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Christopher Hitchens, Hostage to History — Cyprus from the Ottomans to Kissinger

There is, to my mind, something fascinating and representative about the last half century of political history in Cyprus. Fascinating in the sense of political machinations operating naked and unreserved for all to see; and representative for the rest of us because it exemplifies quite succinctly the Ps and Qs of lite-imperial leverage as fomented by post-WW2 British decay and American ascendance – a formula of state/industrial interest and spin which results in cruel junta governments and massive loss of civilian life (whilst calling itself ‘friendly’ or ‘democratic’ or ‘freedom-loving’). There’s powers of patriotic nationalism and forceful intervention at work; of dirty geopolitical manoeuvres by large parties each working to a private and/or shifting imperial agenda irrespective of the Cypriot people’s needs or wishes. Amongst whom there was a relatively calm social/religious unity, now embittered and torn apart by these forces with the resultant loss of thousands of lives and a partitioning which sees no sign of abating.

It’s the particular failure of the US, the British, the Greeks and the Turks (in that order of influence) that Hitchens focuses on. He singles out Kissinger as the conniving, turncoated real-politician exploiting (or rather, indulging) first the junta Greek government which caused and directed the 1974 coup (and hence Turkey’s ‘protective’ invasion of the North), but he’s also clear in singling out the British handwashing that lay power at Kissinger’s shifting feet in the first place [which as an aside, could have made a forceful extrapolation of the Divide-n-Rule policy exercised by the Brits up into the 50s. This D&R kernel could be argued to have directly led to the four-way exploitation of the Cypriot situation that lead to the invasion. Add to which the background arms deals Nixon made with the Greek junta in exchange for campaign contributions, vis the anti-communist/Cold War power scheme envisaged for the Levant at the time, reflected in the still-active and immune military outposts on the island]. Rich… tapestries.

The chapter on the Greek junta period (‘Dragon’s Teeth’) is forceful and driven by Hitchensian conviction: in the sense that he expects trust for his collation and interpretation of the facts rather than providing well-sourced clarity or thoroughness in constructing the case. Which adds to my second gripe (irrelevant really in face of the book’s professed scope) in that Cyprus has always been conquered and ruled by outside forces, and that hence this frame is the best (if only) way to interpet the modern history as well, by examining purely the most recent batch of external powers in their plays for the island. Which is not to say that on the other hand, the native Cypriots were collusive engineers of their own doom (commonly implied in false reductios that the T.Cypriots and the Gr.Cypriots always fought or never got along), or were misled into accepting at face value the outsider’s promises and conditions; but for instance, it often glosses over how subtle and strangely counterproductive the politics of enosis really are/were from an internal point of view. The Hitch begins his account personably enough with the decisive hospitality, but I got the feeling he loses track of the ordinary people who were swept along by extreme politics and events of a nature intrinsically alien to them. A few humanising anecdotes could really have padded his journalism.With enosis especially (in the sense of the term used up to the 70s), I know there’s still a lot of smarting betrayal felt over the fact that Greece then (1974) did nothing to ‘aid’ the Gr.Cypriot rebuff of the Turkish invasion (the Turks, patient, waited for the right moment to act, aided by Kissinger’s sudden favour and the Greek junta’s collapse (cf. the hapless, destabilising coup on the island – related events); but it’s not often perceived how the Greek junta pretty much directly caused the whole invasion anyway, directing it from Athens with two Cypriot thugs at the helm (said thugs also playing significant roles in establishing the junta in the first place). Enosis then and therefore entailed a collusion with fascism – a fact lost on the Gr.Cypriots looking for such unification, or who now recall it fondly under the banner of EU ratification, washed of all past valence. The prelimenary steps leading to the Greek-sponsored coup of 1974 entailed EOKA-B’s ruthless elimination of non-enosis dissent from the island (which was then in a powersharing, independent phase with T.Cypriots, who got rightly antsy over the extremists. And I mean the worst kind of in-fighting and murder under the guise of national interests – Gr.Cypriots killing Gr.Cypriots). The Enosis rallying cry was before then also the cry against British occupation. How nationalism and independence ever got caught up with the idea of unification with Greece stems back to the language and culture of the majority of the population, but of course it did nothing for the idea of a unified and truly independent Cyprus, which to this day is still a strange and conflicted notion but which should, you’d think, be in the island’s best interest. The island never tasted independence long enough to form a steady sense of it: hence the continued internationalist perspective of the "Cyprus problem" and the continued draw of Hellenic unity. I was put in mind of this again recently by Churchill’s supreme role in the failed and devastating landings at Gallipoli, the necesity of which was only mildly tactically-relevant – imagine telling that to the bluebloods and royalists at the RSL: the greatest Briton sent you into slaughter on a mistaken but wilful whim. I’m just scratching, rather poorly too, at the manifold streams of politics that define the Cypriot struggles – it is a history incredibly dense and rife with disinformation and political slant slash sympathies and contradictions – said complexity the Hitch also glosses over for the sake of urgent declamatory power.

So then, Cyprus is ‘representative’ in the sense of nationalism breeding a peculiar blindness which provides cover for profound exploitations which directly contravene a nation’s (or a people’s) best interest. And thence to the bigger POV, or the shamelessly modern elements of the geopolitics involved: the casual meaninglessness of international treaties and sovereignty in the face of American influence and exploitation of divisive powers. Kindly manipulating foreign policy to suit its ‘friendly’ benefactors and selfish, presidential interests. The dismissive and direly cynical condescension of bigwigs over a little island. Kissinger, shuffling with unaccountable abandon [yes, I thought immediately of the current, switchable White House administration; but also of note is how damned infectious the Hitch’s crusade against the Kiss really is]. Mutual delusion and relative spin, betrayal, polite non-intervention whilst discreetly sanctioning ‘friendly’ interventions, shifting ideological and/or political goals… the basic punctuation of modern American foreign policy, methinks. And a broken, bewildered nation left to mop up the blood.

Hitchens provides some rather cursory additional prefaces which don’t really do much for the current situation re: the EU, except to note that Turkey’s desire for accession stretches way back. The entire book could do with a complete re-edit or re-think (there are several textual errors). I’m gonna add some additional comments when I actually finish the book. I just wanted to get the initial thoughts down. Cyprus is important. It is incredibly unfair to say this vis. the continuing problems, the past victims and the huge number of Cypriots who fled the island, but Cyprus is a test-case of how modern, Western foreign policy fails in the rawest terms, and reveals the cunning expediency of imperialism-lite. How the smaller a nation is, the stronger the efficacy of violence and manipulation is perceived by the greater powers. How the international community is revealed to be quite powerless on matters of nationhood and humanity. Cyprus can teach so much.

posted by rino breebaart  # 9:44 pm
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Alternatively, read about it at: The Slow Review or the long blog. Or even Nurture Health

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