Kýrmýzý ve Siyah, 13 Mayýs 2003

Eser Keskiner


The Role of the Left After a Solution - Re-thinking the Role of Political Parties (*)


Despite the abundance of political parties covering the whole spectrum in both parts of Cyprus, it is hard to talk about these as truly democratic institutions that are ready for the challenges of the twenty-first century. The extraordinary political conditions that have prevailed among both the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot communities throughout the period in which political parties have been in existence has meant that these parties spent most of their time and energy focusing on these unusual circumstances, creating, in this process, a political structure that is quite unique. The fact that the majority of domestic and international contacts were focused solely on these unique circumstances has driven the parties and the communities to political stagnation, bringing with it an unusual form of politicization among the Cypriot communities. During this period, while Cypriot life seemed to be dominated by politics, with the majority of people having allegiance to a political party, this allegiance was mostly not one of participatory membership, but that of blind-followership.

In this talk, I will try to offer a brief analysis of the influences of the Cyprus problem and the ideological roots of the left wing movements on the political atmosphere of the island and the organizational structures of the left wing movements respectively. I will argue for the necessity of breaking away from the decades-old paradigms both at the communal and the organizational level if the Cypriot community is to transform into a truly democratic one, capable of making significant contributions to the advancement of pursuit of democracy at the international level.

Cyprus Problem – A blanket on Cyprus’ problems?

The existence of organized political parties in Cyprus dates back to the beginning of the twentieth century. Whereas the first political party among the Greek Cypriots was an ideology-based one, the main focus of its politics soon shifted towards the nationalist discourse that was establishing its roots on the island and the parties established among both the Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots starting the 1940s were mainly mono-ethnic and their main way of distinguishing themselves from one another was their outlook on the Cyprus problem.

In the post-1974 era, while the number of political parties in both communities increased, the Cyprus problem resulted in significant clustering among groups of parties with similar approaches to the problem. The traumas of 1974 have hindered the development of a healthy political sphere in both communities. While all Greek Cypriot political parties were united under the umbrella of the National Council in issues concerning the Cyprus problem, the main division in the Turkish Cypriot political sphere was between those parties that were pro-solution and those that were the defenders of the division, with the differences in parties making up respective blocks mostly overlooked for the sake of the “greater cause”.

In analyzing the Greek Cypriot political environment in the post-1974 period, Caesar Mavratas uses the term “corporatism” to identify the emergence of “consensus politics” in the Greek Cypriot political life in this period. “This corporatism’s most anti-modern consequence”, he says, “is how it strifles critical independent thinking and is hostile to individualism”. He points out that “there appears to be a general reluctance to question accepted dogmas and to express individual opinions, with an implicit acceptance that only social groups and organized interests are legitimate sociopolitical actors.” Similar behavior vis-à-vis the political parties exists among the Turkish Cypriots too. People from both communities, rather than formulating their own solutions to a wealth of problems, opt to choose among the solutions proposed to them by others. In the case of the Cyprus problem, this has boiled down to two main approaches among Turkish Cypriots; and the official position formulated by the National Council among Greek Cypriots. Very little has existed beyond these formulations, and has mostly been unable to get attention. The presence of the Cyprus problem has more often than not been used as an excuse for “uniting” behind a given camp and has served in the de-politicization of the masses which gave in to the idea that it was to everyone’s interest to surrender to the authority of certain groups when it came to making critical decisions.

The lack of input from the public at large in formulating policies is in stark contrast with the amount of politicization that seems to exist – at least on the surface – in both communities. This politicization, which manifests itself in the open allegiance of a significant proportion of the population to a given political party, stems from the fact that nothing is accomplished unless you know “somebody” and this somebody more often than not is a person who has power in an organized political group. So, while party-followership is quite common in both communities, this takes the form of joining a group with the main motivation of having a group to look out for the personal interests in case of need.

The presence of Cyprus problem has also dominated the international relations of the political parties, which used their international contacts almost exclusively for lobbying for a solution to the Cyprus problem along their points of view. While this focus has enabled keeping the interest of the world on the Cyprus problem, it has resulted in the problem becoming the “comfort area” of the political parties as far as their international relations were concerned, and their involvement in international bodies was seen as a way of informing them of the details of the problem more than a way of getting involved with the problems that these bodies were dealing with at the international scale.

Internal Workings

While it is easy to understand the centralization of the decision-making process in the right wing parties, which profess the efficiency of hierarchical organizations and organize in a top-down scheme, one needs to examine the process more closely for the left-wing parties which preach freedom and democracy, yet function in a not too democratic fashion themselves.

All shades of the left that exist in the political arena in both communities borrow from Marxism in one way or another as far as their approach to organization is concerned. As such, they inherit the approach that positive change in communal life will take place through the coming to power of “the party”, and the party creating the conditions for change in a top-down way. In other words, they view the acquisition of power as a pre-requisite for being able to bring about change. When any positive change is seen as being at the monopoly of an organized body, this brings with it a lack of confidence in those outside the core of that body. The community at large is seen as insufficient, in need of being guided and being kept away from natural evils which would result if left to itself. The traditional Marxist doctrine sees the guidance of all those “unenlightened masses” by a group of “enlightened” leaders through a transitory period as a must towards the realization of a utopia. Positive change is seen as something to be realized in a “golden age” in the future, when the “party” has reached a position of power, and it can impose its truth on the masses, and sculpt the “perfect human being”.

