Konuk Yazar, 1 Mart 2004

Hubert Faustmann, Ass. Prof. of International Relations, Intercollege, Cyprus


The Reunification process in Germany: Similarities and Differences with regard to Cyprus (*)

The Divisions of Germany and Cyprus: Parallelen, Differences and Lessons from the German experience

The Reunification process in Germany:

Similarities and Differences with regard to Cyprus (*)


Hubert Faustmann, Ass. Prof. of International Relations, Intercollege, Cyprus

Email: hfaustmann@hotmail.com


(*)Paper presented at a Symposium on Aspects of the Reunification in Germany and Cyprus, Goethe Zentrum, Nicosia, 28 February 2004.



I would like to begin this presentation with some remarks about the limitations of any political or historical comparative analysis. All historical events are unique and only within the framework of their uniqueness one should look for similarities to or draw lessons for other historical events or ongoing political processes. Moreover, historical experiences in one country cannot simply be transferred to another. Just because something worked or did not work under specific circumstances in one place, does not mean that it will work or fail under inevitably different circumstances in another. Any observation of historical or political similarity or the simple transfer of experiences is inevitably limited by the differences between the issues and countries. This applies clearly to my topic since the differences between the history of the division of Germany and Cyprus as well as the problems of reunification are by far greater than the similarities. Therefore, many – but not all – similarities become less significant given the very different context in which the division but also the reunification of both countries took place or, in the case of Cyprus, will take place. Nevertheless, I also believe that there are some elements in the division and reunification of Germany whose analysis might be of interest to a Cypriot audience and are worth the attention of Cypriots reflecting about their own division and reunification.

It should also be stated that the basis for the comparison in the case of Cyprus is a solution as envisaged in the current version of the Annan plan, so the analysis is subject to a certain degree of speculation since we do no know if and when Cyprus will be reunified and what the framework for this reunification will precisely look like.


The Division of Germany and Cyprus in Historical Perspective

The reunification process in both countries was or in the case of Cyprus will be strongly influenced by the causes for their division. Germany was divided following its occupation by the four victorious powers after losing the Second World War, in the course of which it had attacked almost all its neighbours and committed atrocities unprecedented in the history of mankind. While Germany’s crimes might have warranted its division in the eyes of the international community, this division was ironically more of a historical accident than the outcome of a political agreement or long term plan. The disagreement about the future of Germany in connection with the developing Cold War gradually transformed the four temporary allied occupation zones into two permanently divided states in 1949.

Cyprus was divided 25 years later than Germany. In 1974, a failed coup d’etat against President Makarios organised by the Greek Junta in Athens triggered the invasion and partial occupation of the island by Turkish forces. While in both cases the actual division was a result of successful military invasions from outside powers, the prehistory and reasons for the division of Cyprus are very different from those of Germany. The division of Cyprus is the outcome of a local, unresolved and violent conflict between two different ethnic groups with mutually exclusive national aspirations in which two hostile outside “mother countries” with their own agendas got involved. Moreover, unlike Germany, partition had been the political goal of a part of the Cypriot population: the Turkish Cypriots. Turkey shared the partitionist agenda adopted by the Turkish Cypriot leadership in the late 1950s and both had returned to it after the breakdown of the constitutional order in 1963 following a Greek Cypriot attempt to overcome the London/Zurich agreements.

Moreover, the division of 1974 had been preceded by an increasing separation between Greek and Turkish Cypriots on a local level in the 1950s and on a much larger scale in the years after 1963. During this period the participation of Turkish politicians in the government ended and about half of the Turkish Cypriot community fled into small enclaves in which they created their own administrations. After the successful invasion in 1974, Turkey and the leadership of the Turkish Cypriots gradually realised their old political goal of separation which they justified with the Greek Cypriot violations of the 1960s agreement and the atrocities committed since then. In 1983, they declared their newly created entity an independent state which failed to become recognised by any state other than Turkey.


The Legacy of Division

Next to the reasons that led to the division of both countries, some obstacles to reunification both countries face were created during the period of division itself. This was to a much larger extent the case in Germany than in Cyprus.

