ASSESSMENT OF THE CURRENT POLITICAL SITUATION
Left Wing document
Left Wing is concerned with the turn of political developments, both in Cyprus and world-wide. After a period of significant gains of the Left, the Right seems to recover its self-confidence and to behave in an increasingly arbitrary and authoritarian way. The rise of the Right is gaining more and more ground and the traditional right is adopting extreme right-wing policies to halt its losses to extreme right parties. The Left appears to lose ground and to be unable to formulate convincing policies to deal with the situation.
These developments are neither unexpected nor incidental. We are increasingly sinking into an age of instability, where social and national confrontations will determine the route of history. The policies of the Left will play a decisive role in this conflict. The encouraging developments of the previous period (Syriza, Podemos, Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders) seem to have exhausted their potential and the optimistic messages from the international political scene are few and far between. On the contrary, the extreme right is slowly but steadily consolidating its position and imposing its logic to an ever increasing extent in the wider setting of the Right.
In Cyprus, the great victory of the Left with the election of Demetris Christofias to the Presidency was unfortunate to have coincided with the world economic crisis, which inevitably also affected the Cypriot economy. No government could have avoided the dramatic consequences of the crisis. Taking into consideration the model of economic development of Cyprus, which was based almost exclusively on services, and more particularly financial services, it is doubtful whether it could have mitigated, even minimally, these consequences.
This has not prevented the Right from exploiting the situation and laying the blame for the situation on the Left and more particularly on Demetris Christofias. Along with the catastrophic repercussions of the explosion at Mari, the economic crisis was the spearhead of the onslaught against the Left and the Christofias Presidency. The failure of Demetris Christofias and his government as well as of the Left in general to deal effectively with the political and communication vulgarity of the Right led to Demetris Christofias not standing again for President and the defeat of Stavros Malas in the 2013 elections.
Today, seven years later, AKEL has largely healed the wounds of that period and has, to a large extent, recovered its forces and its standing in Cypriot society. The major factor making this recovery possible was its robust stance on the Cyprus question, the party’s support to Anastasiades when he was on course for a solution and its firm critical position and bold opposition when he betrayed the struggle for a solution and turned to nationalist paths. This stance gave AKEL again the leading position that it deserved as the only important Greek Cypriot party of the Left in Cyprus.
Yet, AKEL does not seem to have recovered from its inability to face up to the criticism for the absence of substantial economic policy and incapacity to manage the Cypriot economy. This prevents the party from formulating a strong political narrative that will enable it to muster the necessary forces for successfully contesting power and putting an end to the catastrophic dominance of the Right and more particularly of the Anastasiades government. Worse still, it destroys the self-confidence of both the Left as a whole and AKEL in particular. The image portrayed by the daily practices and policies of the party remains contradictory. The need for cooperation much wider than the immediate political environment of AKEL in order to “get rid of the Anastasiades government” is not accompanied by a convincing policy programme capable of inspiring and rallying the Left as well as wider sections of the Centre, and even the Right. Thus, “to get rid of the Anastasiades government” is inevitably interpreted as an intention to cooperate with the DIKO leadership. This alone gives the kiss of life to a declining political force, with some of the most dangerous and corrupt policies in the history of the Republic of Cyprus and, at the same time, creates cracks in AKEL’s credibility.
2.0 AGE OF INSTABILITY
The world economic crisis that erupted in 2008 constitutes a landmark in the history of capitalism. It was the collapse of neoliberalism dominant in capitalist countries since the age of Margaret Thatcher and Donald Reagan. But this is not the time to analyse it. It must be added that the collapse of “really existing socialism” played a catalytic role in the prevalence of neoliberalism and the creation of the conviction that “There is No Alternative”. 2008 put a final end to these delusions. The state, which “had to be contracted to the lowest possible level”, and society, which according to Thatcher “there is no such thing as society”, were called upon to salvage the situation through the nationalization of banks, giving away billions in subsidies, printing trillions for “the recovery of the economy”.
At world level, the Left was not ready to provide an alternative solution. As soon as the world economic and political elite got over its first shock, it proceeded to the management of the crisis by loading the burden onto the shoulders of the masses and safeguarding the wealth and income of a very small minority. The same minority that was also responsible for the policies that had led to the crisis. Ten years later, this resulted in the expansion and extension of social and economic inequalities to obscene proportions, the wealth of the super-rich to grow even further through the crisis, the lower and middle sections of society to be thrown further down to poverty and insecurity. The neoliberal economic policies that had gone bankrupt in 2008 resurface again as the dominant ideology of the capitalist system.