However, the experience of almost a century of centralised bureaucracies has taught us that positive change can only occur with the voluntary participation of the individuals and groups of individuals, without force from above, and to the extent that individuals perceive and desire as necessary. If the advancement of society is going to be sustainable, this cannot be realized through the coming to power of a certain group with the claim to being the representative of the interests of the masses and imposing changes from above. As long as individuals do not act and realize change through their own free will, nothing can be achieved. What can be seen as gains under such circumstances would be nothing more than the result of forceful impositions and would barely be sustainable.

Change cannot be realized by sacrificing the individual to the collective either. If the individual, the holder of thoughts and emotions, is crafted to fit in to a collective, then that collective becomes nothing but a soulless entity. It needs to be realized that there is no “new human of the future” to be manufactured in the future upon the acquisition of power. There is only the all-alive human being of the present which contains within its existence all the potential and shortcomings for change. If that human being gets involved politically and takes ownership of his/her fate, he/she will want to change something and will do so. The evolution of the society will take place only through the sum of such individual changes. With that in mind, the left-wing parties should transform into schools of democracy where the individuals are given the tools to think and act for themselves, but not indoctrinated to be turned into cogs in a party machinery geared towards acquisition of power and imposition of its own truth to all else. This is one of the most crucial steps that the Cypriot left needs to take both in terms of helping transform the Cypriot political environment and also in providing the background for the contribution of Cypriots to political events in a more international context. The presence of an active civil community is the true guarantee of democracy, and the left-wing parties, if they are sincere in their preaching of democracy, should ease their grasp on all aspects of communal life and encourage the development of such bodies, even if it means the authority they enjoy will be eroded.

The presence of an active civil community is one of the pre-requisites for a democratic society. The majority of the extra-political organizations that exist in Cyprus, however, are in one way or another affiliated with political parties and these parties interfere with the internal functioning of these, turning them into arenas of political show-down. However, the independence of these bodies needs to be established for the flourishing of a truly democratic Cyprus. The state can swamp civil society. This has happened in the former regimes of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, leaving the individual without a shelter from overwhelming state power. If the Cypriot left is to establish itself as a credible democratizing force, it should rid itself of the disease of party-intervention in civil society.

With the political and technological developments that have made their mark on the world especially in the past few decades, the concept of state is also changing rapidly. In discussing the role of the state in the coming years, Anthony Giddens makes the following observations:

• The democratization of democracy first of all implies decentralization – but not as a one-way process. Rather than merely weakening the authority of the state, this process is the condition of reasserting that authority, since this movement can make it more responsive to the influences that otherwise flank it all around
• The state should expand the role of the public sphere, which means constitutional reform directed towards greater transparency and openness, as well as the introduction of new safeguards against corruption
• The downward pressure of globalization introduces not only the possibility but the necessity of forms of democracy, other than the orthodox voting process. Government can re-establish more direct contact with its citizens, and citizens with government through “experiments with democracy” – local direct democracy, electronic referanda, citizens’ juries and other possibilities

Following my previous argument that change can only occur gradually, I would like to argue that the above steps, rather that being put on the “list of actions to be taken once in power”, need to be taken at once within the existing political parties. Democratic participation should be actively encouraged, and the illusion of a central committee that knows the best for everyone be abandoned. If the left is to be able to make the claim that it will further democracy once in power, it first needs to set a precedent through its own functioning. The points put forward by Giddens, and many others, will come to life only through gradual acceptance in public life and the left owes it to its mission to prepare the people base for such changes starting today, if change is to be sustainable.

A truly democratic Cyprus will be possible only through everyday democratic participation of its citizens, and this requires the empowerment of the people to get involved in issues of significance in their lives. This change can be catalyzed through political parties, since, as already pointed out, they act as the main social bodies within Cypriot communities. However, it requires bold decisions to diffuse the power that is so concentrated in a few hands and a complete change of paradigm as far as the organization of the political parties is concerned.


With the solution of the Cyprus problem, the blanket which has served to cover all the undemocratic ways in which the Cypriot society is organized will be lifted. The Cypriots will also find themselves facing the world, without their major ammunition. A new politics will need to be developed to keep up with and to contribute to the discussions going on at the global scale. As members of the EU, the Cypriots will need to contribute to several critical processes. The new responsibilities cannot be met with the current centralized structures. The people basis for an active democracy needs to be built. The Cypriot left needs to rid itself of the dogmatic ideas it has borrowed from the past and realize that change is a continuous process and that a sustainable change is only possible through active involvement of people at all levels. Once the Cypriot left reforms itself, it will be well-positioned to contribute to the re-shaping of the Cypriot political sphere and to Cyprus taking its place in the global struggle to further democracy. As we all know, the problem with democracy is that it is not democratic enough, and we all have our fair share to contribute to the further democratization of democracy.

(*) Presented at the "Cyprus after a Solution - Left Policies" workshop organized by IKME and BILBAN on 10-11 May, 2003

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