Thursday, 19 June 2008

Being Right Vs Time: Time always wins out in the end.

I will be honest with you – I partied the hardest when Tassos Papadopoulos lost at the first round of election. The reason I celebrated had nothing to do with his domestic policies, nor of his handling of other affairs – it had to do with his wrong views of the Cyprus issue. The real reason is that the former president was wrong was in believing that being right counted more that the passing of time.

Whether you were pro- or anti- Annan one thing is clear: there is a difference between what a desired outcome is and what is the achievable outcome, and that the achievable outcome changes over time. Mr Papadopoulos believed that being right (having the UN security council resolution condemning the invasion of Turkish troups and demanding their withdrawal) meant that a waiting game was in our benefit: pretty soon a Turkey that is eager to join the EU would be forced by the international community, who accepted our claims of unlawful occupation, to accept a deal that would be better for the Greek Cypriot side, if only the Greek Cypriots could hold on for a couple of more years (or decades).

Leaving aside the whole issue of looking at the negations as a zero-sum (where one only gains at the expense of another) rather than a collaborative project, I would like to point out the fallacy of the strategy: The problem with this strategy is time: tragedies and injustices can only be excepted to remain topical for so long: a waiting game is not only bad due to issues of settler migration into Cyprus, but are especially bad if the bargaining position of one country rests on the collective memory of past injustices by the international community; such well being will rarely last beyond the generation that lived through the events first hand.

Who cries for the millions of Germans forced out of their homes in the end of the Second World War? Do people thing of Alsace-Loraine, conquered by Luis the XIV in the 17th century as German or French? How about Nice and Corsica: Nice was ceded to the French in 1860 (without asking the population) by the new King of Italy as a reward for the French feat of arms that liberated Lombardy for the piedmont King, and Corsica was purchased by the French from the Genoese in 1768 who were not in control of the revolutionary government of Corsica. Although the residents of these countries might still feel the injustices done to them, we do not equate these issues as areas of injustice that the international community supports. The reason why answer is simple: enough time has passed for the status quo to become more acceptable that the correction of the injustices as suggested by the aggrieved parties.

Mr. Papadopoulos policies had the same flaw in his reasoning: the waiting game led naturally to the acceptance of the status quo (with guns, mines and division still reigning) as more appealing to disturbing thirty years of goodwill. People naturally began to speculate if it was reasonable to affect the lives of people 30+ years after the event, and wondered if legitimising the status quo would be a simpler way for World to deal with Cyprus’ problems. This is of course a disaster for both communities and all interested parties: the guns stay on and are still paid for by Turkey (and Greece, Cyprus and the UN to a lesser extent), an island suffers the costs of division, and refugees from both sides have their pride of being right but not much else.

If I can be so bold the same arguments makes ideological stances during negations futile, as being right rarely resolves such issues, and works less well as time progresses. A bolder example is the case of the Palestinian occupation: while extreme right wing elements of Israeli society feel that all of the land currently occupied is owned to them both by holy writ and as a small way in correcting the horrible massacre of the Holocaust, their argument will wither over the passage of time. There is no question that the Holocaust should not be forgotten and that Europe owes Jews around the world for their past ignoble behaviour. Although the Holocaust was a unique and terrible moment of world history, it will become less potent in it ability to excuse the occupation of Palestine 200 years from now if there is still an occupation there. Even shattering events of world history will wither in front of the continuing and sustained suffering and conflict a possible occupation would still be creating 200 years from now.

Sadly the lack of foundation on hardline politics is not a cause to cheer; their downfall over time does not lead to a solution though negotiation: it leads to an embedment of the current status quo of conflict. It takes great leaders with horrors of the past as memories and visions of a better future as guides, to reach workable negotiated settlements that finally resolve conflicts.

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