The prevalence of neoliberalism was not a smooth process. Huge movements shook humanity and demonstrated that history had not as yet uttered its final words. The Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, the Indignados of Spain, the Indignant of Syntagma Square are examples of the magnificent social reaction to the new age of instability. The Arab Spring swept away many dictatorships in the Arab world before the west could thwart it, starting from the intervention in Libya and supporting the dissidents in Syria. In Egypt, the Muslim movement managed to hijack the revolution before being itself overthrown by the old establishment which reinstated its power through Sisi’s dictatorship. In general, in all the Arab Spring countries, the movement did not manage to go forward and we have seen a general return to the status quo, while in most countries things have become much worse.
The movements in western countries – Occupy, Indignados, Indignant – showed the new climate forming in society. The official narrative could no longer convince the masses and they started going on the street to claim a place under the sun. The direct political consequences of these movements was the rise of Syriza in Greece, the Podemos in Spain, Bernie Sanders in the USA, Jeremy Corbyn in Britain, Melenchon in France. The successes of these movements were based on the expression by their leaders of the wish of societies to escape the spiral of impoverishment that the system was leading them to through radical programmes for tackling economic and social inequalities. Through programmes that made deep inroads into the economy and the operation of the system. The peak of this period was the Referendum in July 2015 in Greece, the retreat started with Tsipras’s decision to capitulate to the “institutions” and to end the challenge to the European establishment. The end of the rise of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn’s defeat signal a significant decline of the movement, while the potential prevalence of the extreme-right in France will probably signify the end of this phase.
In parallel to the mass movements and the political successes of the Left, we observe an unprecedented flourishing of Marxist and a more generally leftist literature. The analyses, publications, discussions and conferences of this period remind us of an analogous flourishing in the 1960s. The ideas that are being developed, the circulating texts, the ideological and political debates, all have the freshness and quests of that period. As then, this ideological debate is still cut off from mass movements. But, as then, nobody knows when the theory will fascinate the masses and be transformed into a material force. The signs are already in front of us. Movements such as the Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter show how easily the masses can change consciousness, while movements like the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests), the demonstrations in Hong Kong, Lebanon and Chile show that revolutionary processes are hatched under the surface in the midst of unprecedented social instability that could result in unpredictable developments.
3.0 INSTABILITY IN CYPRUS
Cyprus is no exception. Despite its apparent stability, the Anastasiades government was in free fall before the Covid-19 pandemic. The economic situation was not rosy, except of course for the very few, mainly in the orbit of the President’s inner circle, who further amassed wealth on the basis of government policies. The stagnation of the Cyprus inter-communal talks led to an ever more openly all-round defeat of the government policies, both in the international diplomatic field and its confrontation with Turkey regarding the issue of EEZ. Its energy policies, focused on the hydrocarbons of Eastern Mediterranean, could no longer convince anyone that it offered a feasible approach. With Turkey using warships to block drilling licenced by the Republic of Cyprus and proceeding with its own drilling programme in areas the Republic of Cyprus evidently considers its own, its inability to claim its rights and the futility of the “tri-partite alliances” was by then transparent to the people of Cyprus.
Anastasiades’s policy on the Cyprus question was also at an impasse. With the negotiations after Crans Montana running around in circles, Turkey was in effect in control of the situation. Anastasiades’s vacillations between “decentralised federation”, “confederation” and “two states” provided Turkey with the opportunity to gain precious time for further consolidating the fait accompli of the invasion. The only factor preventing the total dominance of the nationalist narrative of partition was Mustafa Akinci at the leadership of the Turkish Cypriot community. Without Akinci, the Cyprus question would be in total stagnation and slipping towards partition, annexation of the occupied areas to Turkey, destabilisation and de-legitimation of the Republic of Cyprus.
Akinci fought and admirably continues to fight for the independence of Cyprus from Turkey. He cannot perform miracles, especially when he has Anastasiades’s negative stance on the opposite site. He has, however, managed to sustain the respect and support of the Turkish Cypriots, whereby he has a good chance of being re-elected in the upcoming elections. In addition, with his policies he has managed to gain the trust of the Greek Cypriots as no other Turkish Cypriot leader in the past. Akinci is the only reason Anastasiades is hesitant to proceed to blatantly abandon the talks and all that has been agreed to date. It is no wonder that both Anastasiades and the rest of the nationalists would prefer Ersin Tatar to prevail, as a lifejacket for their own policies.
