History was made on Sunday 24 February 2008 when the people of Cyprus elected Comrade Demetris Christofias, General Secretary of the Progressive Party of the Working People of Cyprus (AKEL), to be the only communist head of state in the European Union (EU).
In a second-round ballot, Christofias defeated his right-wing rival, taking 53.36 percent of valid votes. This was the first time in its history that AKEL had put forward its own presidential candidate.
Divide and rule
AKEL won support for its policies to improve living standards for the working people and to make real progress in achieving national reunification. The Mediterranean island state, a former British colony, is presently divided between an independent republic in the south, in which Greek speakers predominate, and the so-called ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’, which is recognised as a separate state by no country except Turkey.
During its colonial occupation, British imperialism played its usual game of ‘divide and rule’, pitting the Greek and Turkish communities against one another. Although forced to concede independence in 1960, following an armed struggle that began in 1955, British imperialism still maintains two ‘sovereign military bases’ at Akrotiri and Dhekelia, which play an important role in imperialism’s regional wars, such as that against Iraq, as well as acting as an intelligence ‘listening post’ throughout the region.
The country has been partitioned since 1974, when Greek chauvinist supporters of US imperialism and the then fascist military junta in Athens staged a coup, overthrowing the non-aligned and anti-imperialist government of Archbishop Makarios.
In response, Turkish troops invaded the north of the island and established a breakaway state. The national economy of Cyprus was devastated, thousands of refugees were driven from their homes, and more than 30,000 Turkish troops still occupy the north of the island. With US and British imperialism pulling the strings behind the scenes, the partition of Cyprus resulted in precisely the “carnival of reaction” that James Connolly so accurately predicted would be the outcome of partition in Ireland.
Fight for reunification
Since partition, AKEL has been the only major party on the island to rise above sterile and communal nationalism to promote the interests of the nation as a whole and those of working people in town and country, independent of ethnicity.
The influential Orthodox Church had called on Cypriots to vote against Christofias, and reactionary forces had attempted to whip up a wave of anti-communist hysteria in the days before polling. However, in electing Christofias, the Cypriot people demonstrated their political wisdom and maturity and gave a fitting rebuff to the reactionaries.
At his victory rally, held in a football stadium packed with thousands of cheering supporters, including many Turkish Cypriots who had crossed over the ‘Green Line’ dividing north from south, waving flags and portraits of Che Guevara, Christofias vowed to fight for a just settlement and called on Turkish Cypriots to cooperate for the common goal:
“As President of the Republic of Cyprus, I have the responsibility of uniting and representing all the citizens.”
“We have a clear vision, a vision to reunite our Cyprus,” he added, pledging to turn the country into a “happy homeland for all its children, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots”.
Reporting the rally, the Financial Times described the crowd as “waving as many red flags as Cypriot ones”.
Formally assuming office on 28 February, Christofias pledged that his government’s top priority would be reunification. To ensure a stable majority, AKEL has formed a coalition with smaller nationalist and socialist parties.
He assured his Turkish compatriots that he would work to let them enjoy “all the rights as equal citizens of a united federal Republic of Cyprus”.
However, he added, this could not take place “at the expense of the rights of the Greek Cypriot and of our Maronite, Armenian and Latin compatriots.
He admitted that expectation was very high in the Turkish Cypriot community regarding the search for a mutually acceptable solution, but added that a lot also depended on Turkey and on the leaders of the Turkish Cypriots.
Besides pursuing reunification, he said that his government would work to build a strong economy and would prioritise education, health, culture, sports, the environment and sustainable development.
Christofias’s government intends to move fast, with a meeting with the Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat planned to take place before the end of March. New foreign minister Markos Kyprianou said that he expected this meeting to lead to the tearing down of the wall that presently divides Ledra Street, the main street in the capital, Nicosia.
Christofias was born in 1946 and studied history in Moscow, where he received a doctorate from the Soviet Union’s Academy of Social Sciences. He joined AKEL in his youth and was elected general secretary in 1988. He was the Speaker of Parliament until elected as President.
AKEL changed its name from the Communist Party after it was outlawed by the British in the anti-colonial struggle in the 1930s. However, the party has continued to base itself on Marxism Leninism and to be a very active member of the international communist movement. AKEL itself was banned during the 1955-59 armed struggle against British colonial rule.
In a message of greeting to Comrade Christofias, the CPGB ML wrote:
“Your tremendous victory demonstrates before the entire world the deep trust and support that your party has earned from the people of Cyprus, the working people in particular.
“Our party fully supports the Cypriot people’s aspirations and struggles for complete independence, neutrality, non-alignment, an end to partition and a democratic reunification of the island that respects and safeguards the just rights and interests of both historic communities, the expulsion of the British military bases and the gaining of sovereignty over the whole island, as well as the working people’s aspirations to take the socialist road.
“Your victory will act as an inspiration to all the communist and progressive forces in Europe, the Mediterranean region and beyond.
“Historically speaking, close ties of mutual support and solidarity have linked the communist and working-class movements of our two countries. It is our earnest wish that these be reinforced and developed in the future, too.”
Replying to us, the comrades of AKEL wrote:
“We thank you very much for your warm message. We appreciate your support, which is of great importance for us.
“The electoral result is a very important one for Cyprus, and was the outcome of hard work. We will move forward with the vision of the reunification of our Cyprus, in order to turn it into a happy homeland for all its inhabitants, Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots, Armenians, Maronites.
“Thank you once again for your support.”