This opinion piece has been prompted by the main article of the recent issue of the prestigious American journal Foreign Affairs (March/April 2008), The Clash of People – Why ethnic nationalism will drive politics for generations, by Jerry Muller; and how the themes he raises relate directly to several aspects of the Cyprus question.
J. Muller notes that there are two major approaches on which collective/national identities are based. First, the liberal approach which emphasises a common value system and includes all citizens in a state irrespective of their ethnic or racial background, language and/or religion. The American model constitutes the classic paradigm of this approach. The second approach is ethnonationalism, which is based on common heritage, ethnic identity, language, history and usually religion. It promotes the cohesion of states but at the same time it may lead to conflictual situations in biethnic and multiethnic states. This approach was and continues to be the most common across the world, including Europe, where, despite the overriding unifying influence of the European Union (EU), this model continues to be strong.
In his article, Muller refers to historical events in relation to ethnic cleansing and the creation of nation-states based on ethnonationalist pillars. He also notes that, unfortunately, the vicious circle of ethnonationalistic conflicts within states is not over and predicts that the 21st century will be characterised by such conflicts. According to Muller’s conclusions, if in the various bi-ethnic or multi-ethnic states ethnonationalism is predominant it will probably result in conflicts; furthermore, given such circumstances opting for partition may be the least painful solution. On the other hand, the author points out that the promotion of a liberal approach and of civic nationalism may prevent or contain conflict and, in the long run, provide added stability.
Muller’s article is directly relevant to several prime aspects of the Cyprus question. Most of the ideas and settlement blueprints that have been proposed over the years for Cyprus are based exclusively on ethnonationalistic criteria and are promoted in ways that generate strong reactions. Suffice to say that the Ghali Set of Ideas and the 2004 UN Plan were considered, at least by most Greek-Cypriots, worse than the 1960 constitution, (the outcome of the Zurich – London Agreements), which collapsed leading to inter-ethnic violence and subsequently to today’s status quo. If, therefore, these constitutional arrangements are to be implemented in Cyprus, they would, most likely, lead to more problems than those they seek to resolve.
We may also be reminded from different theoretical propositions, that federal models which are founded exclusively on the premise of ethnonationalism have a higher probability of failure than success. Indeed if we examine the recent experiences of the Balkans and of countries that are in fact in the heart of Europe (former Czechoslovakia and Belgium) this hypothesis is confirmed. On the other hand, federal models that respect ethnic communities as well as individual rights, while revolving around the concept of civic nationalism and a common core value system, have greater chances of success.
If the positions and conclusions put forward in the article The Clash of People – Why ethnic nationalism will drive politics for generations are valid, then we need to be very critical of any plan for Cyprus formulated exclusively on the premises of ethnonationalism since it will lead to a failure with unpredictable consequences. While the political leadership has the best intensions in promoting the reunification of the island, it is also important to take into consideration the different philosophical approaches as well as relevant experiences from elsewhere. Indeed, it is paramount to understand the dilemmas faced by bi-ethnic and multi-ethnic societies since good intentions alone do not constitute a sufficient enough precondition for the success of any political action.
In conclusion, the re-establishment of the unity of the economy, society, territory and of the state in Cyprus can only be promoted through an integrationalist federal model, which, while it would respect bi-communality it would not exclusively depend on it. Whatever has been proposed so far creates those conditions for the kind of conflicts that J. Muller predicts will consume global politics for generations to come.