After the division, the two parts of Germany were quickly integrated into the respective Western and Eastern military and political blocs. The ideological hostility between both camps was imported into the two areas of Germany, gradually adopted by parts of the population and openly practised by the political elites. This is particularly remarkable given that prior to 1949 the Germans on both sides of the Iron Curtain did not have any experience of conflict, different ideological preferences or a distinct identity as East or West Germans. Most of all, they had not had the wish to be separated from each other. The process of alienation in Germany - but also in Cyprus - was reinforced by a conscious policy of one side to limit or prevent contacts between the ordinary people: the East German government in Germany and the Turkish Cypriot leadership in Cyprus. In Germany, the complete separation of the two peoples imposed by outside powers was finalised with the building of the Berlin wall in 1961. Crossing from East to West was almost impossible with the notable exception of pensioners and for members of divided families who occasionally got permission to attend weddings or funerals in the West. West Germans could travel to East Germany though only those with relatives on the other side or those living close to the border would regularly do so. The mass of the East Germans had therefore after 1961 not or very rarely been to the West and met West Germans only as visitors. Reinforced by the long period of division and ideological separation, alienation was gradually effected. When the wall came down in 1989, the youngest Germans who could remember a common past and a united country were more than 50 years old. In contrast to the official view expressed by the politicians, East Germany had become a foreign and in the minds of many hostile country to most West Germans. Conversely, the same perception was shared, albeit to a lesser degree, by East Germans. In the 1980s, most West German politicians were only paying lip service to the desire for reunification while the East German regime had officially given up on it completely. By 1989, the majority of the German population on both sides had accepted the permanent division as an irreversible situation.

In contrast to Germany, alienation between the two ethnic groups in Cyprus had set in long before 1974. The division of 1974 built on the history of violence and increasing ethnic separation between both sides during the late 1950s and the years since 1963. The traumatic experiences and massacres in 1974 encountered by both sides combined with a brutal policy of ethnic cleansing conducted by the invading Turkish army led to complete separation. The Greek Cypriots were mourning the loss of 37% of the island’s territory and were prevented from returning to the northern part of the island even as visitors until April last year. The majority of Turkish Cypriots welcomed the separation after a period of political repression in 1974. Thirty years have passed since then and until last year young Cypriots grew up separated from each other in an atmosphere of conflict and predominantly negative images of the “other”. The youngest Cypriots who have a memory of a unified island are already in their mid-thirties i.e. about half of the population have no recollection or personal experience of living with members of the other community. Those who still remember the “good old times” of intercommunal harmony are more than 65 years old. In contrast to Germany, the long period of separation as well as the traumatic experiences of both sides might have not only negative but also positive effects. Those who committed atrocities have grown older and hopefully wiser and there is overwhelming agreement on both sides not to allow a repetition of the violence of the past. There is a good chance, though no guarantee, that organised violence is not a serious option for Cypriots after reunification.

Another striking similarity between Cyprus and Germany during the period of separation is the struggle for state recognition or non-recognition.

On a state level, West Germany refused to recognise East Germany as a (foreign) state and it claimed to represent Germany as a whole. The East German government insisted on the existence of two sovereign and independent German states. The West German Hallstein doctrine from 1955 threatened any country outside the communist bloc with the end of diplomatic relations should they recognise East Germany, a policy that was gradually abandoned during the 1960s and 1970s. The West German government continued not to fully recognise East Germany as a sovereign and independent state until the end of German division though the West finally recognised East Germany in 1973 (USA 1974) and both Germanies became members of the UN the same year.

The Greek Cypriot government of the Republic of Cyprus has been by far more successful than the West German government in its attempts to prevent the recognition of the smaller entity. For the Greek Cypriot side, the non-recognition of the “TRNC” by any state but Turkey is (next to its guaranteed EU-membership) still the strongest trump card it possesses. The reasons for this Greek Cypriot success are rather obvious. An internationally condemned invasion resulting in a declaration of independence of the conquered territory by an ethnic minority, which the international community again condemned, provides a very weak starting point for international recognition. The reasons for the West German failure also lay in the historical context and the international perception of its division. There were four countries directly involved in the division of Germany and the members of the newly formed Cold War alliances immediately recognised the part of Germany belonging to their camp though not recognising at least for a number of years the legitimacy of the other. Moreover, many allies of West Germany had an interest in the continuation of the division of the country and rather gladly legalised it in the 1970s.


Reasons for the End of the Division in Germany (and Cyprus?)

In both cases, the smaller entities (i.e. East Germany and the “TRNC”) encountered problems that undermined the existence and legitimacy of their existence despite the attempts of their governments to sustain the division.

