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Opinion: Cyprus is Starting to Get its House in Order

With Cypriot leaders launching reunification talks DW's Peter Philipp welcomes the fact that the eastern Mediterranean island is finally sorting its problems out itself.

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Good will is always encouraging. But good will alone is rarely enough. In Cyprus, leaders from both the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot communities have demonstrated that they are indeed resolved to find a solution to the decades-old problems besetting this Mediterranean island. But their first meeting was mainly symbolic. In the future, meetings will take place once a week. One can imagine how long it will take before both sides reach any sort of agreement.

Even so, it is also encouraging that it was the Greek and Turkish Cypriots themselves who initiated the talks. The United Nations merely plays host in the international buffer zone at Nicosia airport. The EU, meanwhile, welcomes the negotiations but knows full well that they have their limitations, given disagreements even within the respective parties -- the same disagreements that stalled previous talks.

Devil in the details

And once again, the devil will be in the detail -- even with Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias, representing the Greek Cypriot community, and his Turkish counterpart cheerfully stating their "common will and common desire."

Key to this is an awareness that the clocks cannot be turned back thirty or more years, and that the vision of a united Cyprus remains a dream that proved unrealistic soon after the founding of the republic of Cyprus.

The Turkish Cypriots have always been a minority, and they cannot demand the same rights to power enjoyed by the majority. Their rights can, however, be protected in the largely autonomous Turkish part of Northern Cyprus, led -- like Greek southern Cyprus -- by a weak central government.

Peter Philipp

Peter Philipp

So far, so good. But then come the details that could jeopardize this consensus: The Greek Cypriots are calling for the withdrawal of the 40,000 Turkish troops stationed in northern Cyprus and the 100,000 settlers who were shipped from the mainland to Cyprus after 1974. The Turks refuse.

Any return of Greek Cypriots to the North is seen as an equally unlikely option. Compensation claims made by both sides for the suffering of the last 48 years could also undo this fragile progress.

Examples abroad

The Cyprus question illustrates what happens when the ethnic and religious rights of minorities take on a political dimension. There are many other similar examples, from Iraq to the former Yugoslavia. But Cyprus also illustrates the importance of reconciling long-acknowledged political necessities and compromises -- painful to some as they may be -- with personal feelings, and of not always insisting on revenge and recompense.

Ultimately, Cyprus also illustrates what damage outside influence can cause. The British fanned the flames of animosity between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots, with Greece believing it could sink its claws into Cyprus and Turkey responding with Invasion and occupation.

Most of the time, the Cypriots are never asked, but merely instrumentalized. And that is why we should welcome their attempts to solve their problems by themselves.

Peter Philipp is Deutsche Welle's chief correspondent. (jp)

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