The opening of Ledra Street 45 years after it was first closed constitutes a significant confidence building measure while at the same time it entails a strong symbolism for the prospect of the reunification of Nicosia and Cyprus. Nevertheless we should maintain a comprehensive understanding of the issues under consideration.
When in April 2003 a unilateral partial lifting of the obstacles to free movement on both sides of the Green Line by the Turkish-Cypriot regime (with the consent of Ankara) took place, a climate of jubilation ensued. It is indicative that many compared with the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
But while in the case of Germany what took place was really the reunification of the country, in Cyprus events led to the strengthening of the Turkish-Cypriot regime, economically, socially and politically. At the same time a major pillar of Turkish policy – that Greek and Turkish Cypriots could not live together, and thereby the position that strict bizonality, or even complete separation, was necessary – collapsed.
The Republic of Cyprus failed to take advantage of the new developments. Instead, it watched and followed, in fact, rather clumsily. It did not take the initiative to put forward fundamental guidelines for the solution of the Cyprus question as well as suggestions for additional substantive confidence building measures.
In the case of the reopening of Ledra street, while the positive developments and the new climate are acknowledged, it should not escape our attention that the message sent beyond Cyprus is that there has been a major step towards a comprehensive solution of the Cyprus problem. But is this so?
In this regard it should be noted that government officials and other politicians, while underlining the importance of the opening of Ledra street, were very reserved in their statements. By definition, at the end of the day, it is the content of the solution that matters. And developments taking place, including the opening of Ledra street, will be assessed according to this particular criterion.
Unfortunately, during the past 5 years the unilateral and other confidence building measures took place in a way that were more beneficial for the Turkish side. Following April 2003 there has been a major injection to the economy of the northern part of Cyprus, an opening of the Turkish Cypriot community to the rest of the world (despite continued claims of Turkish-Cypriot isolation), and as of April 2004 an intensification of the exploitation of Greek-Cypriot properties. And all these happened without any tangible rewards for the Greek Cypriots, the majority of whom continue to believe that Turkish intransigence remains unchanged.
What is important for this new era that we have entered is the further improvement of the good climate in bicommununal relations. But to sustain and build on this climate it is essential that we have progress in the substance of the Cyprus problem as well as solid benefits for the Greek-Cypriot community. In this regard, the opening of the Limnitis crossing and the return of the fenced city of Famagusta are especially important. Such steps would be extremely important, and would create a great deal of political capital for the way forward.
In any case, there are great expectations following the election of Mr. Christofias as President of the Republic and from the opening of Ledra Street. At the same time though, it is important to follow events in Turkey and their possible repercussions on the Cyprus problem. As has already been noted, the Republic of Cyprus must seriously assess the possibility of putting forward guidelines for the solution Cyprus problem. These guidelines should rely on the historical compromise of federation and the principles of European political culture.
Such a move may be essential given the current political environment as several powers are keen to see a solution to the Cyprus problem to facilitate Turkey in its European ambitions and at the same time solve any problems created between the EU, Turkey and NATO. This international interest constitutes a positive and welcome development provided that in addition to the solution of broader issues and facilitating Turkey, attention will also be paid to the real needs of the Republic of Cyprus; in other words, the reestablishment of the unity of the country.