By Rafaela Piyoti
A new round of UN-led negotiations on the Cyprus Problem is currently ongoing. Representatives from the UN have already held discussions with the leaders of both communities on the island, the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot, as well as with the Prime Ministers of Greece and the United Kingdom. But, as the official government of the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) is taking part in the peace negotiations, its legitimacy on the island is at stake. This is the result of a series of scandals that have been revealed in the last six months, to which the government has failed to successfully respond.
The first scandal was revealed by Al Jazeera on the 12th of October 2020, wherein they uncovered that the Cypriot government was selling passports to foreigners who had been previously engaged in illegal activities. After this ‘Golden Passports’ scandal emerged, additional accusations were made against the President of the RoC regarding his approach to the Cyprus Problem. Finally, unprecedented police violence was used on the 13th of February 2021 at a protest against corruption and state authoritarianism. These scandals have challenged the current government and with the parliamentary elections taking place next month, a change might be coming. Al Jazeera’s investigation into the Cyprus Investment Programme revealed that a number of senior Cypriot officials, businessmen and lawyers were involved in discussions with convicted criminals regarding ways to acquire Cypriot passports illicitly. As part of the investigation Al Jazeera revealed a video recording and what they referred to as The Cyprus Papers, more than 1000 leaked documents related to the Cyprus Investment Programme. The controversy became known as the ‘Golden Passports’ scandal and it led to the resignation of Demetris Syllouris, the Cypriot parliament speaker, and Christakis Giovani, a Cypriot MP.
In addition, the President of the RoC, Nicos Anastasiadis, was also accused of profiting from the ‘Golden Passports’ with his law firm amongst those mentioned in Al Jazeera’s investigati. However, according to Anastasiadis, he is not currently involved in its operation, it is instead being run by his children. Anastasiadis is additionally alleged to have travelled to the Seychelles with the private jet of a Saudi Arabian prince who has since acquired a Cypriot passport. Andreas Paraschos, the Cypriot journalist who accused Anastasiadis of receiving economic benefits from the scheme was forced to resign from his job. His resignation has been criticised as a violation of freedom of expression, a basic human right for any democratic government. Furthermore, following the ‘Golden Passports’ scandal, the European Commission has opened formal legal action against the RoC to decide whether the Cyprus Investment Programme was lawful or not. According to the European Commission, ‘Golden Passports’ raise concerns over money laundering and corruption which are prohibited in EU member states.
Paraschos’ accusations about the RoC’s President, however, did not stop at the ‘Golden Passports’ scandal. He revealed that Anastasiadis was considering the possibility of a two-state solution to the Cyprus Problem in a conversation he held with Alexis Tsipras, the Greek Prime Minister at the time, in which Paraschos was present. In support of Paraschos’ claims, the Cypriot Archbishop made a public announcement claiming that in a private conversation he had with the President, Anastasiadis claimed that a two-state solution could be favourable for the Cypriot economy which could continue operating programs like the Cyprus Investment Programme. To make things even worse, in an interview with a Cypriot newspaper, the former UN special envoy for the Cyprus Problem, Espen Barth Eide, has also referred to Anastasiadis’ support for a two-state solution. The RoC’s President defended himself by arguing that Eide has always shown a preference to promote Turkish interests and that’s the reason he spreads such ’unfounded fiction’.
As for Paraschos’ and the Archbishop’s claims, Anastasiadis dismissed their claims as gossip and said that his words have been misinterpreted. Nevertheless, following recent developments on the peace negotiations, Anastasiadis sent a letter with his recommendations about the new peace talks to the UN – the letter has not been made public.
The lack of transparency and the refusal of Anastasiadis to state publicly his opinion on the Cyprus Problem has only further angered Cypriots. NGOs and independent journalists on the island describe the current government of the RoC as an authoritarian regime, rather than a democratic government, and they continue to call for Anastasiadis to resign.
To show their opposition to the government, NGOs and non-profit organisations joined forces, and organised a protest– attended by several hundred people, in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, against corruption and state authoritarianism. The covid-19 pandemic and the economic impact of the measures taken by the government to limit the spread of the virus were used as a trigger for the protest, but the more fundamental cause was the dissatisfaction of the people with the government, in light of recent scandals.
According to people who took part, the protest had a peaceful character but once the police got involved to break up the demonstration violence sparked. The police used a water cannon and teargas against the protestors which resulted in several people being injured. One woman was hit by the water cannon and underwent an emergency surgery to save her eyesight. A lawyer who took part in the protest argued this constituted an unprecedented use of police violence on the island. The official statement of the government was that the police were deployed to stop the demonstration as it was violating the rules in relation to Covid-19.
There was no official statement, however, on what the government’s exact orders were and why the police showed such force against the protestors, some of which were families with children. An independent investigation committee has been formed to look into the extreme police violence incident. The organisers of the protest argue that the police brutality is evidence of the oppression that endangers not only the legitimacy of the current government but it is also an attack on democratic values.
The main consequence of these scandals has been a severe damaging of people’s trust in the government of the RoC. Al Jazeera’s investigation uncovered its economic corruption, accusations made by Paraschos revealed President Anastasiadis support of a two-state solution, and unprecedented police brutality made apparent its increasingly desperate attempts to cling onto power. As such, the President of the RoC must either apologise and become more transparent towards the Cypriot citizens, or else resign from his position.
Rafaela is a part-time MA student in the Conflict Resolution in Divided Societies programme at King’s College London. She received her BA in War Studies and Philosophy. She is a Staff Writer for the Shield and writes for a Cypriot newspaper. Currently, she is a Research Analyst for London Politica. Her main academic interest is on the role of intelligence in policymaking. She also has a passion for Human Rights and has interned at the Cyprus Refugee Council. Rafaella enjoys traveling and learning about new cultures in her free time.