The other area at an impasse for the Anastasiades government was corruption and the scandals that one after the other started surfacing. It was becoming very clear that the motivating force behind every move of the government and each and every one of its actions included as an integral part the enrichment of a very small favourite clique and especially the inner circle of the President and his cronies. These revelations undermined the trust of society at large but also of some of their most faithful political collaborators.
The pandemic was an unexpected lifejacket for the government. Despite the first stumbles, such as the fiasco of the crossing points and the first incoherent protection measures, and despite the inability of the system to protect critical infrastructure such as hospitals, and its inability to provide a reliable health system, which it had degraded on the altar of serving the interests of private health facilities, the government started to make use of the pandemic in order to set aside the difficulties it was confronted with. By spreading fear and insecurity and by imposing draconian repressive measures, it turned people’s attention away from the scandals and corruption and its diplomatic and political dead-ends towards “protection” from the corona virus and saving human lives. As in other countries, in Cyprus too, the daily bombardment with numbers of cases and deaths turned the people to weak and feeble recipients of the government policies. The first reaction of the terrorised citizen is to accept the instructions of the person taking the responsibility of giving them. And this is not limited only to the correct approach for the need to comply with the governmental protection measures, however irrational they may seem, but it also extends to the government’s other policies. An example of this is the easy acceptance of the racist upsurge projected by the Minister of Interior and other government officials.
The pandemic may potentially constitute a landmark for the Cypriot political scene. The government’s recovery is a fact we do not know how permanent will be. Its recovery does not appear to have been at the expense of AKEL, but at that of the “in-between space”. Polls showing DIKO with a share of 4%-5% support are probably fixed and unreliable but the fall in the percentages of DIKO is more than apparent, judging by the significant reduction of its presence in political life. It is also certain that parties such as Allilengyi (Solidarity), Symmahia Politon (Citizens’ Alliance) and, what is most important, EDEK are going through an unprecedent crisis, which we still do not know if they will ever overcome.
On the Left, things do not appear to remain stable either. Although not as yet an important force, movements such as Antifa or discussions for the potential “political autonomisation” of the “re-unification space”, begin to gain an ever growing number of people searching for a more effective way out.
All these are indications that the political climate is losing its traditional stability and we are entering a period with surprises in store.
4.0 CHALLENGES AND TASKS OF THE LEFT
There is already under way a debate on the next presidential elections. AKEL correctly states that it is as yet too early for anyone to be concerned with the next candidate. It is too early for both substantial reasons as well as for tactical reasons. In the current conditions of instability that the whole of humanity, including Cyprus, finds itself in, it is not wise for the Left to commit itself as to the policy it will follow in relation to the 2023 presidential elections. Cyprus is confronted with very serious problems, the development of which in the coming months and years will influence the political scene and the future of Cyprus.
The world economy is probably entering the most serious crisis it has ever known in history. The pandemic is only a part of this crisis and its contribution is to make the crisis even deeper and long lasting. As other countries, Cyprus too will go through very difficult times. With the Anastasiades government in charge, tackling the crisis will again mean loading the burden on to the working people, selling off public wealth and contraction of the welfare state. The extreme form of the crisis, which is foreseen with the effective collapse of tourism, will largely limit the scope for resistance to this route. No political force beyond AKEL will see with sympathy any effort for defending the rights of working people, which renders any effort of election alliances utopian without in effect abandoning AKEL’s basic red lines in its social policies.
Equally utopian is the achievement of a common stance on the Cyprus question. Today’s moral lead of AKEL is based on its consistent stance on the Cyprus problem and its stable efforts to build bridges with the Turkish Cypriot community and Turkish Cypriot parties and organisations that look forward to a solution. It is evident that the leaderships of the parties of the “in-between space” strongly oppose any form of feasible solution and we cannot expect an honest change of this stance. Any superficial shift will only include minced words and ambiguities which will allow them to retreat if there is a likelihood for of solution. The case of cooperation with Tassos Papadopoulos and its disastrous development will be the prototype of any cooperation of a similar kind.