Neither East Germany nor the “TRNC” gained stability out of their relative wealth but were destabilised by their relative poverty. East Germany had the highest standard of living in the communist bloc and in the north the standard of living is (or at least used to be) considerably higher than in Turkey. In both cases, the people did not take pride in their relative wealth but compared themselves with their richer counterparts on the other side of the divide. The prospect of prosperity became the most powerful motive for reunification among the inhabitants of the poorer entities. East Germans wanted the standard of living of the West Germans, Turkish Cypriots desire the standard of living of the Greek Cypriots and the advantages of their European Union membership.

Both regimes in the weaker entities had internal legitimacy deficits which provided incentives for reunification. Many East Germans always disliked the oppressive dictatorship and Soviet domination but once their government refused to follow the reforms of Gorbachev after 1985 it lost any remaining legitimacy in the eyes of the vast majority of the population. In the north, a growing part of the Turkish Cypriot community rejects the democratic deficits, Turkey’s domination and the settlement policy which has turned them into a minority within their own land. However, an important difference here is that in the case of the Turkish Cypriots, the mass support for politicians who want an end to the division even it this means the end of the “TRNC” is rather recent. Originally, the majority were in favour of the division, separation and the establishment of a separate state. In the last years, a growing number changed their way of thinking for the above mentioned reasons and are willing to sacrifice their state for a federal status.

Both weaker states could or can only exist as long as their existence was guaranteed by the ideological, or in the case of Cyprus, ethnic “mother country”. In both cases the guarantor power underwent substantial reforms which resulted in a complete or in the case of Cyprus partial withdrawal of the guarantee. The moment this guarantee was withdrawn - by Gorbachev in 1989 and possibly Erdogan in 2004 – both ruling regimes could not or will not be able to sustain themselves. However, an important difference here is that the majority of Turkish Cypriots backed by Turkey insist on maximum sovereignty within a strong Turkish Cypriot federal state with a large degree of autonomy and a weak central government.

In both cases a desire in parts of the population to overcome the “artificial” division and be reunited with their compatriots played an important but not predominant role. This sentiment was “purer” in Germany than in Cyprus given the absence of a violent prehistory in the former. In Cyprus, the conflict of the past still provides powerful incentives for maintaining the separation. Moreover, Greek Cypriots may feel that reunification will take place in an “unjust” framework which considerably lessens their enthusiasm about this prospect.

Another similarity between Germany and Cyprus is that security issues have or had to be successfully addressed as a prerequisite for reunification. However, the security concerns in both cases are very different in nature. In the case of Germany, there were no security concerns between the two German peoples but security concerns in relation to Germany’s neighbours which were addressed successfully. Cyprus poses no threat to the outside world but there are serious security concerns between the two communities and their mother countries. These fears need to be pacified in a settlement.

In substance, a striking similarity between the end of the German and possibly the Cypriot division is the desire of the majority of the indigenous population in the smaller entity to get rid off the poorer and politically more oppressive regime in order to unify with the richer and more democratic state. Another similarity is the considerably lower degree of enthusiasm in large parts of the population on the other side of the divide to reunify for very different reasons. In West Germany this was not the view of the majority but objections to reunification were raised by certain circles particularly on the political left. Whether or not a majority of Greek Cypriots support a reunification within the framework of the Annan plan, which most perceive as unjust, remains to be seen.


The German Reunification Experience: Are there any lessons for Cyprus?

One of the disturbing results of the division of Germany is the creation of two new identities for which there are no roots in the country’s history prior to 1949. Forty years of division were enough to create “Wessis”(West Germans) who in the eyes of foreigners (but also many West Germans) are first class Germans and “Ossis” (East Germans), a species treated with less respect also abroad.

The social, political and economic inferiority of one side is a striking parallel between the reunification of Germany and Cyprus. The reunification of Germany was very much a take over of East Germany by West Germany something the Turkish side is adamant to avoid. Its constitution, economic order and political system were simply transferred to East Germany. In contrast to Cyprus, this was something East Germans had been longing for and for which no serious alternative existed. However, the stigma of economic, political and social inferiority which was attached to East Germans combined with a rather clumsy West German “we-know-and-have-done-everything-better-than-you” approach created hostility and reinforced the two different identities Germans had adopted. The existing feeling of inferiority was reinforced by a West German superiority discourse to which many East Germans responded with psychological self-defence mechanisms. Once East Germans were confronted with the dismemberment of their economy and an “everything-you-have-done-is-worthless-and-inferior” approach, many rallied around a nostalgia for the “good old GDR” and praised alleged or real achievements like the better child care system or the greater helpfulness of East Germans. The new clichés of the arrogant Wessi meeting the ungrateful Ossi were soon born and are still played out in many regularly disharmonious encounters between Germans from both sides once they start talking about the past.

