* Turkish Cypriots’ Winter of Discontent: A Reaction to Austerity Measures or More?

αναδημοσίευση του αξιόλογου άρθρου της

Umut Bozkurt από το

http://www.epanenosi.com

μια σοβαρή, υλιστική ανάλυση των κινητοποιήσεων που το πρίσμα της πολιτικής επιστήμης

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This article was triggered by a question a Greek Cypriot friend posed to me about a month ago: “What is going on in the North? Are we going for a repetition of 2002-2004?”. This question implies that the current discontent amounts to something more than Turkish Cypriots’ reaction to austerity measures imposed by Turkey and furthermore it can be channeled towards a mobilization aiming a settlement of the Cyprus problem. I will try to provide an answer to the question above by analysing the current situation through comparing it with the mobilizations of 2002-2004 that culminated in a predominant “yes” vote to the Annan plan.

In a way the current discontent can be resembled to mobilizations of 2002-2003. In both cases the trigger turned out to be economic reasons. Today the people are out in the streets in order to protest the austerity package that Turkish government is imposing on the Turkish Cypriots. Turkey is no more willing to pick up the bill of an unsustainable economic structure which herself created in order to keep a loyal political elite in power. The austerity package that Turkish government is pushing for entails the privatization of state economic enterprises including some strategic sectors such as electricity and telephone services, the supression of wages of public workers and levying a tax on pensions.

Similarly, the discontent of the early 2000s had started following the banking crisis in December 1999 that led to six banks coming  under government control. Later, four of these banks were closed by the decision of the Council of Ministers. Following the banking crisis Prime Minister Derviş Eroğlu’s government sought financial aid from Turkey. Yet Turkey was not willing to provide unconditional support, instead she imposed an economic austerity package that met widespread resistance on the part of opposition parties, trade unions, as well the business community. As a result of this opposition, the government could not implement the package which led to a shortage of funds. The consecutive delay in the payment of salaries in the public sector and the suspension of payment of compensation to the victims of the banking crisis contributed to the increasing discontent within the Turkish Cypriot community.

Turkey chose deliberately not to bear Turkish Cypriot costs in 2000. A year later when the financial crisis hit the Turkish economy, it became unable to do so. The combined effect of 1999 banking crisis in the North Cyprus and 2001 financial crisis in Turkey turned out to be diminished possibilities for the Turkish Cypriot government to contain discontent through the traditional instruments of patronage and clientalism. This inability on the part of the government brought forth a significant attitudinal change towards the settlement of the Cyprus problem and the EU on the part of the Turkish Cypriots. In an environment where the  economic crises  not only curbed the distributive capacity of the state, but also generated social unrest,  the Annan Plan with its prospect of immediate membership in the EU constituted a promising alternative for a new, concrete social project to replace the defunct politico-economic structure.

I believe the main difference today is this lack of a promising alternative for a new, concrete social project that manifested itself as a political settlement and consecutive EU membership in the first half of the 2000s. Turkish Cypriots’ dissillusionment with the peace process and the widespread belief that the Greek Cypriots are not interested in a solution other than granting them a minority status in the Republic of Cyprus coupled with their dissappointment with the existing parties on the Left had led to a prevailing state of lethargy. Only recently this lethargy gave way to a mobilization that gained momentum thanks to Turkish Prime minister’s insulting remarks resembling Turkish Cypriots to handmaids of Turkey. Turkey’s replacing its ambassador in Lefkoşa with a controversial figure who made similar insulting remarks about Turkish Cypriots even before the prime minister is further likely to increase the tension between the Turkish Cypriots and Turkey.

Yet the question that needs to be asked is what will this mobilization- that is motivated by Turkish Cypriots’ reaction against the austerity measures as well as the North’s dependency on Turkey- lead to? Is there a potential to channel this discontent into an overall disillusionment with the system in a way to contribute to a reunification of the island? Of course it is never possible to guess the course of social events due to contingencies, yet we can observe that certain factors that were existent in the first half of the 2000s is not there anymore. There was more of an optimism prevailing within the Turkish Cypriot community regarding the positions of different parties to the conflict; Republic of Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, US. It was believed that 2004 was a historic moment in terms of bringing so many rare factors together. Nowadays though there is no such optimism. Secondly, there is a disillusionment regarding left wing parties and in specific CTP which carried out neo-liberal economic policies during its rule. TDP’s recent willingness to become a coalition partner of UBP was interpreted as TDP not minding to be an accomplice of the UBP in implementing austerity measures for the sake of few ministries. So the question that is widely asked is what would be the political strategy pursued and who within these circumstances, could be the potential actors that will carry out these strategies?

This is still an evolving and an ongoing process so I do not want to conclude this essay with some determinate answers.  I just want to reiterate that even though there is a potential to transform this economic discontent into a more fundamental discontent that challenges the regime in the North, there are real issues regarding actors that can implement political strategies, and the position of  external actors such as the Republic of Cyprus.  Unless another rare coming together of positive factors materialize, it is highly unlikely that these latest demonstrations will lead to a transcending of the division of the island.

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