This does not mean that there is no scope for approaching members and followers of the “in-between space” parties regarding the economy and the Cyprus question. Parties are not monolithic organisations; they are made up of groups and individuals with their own views and their own approach and formulation of positions. AKEL has proved in the last period that it is in a position to attract such individuals and gain their trust and respect, on the basis of its consistency and the politics of principle it follows. The more decisive AKEL is in its policies, the more its potential grows to impose its policies and to increase the prospects of cooperation with wider social strata. Even within DISY itself there are possibilities for the Left to extend its influence, on the basis of its own policies.
The influence of the “in-between space” parties is already on the brink of collapse. Their positions come to a dead-end at all levels. In the economy, they trail behind Synagermos (Democratic Rally), supporting bankers and big capitalists and against working people and the trade union movement, while as regards the Cyprus question they abandon the “unitary state” to silently flirt with the idea of partition and two states. Synagermos may have been temporarily salvaged by the pandemic but is it doubtful whether it can fool people for much longer. What is needed now is a serious opposition, which with determination will promote its own alternative policies and claim power. This can only be done by AKEL.
5.0 THE RUMOURED COOPERATION WITH DIKO
The rumours around the meetings of Andros Kyprianou and Nicolas Papadopoulos have created confusion both among the left around AKEL and wider forces, which saw a ray of hope in AKEL’s stance on the Cyprus question, as well as among AKEL’s own voters. The scenarios circulating allege that AKEL will support Nicolas Papadopoulos for the Presidency of the House of Representatives in exchange for pursuing the joint backing of a candidate, acceptable to both parties, for the Presidency of the Republic. Many official statements of AKEL or its officials in the mass media are totally compatible with such a scenario and the slogan “AKEL’s main aim is to get rid of the present Presidency” is interpreted as its codified confirmation.
The prospect of AKEL seriously considering cooperation with DIKO creates obstacles to extending its influence in society and seriously undermines the process of transforming it to a leading force able to confront the Democratic Rally and the establishment and to win. Cooperation with Nicolas Papadopoulos’s DIKO will destroy the trust of the Turkish Cypriot community in AKEL, which the party with so much effort has regained after the disastrous experience of the Annan Plan. It will even destroy the trust of Greek Cypriot pro-rapprochement activists, who in the last few years see AKEL as the only political force with the courage to fight for the reunification of Cyprus.
However, even if AKEL has no such intention, the impression of a cooperation agreement is a dangerous trap. DIKO has always operated as a clientele–type party and its support was largely based on the expectation of its members for rewards when the party was in power. The purges of Nicolas Papadopoulos left DIKO with even a smaller section of its followers remaining faithful without connecting their support to personal interests. For DIKO to be able to gain a substantial share of the vote, it absolutely needs the perspective of power. At this juncture, only the perspective of cooperation with AKEL can ensure this. By providing this perspective, in effect the Left throws a lifejacket to a party in decline. And the votes DIKO will get from this process will be, in their majority, votes that could have been won by AKEL. Opportunists who could choose between DIKO and DISY have long since been convinced that they will be better served if they choose the latter.
It is therefore important that there will be neither a real nor an ostensible perspective of cooperation between AKEL and DIKO in the presidential elections. It is important so that AKEL can formulate a policy that will give it the dynamics to increase its power base and influence and, at the same time, to take away from DIKO the opportunity to impose its disastrous policies, both regarding the economy and the Cyprus problem. The aim for the 2021 parliamentary elections must be a substantial increase of the Left vote. AKEL can achieve this if it continues its politics of principle, which on the one hand will inspire its members, followers and those around it and, on the other, gain voters who base their vote on the expected winner.
If, in contrast, AKEL tries to cooperate with DIKO “to get rid of the Anastasiades presidency”, the result may prove to be disastrous. An election battle that will not inspire its members and followers, a battle that will result in losing the respect and support of the people who believed the promise of the politics of principle, may lead to defeat and continuation of governance by DISY.
There are, fortunately, many indications that AKEL has not as yet decided to go down the path of abandoning principles for the sake of cooperation with DIKO. Its stance on migration is such an example and its brave position on the issue shows that it is not prepared to betray itself for the sake of an opportunistic cooperation deal. The common statement of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot parties and organisations on the Cyprus problem is another such action. It is positions and actions such as these that will lead the Left to victory and will assist it to overcome the challenges of the present times.
LEFT WING (ARISTERI PTERYGA)