Both sides should pay up and shut up

EMPORIUM, taken from the Greek ’emporion’ (place of trade, commercial centre, traveller or trader) has become the most used word in Cyprus today. Whether traders from the north deal in tomatoes, onions, fish or bricks, they are definitely harassed when selling to the south. And after last week’s decision by the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee on the direct trade regulation, EU trade embargoes will continue in the north never mind their promise in 2004 to eliminate restrictions in return for a Yes vote on the Annan Plan referendum.

Double standards are rife in Ankara and Nicosia, but more importantly in Brussels, where the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has found both for and against the Republic on the property issue, and now the European Parliament reneges on trade promises to the ‘TRNC’. And yet another surprise last week as the ECHR fines Turkey more than 15 million euros in 19 cases filed by Greek Cypriots for their abandoned properties in the north – cases filed prior to the March ruling that all claims first be submitted to the Immovable Property Commission (IPC) in the north.

That the Republic has right on its side given 36 years of occupation of the north of her country by a foreign, so called guarantor power, is indisputable. Stalwart Greek Cypriots nationalists even go so far as to insist all refugees return to their homes, that the Turkish army and settlers leave and Turkish Cypriots again accept minority status and Greek Cypriot domination.

But in reality that’s already the case. Turkish Cypriots scurry south in search of work, ID cards, nationality, healthcare, subsidised private schooling, shopping and now, given the chance, would love to sell us our oranges from Morphou and lemons from Lapithos. Okay, we have undoubtedly benefitted from the illicit use of Turkish Cypriot property in the south, but we do not scurry north in search of more than a whore or casino.

While the marionettes’ strings are manipulated by others the Cyprob cannot be resolved satisfactorily. Why do ruddier than a cherry, Al and inscrutable Ban persist in spewing meaningless rhetoric, forever distancing themselves from this circus of talks? Are we not sick of hearing that our leaders had a very useful meeting without being told exactly what occurred? Progress or the lack of it after two and half years suggests that nobody now knows where we are or what’s going on.

We are led to believe that ‘perousiako’ (property) is the only real stumbling block to agreeing a bi-zonal federation. So let’s look again at ‘When George went to the IPC’ (yours truly in The Sunday Mail, April 11, 2010), when I described a friend’s experience when he submitted his title deed to the IPC to make a claim for his lost property. Now, six months later, he has been informed by the IPC that the Plan Number on his title deed does not ‘exactly’ agree with the plans in use at the ‘TRNC’ Land Registry, and he has been instructed to ask the Kyrenia District Land Registry, here in southern Nicosia, to issue a new title deed with the ‘TRNC’ Plan Number on it…

Well, the implications of such a request don’t even bear thinking about. Here we are supposedly holding talks on ‘perousiako’ only to find that both sides are using different land survey maps with plot number changes galore, never mind area names.

During this past 36 years so much land has been appropriated, sold or divided into smaller plots (boundary markers, fences, hedges and trees indiscriminately removed long ago) that nobody really knows for sure what is, where is or whose is what! Bungling bureaucracies or sleight of hand, which?

George is not seeking restitution. He would however like compensation – 30 pieces of silver some might say. But it seems that this year’s November deadline for the Talks has considerably slowed down IPC payments in compensation – up to this April pay outs totalled 44 million GBP – little has changed today.

Is the IPC request to George for a reissue of his title deed a delaying tactic? Have they run out of money or are they awaiting the final outcome of these present talks in the expectation that partition will be announced and IPC compensation resumed?

It is self evident that the majority of Cypriots would prefer to retain the status quo. Both communities are in a constant state of flux and now bear little resemblance to those which existed in 1974. Integrating the two civil services alone would incur an initial 30 per cent increase in workload and consequent number of employees – yet more civil servants!

That said, a loose bi-zonal federation, with few refugees returning to their homes, seems to be the only realistic option – most refugees now urging both governments to pay out compensation or permit exchange, accept federation and shut up!

This latest round of talks reminds me of the time when an octogenarian uncle attempted to sell his bicycle for a Cyprus pound, then known as a lira. He was told firstly by the buyer that the bell didn’t work, then that the tyres were almost threadbare, the saddle ragged, the chrome rusty and finally, the mudguards and chain filthy. After haggling for over an hour he ended up giving the bicycle away for 100 mils, a tenth of the asking price (the equivalent of just 20 piaster for those of you who can go back that far).

Unfortunately, this might well be the outcome for most refugee claims as property values collapse due to this worsening financial crisis (although values are supposedly linked to 1974 valuations and index linked to inflation).

And just what did we expect? This is Cyprus, where our leaders have yet to agree on terms and conditions for solving the Cyprob, never mind arrive at any kind of solution!