London's counter-proposals were in turn rejected by AKEL when they arrived in May. AKEL then refused to take any further part in the negotiations, and the Assembly was perforce dissolved. AKEL's change of front can be explained on grounds of internal prestige. The Left had suffered a defeat in the Archiepiscopal election, and the Colonial Office reply arrived at the moment when a five-months' strike, organised by AKEL, was just collapsing. The easiest way for AKEL to regain some of its lost prestige was to reject the new proposals, which, in any case, did not meet the demands they had originally put forward. The position now is that the Greek community is solidly pro-Enosis and that the offer of a constitution is in cold storage, though not withdrawn. Lord Winster asserts that the reason for the failure of 'the negotiations is "the irresponsible nature of the opposition which has led to a temporary breakdown." He has further condemned Cypriot poli- ticians for pursuing "petty intrigues and policies which take no account of the realities of the situation." These statements are of a piece with his reference to the Enosis movement as one which merely " obscures " the constitutional issue; They discount the one aspect of Cypriot politics which cannot be ignored. For the Cypriot Greek, Enosis is emphatically not a policy which takes no account of the realities of the situation. The desire for Enosis is one of the realities of the situation.

So far as the Church and the Right are concerned, this attitude has been consistently maintained. But the attitude of AKEL is no less consistent when seen from a Cypriot point of view. AKEL's only apparent lapse in consistency has been to take part in the constitutional discussions from the death of Archbishop Leontios until their rejection of the final British proposals. But the explana- tion of their conduct in this period is not that they ever wanted representative government under the British, but that they did not want to seek union under a Greek Right-wing government whose stability becomes more assured every day. AKEL's best policy in the circumstances was to seek local autonomy and wait for a Left-wing regime in Greece before demanding union. This inter- pretation of Cypriot Left-wing policy fits in with AKEL's support of Enosis in 1944 and 1945, when a Communist post-war govern- ment appeared possible in Greece. Even though it may seem to be merely playing politics, there is no doubt that the Cypriot Left has never lost sight of the ultimate objective of union with Greece.

There is no hint of these considerations in Lord Winster's statement, and the whole idea of Enosis is treated as the final cake which would make the little boy sick. But the aspect of British policy which is most open to criticism is the failure to give any reason for opposing union with Greece. Nowhere does Lord Winster say anything to show what the considerations were which made the British Government take this line. There may be good reasons. Cyprus may be needed as a strategic base. The risk of displeasing Turkey by handing over the Cypriot Turks to Greece may be in mind. It may be that the Government feels it has already given away enough British territory. It may be that Lord Winster's personal views have decided the matter. However good the reasons behind British policy may be, nobody knows what they are. All that is certain is that the Greek Government has decided not to press its claims, and that for some reason not yet apparent.

Lord Winster is right. The issue is indeed obscure. While it remains so, we can scarcely expect the Cypriots to understand, let alone accept, the British attitude as final. Nobody could accuse the Cypriots of being unintelligent. If good reasons of solid and permanent British self-interest could be adduced in support of British policy, Cypriots would be much more likely to accept them than they are to submit to the present disciplinarian "No." They might even agree to co-operate. But nobody will abandon any policy without being convinced of its futility, and There is no reason why the Cypriots should be the first to do so.