There is some resemblance here to the case of Cyprus. The traditional self-perception of Greek Cypriots to be materially, educationally and socially “superior” is still widespread and resented bitterly by the Turkish Cypriots. Since in both the East German and the Turkish Cypriot cases the “inferiority” is also a historical reality, similar tensions are guaranteed. Moreover, the struggle for political but also economic and social equality - and therefore respect as equals from the Greek Cypriots - is a core element of the Cyprus dispute from a Turkish Cypriot perspective. Notions of superiority and inferiority will be one source of tension after the reunification. Awareness of the sensitivities of the other on both sides might help to limit the bitterness created by such a discourse. It did not work too well in Germany and I am not too optimistic in the case of Cyprus either.

In the years after German reunification, the notions of West German superiority and East German inferiority were reinforced. The East German economy, largely taken over by Western competitors, was in many cases judged as non-competitive and was simply dismantled. The living standards and salaries in former East Germany are still lower than in the West. This – though economically probably necessary - is the source of a lot of bitterness for many East Germans. Unemployment is more than double as high as in the West trailing around 20%. Large parts of East Germany have been de-industrialised and mass emigration to the West has occurred resulting in a “brain drain” of the young and the best. At the same time, West Germany transfers huge amounts to East Germany trying to fulfil the constitutional demand for equal standards of living. The total amount of money paid by the West for the East since 1989 had been about 900 billion Euro. In the next 15 years (2005 – 2019) at least another 105 billion Euro will be paid. This created and will continue to create much resentment in West Germany.

A reunified Cyprus is very likely to face similar problems though the Turkish side is currently struggling to ensure similar standards of living and an equal economic standing. It is probably an easier task to improve the living standards of up to 200.000 Turkish Cypriots and Turks living in a small area with good economic prospects than those of 17 million East Germans spread in a large area with big structural economic difficulties. However, inequality is likely in the case of Cyprus and probably unavoidable. Moreover, the transfer of funds from the south to the north will create by far more resentment than in West Germany. The more international donors will pay and the less Greek Cypriots feel they have to pay for people “living in their houses” under an “unjust” settlement, the less damaging this element will become for the reunification process on this island.

Before concluding, I would like to mention an issue where the German experience probably offers most for analysts dealing with Cyprus: the property issue. About two million claims were made by Germans in order to get compensation for lost property in the East or in order to get their property back which was either nationalised by the Soviet Union after the war or confiscated during Communist rule. Though the property issue is less contentious than in Cyprus it was and still is one of the most contentious issues within Germany. Unlike the case of Cyprus, it did not jeopardise the project of reunification, but there are many parallels and similar moral and legal problems in the German case which make a comparative analysis a rewarding task. However, this topic will be presented by another speaker in this conference later on.

The last issue I want to address is that of federalism. Germany is and Cyprus will be a federal state. But again the differences here are much bigger than this formal similarity. For Germans, federalism is viewed as positive and as a suitable form of government. It evolved out of a long history of independence of different sovereign German states and resulted in various federal arrangements after the foundation of Germany as a nation state in 1871. East Germans warmly welcomed the recreation of their federal states after the end of the Communist regime. Cyprus has no historical experience with federalism and in particular many Greek Cypriots have great difficulties accepting a federal system which is not viewed as just or functional. Moreover, German federalism is based on a strong central government though a complex system of fusion of powers ensures a considerable joint influence of the 16 federal states on many aspects of law making on a central level. The central government will be considerably weaker in Cyprus and the ethnically different composition of both federal states gives the entire federal system a different character which will make the functioning of the federal system more difficult.



Is the reunification of Germany a success? From an outside perspective the answer is a clear yes, but many Germans are less sure. For East Germans many aspects of reunification proved to be rather traumatic and the problematic legacy of the division is still present almost 14 years after reunification. However, no significant group in Germany wants the division back and this applies to both East and West Germans.

Is the reunification of Cyprus going to be a success? I don’t know. The chances are better than in 1960 since the majority of Cypriots on both sides seem to have learned some lessons from the past and are determined to prevent a repetition. But to overcome the legacy of ethnic conflict and strife in Cyprus is a very different task than the reunification of two ethnically identical peoples in Germany. It will take the determination of the people and leadership from both communities to make the new system work. If this determination is not there then Cyprus is in for trouble and possibly division - again.

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