By a New Worker correspondent
That was the slogan that greeted representatives from communist parties all over the world, including NCP leader Andy Brooks, who came to Cyprus last month to join their Cypriot comrades taking part in the 21st Congress of the Progressive Party of the Working People (AKEL) that began in Nicosia on 25th November.
AKEL was founded in 1941 but it has a much longer history as it is the direct heir of the old Communist Party of Cyprus (KKK) that was established in 1926 and later banned by the British colonial authorities. Following independence in 1960 AKEL struggled to defend the island from imperialist plots that culminated in the 1974 coup organised by the reactionary Greek military junta that gave Turkey the pretext to invade and occupy northern Cyprus.
AKEL has maintained warm relations with virtually all the communist parties throughout the turbulent history of the world communist movement so it was no surprise to see that the number of fraternal delegations at this Congress was almost equal to that of the annual conference of communist and workers’ parties itself.
Over a hundred fraternal observers representing 67 parties and movements took part in the Congress and an AKEL sponsored conference on the struggle of the left and the struggles of the peoples for world peace and security against the imperialist order. Major communist parties were in the hall including delegations from People’s China, Cuba and Vietnam, the Syrian Arab Socialist Renaissance Party (Baath) as well as some parties of the European Left movement including the Dutch Socialists and the German Left. All the parliamentary parties in Greece and Cyprus were represented at the Congress and the Greek visitors included deputy premier Theodoros Pangalos from the governing social-democratic PASOK movement, Aleka Papariga from the Greek communist party (KKE), the opposition conservative New Democracy and the far-right LAOS movement.
AKEL is a mass party with nearly 15,000 members out of population of 670,000 in the free south of the island and membership has increased by 800 plus since the last Congress in 2005. The membership was reflected in the numbers of delegates taking part in the Congress. Over 1,400 full delegates including a number from AKEL overseas branches in Britain and Greece took part in the debates and votes over the long Congress weekend.
AKEL formed a left-leaning government after it won the Cyprus parliamentary elections in 2006 and its then leader, Dimitris Christofias, won the presidential race in 2008. But AKEL’s leaders stress that it is a “governing” – not a “ruling” party. Though the coalition is committed to social justice it is administering the economy rather than steering it towards socialist reform. Amongst other things this is largely because no major advances can be made while the island remains divided and occupied by Turkish forces. The end of partition and the restoration of a united republic with full rights for both the Turkish and Greek communities is the paramount objective of AKEL and its allies.
Nicosia is now the only divided capital in the world and the continuing division of the island, of course, dominated much of the Congress. The Turkish government publicly says that it will never betray the interests of the Turkish Cypriot community to obtain admission into the European Union. But everybody knows they would if that was the price to pay to join the European club and everybody also knows that Turkey’s accession is as far away as ever in these days of slump.
If the Turks were seriously concerned about the fate of the Turkish Cypriots they would have done more to preserve their community in northern Cyprus rather than seeing it evaporate over the years through immigration. Though the ethnic balance is maintained through immigration from the poorest parts of Turkey about half the original Turkish Cypriot population now live in Britain and other parts of the European Union while the rest are outnumbered by Turkish immigrants encouraged to settle since the invasion in 1974.
Turkey occupies 36 per cent of the island which is administered by “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” – a phantom state governed by Turkish Cypriot leaders and recognised by no-one apart from Turkey itself. Real power lies with the Turkish “ambassador” and the 40,000 Turkish troops based in the north. Some 200,000 Greek Cypriots were driven out of their homes after the invasion while 50,000 Turkish Cypriots were incited to move to the north.
In 2004 the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities voted on a United Nations plan to end partition. It was accepted by the Turkish Cypriots but rejected by the Greek community, largely because it met more Turkish requirements but failed to meet core Greek demands. Talks between the two communities continue but no-one expects a breakthrough unless there is a dramatic change of policy in Turkey.
Of all the predominantly Greek Cypriot parties AKEL has the best credentials for negotiating with the Turkish Cypriot community. The Cypriot communist movement has always fought against nationalism and chauvinism. The Party has Turkish Cypriot members and from the very beginning the Cypriot communist movement worked to end ethnic divisions to build united unions and a united working class. AKEL considers that the Cyprus problem should be resolved on the basis of the UN resolutions based in the framework of a bizonal and bicommunal federation with a single sovereignty, single international personality and single citizenship, with the human rights and freedoms of all Cypriots guaranteed. AKEL calls for an end to the Turkish occupation and the demilitarisation of the island and the closure of the British, Turkish and Greek bases.
The AKEL leadership does acknowledge that the current Islamic-leaning Turkish government is more realistic than the old guard parties that had dominated Turkish politics for the past 60 years. More check-points have been opened along the cease-fire line making it easier for Turkish Cypriots to look for work in the more prosperous south and making it easier for southerners and tourists to visit the north of the island.
But the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which came to power in 2002, has its own agenda that focuses on the restoration Islamic practices outlawed by General Mustafa Kemal, the founder of modern secular Turkey who ruled the country from 1923 until his death in 1938. The AKP government kept Turkey out of the Iraq war and it has developed closer ties with its Arab neighbours including the Palestinians. At the same time Turkey has sought to strengthen its position as the eastern flank of Nato to establish itself as the major power in the eastern Mediterranean.
Delegates also pondered on the impact of the global slump and the actions that the AKEL-led government has to take to deal with the crisis. Though Cyprus was better placed to withstand the storm the largely tourist dependent economy has been hit by a five per cent drop in visitors which has had a knock-on effect on the property market. The government is hoping that increased tourism from Russia will fill the gap but it is also planning to curtail the civil service payroll and raise taxes on a number of products, including medicines and foodstuffs to slash the deficit and achieve the EU goal of 4.5 per cent of GDP by the end of 2011. This isn’t enough for the right-wing opposition which wants sweeping cuts in the public sector and more incentives for the market economy and the issue will be fiercely argued during next year’s parliamentary and local elections.
The Cypriot communist movement has thrived despite all the twists and turns within the communist movement. A revisionist, liquidationist trend was defeated in the late 1980s when huge parties, millions strong were collapsing in the people’s democracies of eastern Europe. AKEL has become the leading player in the Cyprus parliament working together with other democratic forces to defend working people and foster peace and reconciliation with the Turkish community. AKEL has established links with some left social-democratic parties in Europe while continuing to play an important role in the network of communist and workers parties because it has retained the ideology of Marxism-Leninism and the long-term objective for the socialist transformation of Cypriot society. There can be little doubt that AKEL will continue to defend and advance the interests of the working people of Cyprus from both the Greek and Turkish communities in the years to come.