Our relations are based on common traditions and values
President of the Republic of Cyprus Demetris Christofias received VIP-Premier journalists at the presidential palace, his permanent residence in Nicosia. A squat building, bosomed in trees, is an embodiment of the Eastern Mediterranean traditions. Thick walls protect from the heat brought by African winds. Every year on Independence Day the palace is open to all people who wish to attend the presidential reception. There is a spacious living room, designed in an elegant and simple style. Hanging in the foreground is
a portrait of the first president of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios, who is an object of profound veneration in the country. President Christofias’ speech is emotional and accompanied by energetic gestures characteristic of professional politicians, particularly in the Mediterranean. His tone reveals soft benevolence and sympathy, and is completely void of any protreptic ringing. This may be explained by the fact that Cyprus is the cradle of democracy that has by now become the way of life and the backbone of the government’s policy in the country. The VIP-Premier journalists appreciated the president’s suggestion to speak Russian and his warm memories of student years in Moscow.
Demetris Christofias is the President of the Republic of Cyprus. He was elected on February 24, 2008 from the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) with the support of other parties. His main election theses included a resumption of dialogue with Turkish Cypriots and the settlement of the Cyprus problem. He was born in 1946 and participated in the AKEL youth movement. In 1964, he joined the party. In 1969, Christofias was elected to the Central Council of the United Democratic Youth Organization. In 1969–1974, he studied and obtained a doctoral degree at the Institute of Social Sciences in Moscow. In 1988, Christofias took over the AKEL leadership from his predecessor and teacher Ezekias Papaioannou. In 2001, he was elected President of the House of Representatives and re-elected for a new term in 2006. Christofias is an Honorary Doctor of the University of Macedonia. He is fluent in English and Russian. Christofias met his future wife, Elsi Chiratou, when studying in the Soviet Union. They have two daughters and a son, a granddaughter and a grandson.
THE POLICY OF DEVELOPMENT
– Mr. President, 2010 is a jubilee year. The Republic of Cyprus will celebrate its 50th anniversary in August, and as many years ago our countries established diplomatic relations. What has the Republic of Cyprus achieved up to this date that has coincided with the global financial and economic crisis and the ensuing problems in the euro zone?
–The Cyprian economy could not avoid the impact of the global financial and economic crisis and is still experiencing it. Such key industries as tourism and real estate construction, and sales have been affected more than other sectors. But despite the world economic crisis, the Cyprian economy, unlike other economies, has proved able to withstand negative effects of the crunch. We are overcoming its consequences by taking guidance from the principle of social responsibility, avoiding tensions inside the country, and protecting vulnerable sections of the population. We attach great significance to the policy of development. Our goal is to support and sustain the competitiveness of the Cyprian economy and confidence in it by limiting negative effects and further promoting Cyprus as one of the international financial and economic centers.
We pay special attention to attracting foreign business investments. The latest agreement between Cyprus and Qatar is a vivid example of this strategy that demonstrates the possibilities of the Cyprian economy and prospects for attracting foreign investors.
As for tourism, I must say that this year began with encouraging signs. Unfortunately, Icelandic volcano ash clouds created new problems and halted the growth of tourism. But we hope that this is a temporary phenomenon and that the vacuum created by it will soon be filled in. We expect a serious increase in the number of tourists from Russia.
We attach special significance to the implementation of infrastructure development plans that should boost tourism. Two new airports are already operating in Cyprus, in Larnaca and Pathos. We also support sea tourism by building new piers for private yachts of every type and size. In addition, we develop infrastructure for international congresses and conferences and step up the construction of golf clubs.
LET AS MANY RUSSIANS COME HERE AS POSSIBLE
– How do you assess the results of our fifty-year long cooperation? Are there any reserves left for interaction? What do you think of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s initiative to sign a European security treaty?
– Cyprus became independent in 1960 and stopped being a British colony after eighty-two years of occupation. From the very first days of independence, ties between our countries started developing rapidly in many fields. Relations between the Republic of Cyprus and the then Soviet Union, and now the Russian Federation, were based on the support and assistance your country provided and continues to provide to Cyprus. Our relations are underlain by common cultural and religious traditions, the commitment of our peoples to the ideals of peace, friendship and cooperation.
As a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, Russia gives firm and consistent support to the Cyprus government’s efforts to secure a fair and viable settlement of the Cyprus problem. Cyprus, in turn, as an equal member of the European Union and a good friend and partner of Russia, is working to strengthen relations between Russia and the European Union. We continue to advocate and actively support the drafting and adoption of a new (basic) agreement on cooperation between Russia and the EU, and promote a better understanding of the fact that Russia is a strategic partner of Europe.
Russia and Cyprus fully share the view that international problems should be resolved using effective and reliable international mechanisms. Our countries have identical approaches to the majority of regional problems such as unilateral declaration of Kosovo’s independence or the conflict in the Caucasus. We both believe that global peace and stability can only be strengthened in a multi-polar world where all countries comply with generally recognized rules of economic development and control, and respect the sovereignty and cultural identity of all peoples. It is not incidental that the Republic of Cyprus was the first among EU member states to have welcomed Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s proposal concerning a new security strategy for Europe and the world.
At the bilateral level, Cyprus and Russia have an excellent relationship. In addition to the political relations I mentioned above, we are developing mutually advantageous economic cooperation. As a center of financial and banking services, Cyprus is one of the three main sources of foreign investments in Russia. Our countries enjoy the most favored nation treatment as economic partners, and are engaged in close cooperation between audit and other agencies.
The constantly growing flow of Russian tourists to Cyprus is a result of very serious efforts undertaken by both sides. We want as many Russians to come to Cyprus as possible, and we do our best for that because we think that the importance of such trips cannot be reduced only to economic parameters. Contacts between our peoples are very important because we are historically and culturally kindred. Russian people visiting Cyprus discover right away that Cyprus could become their second home. We exert every effort to broaden these contacts between the Russian and Cyprian peoples and make them deeper and more substantive.
A special area of our relations is education. Traditionally, many Cyprians studied in Soviet and Russian universities and many Russians are studying now in Cyprus. We think that cooperation in the field of education should be encouraged and developed further. It is our belief that cultural exchanges are very important since your country, just like Cyprus, has big achievements in this field.
We are working to further improve our excellent bilateral relations both in institutional and practical terms. There is a lot of potential to be tapped for deepening our relations, and we will do everything we can to ensure that they fully reflect the profound respect of the Cyprian people for Russia and the Russian people.
– Mr. President, what do you expect from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s upcoming visit to Cyprus scheduled for October?
–The official visit of the President of the Russian Federation to Cyprus in October of this year will be the first official visit by the Russian head of state in the 50-year history of the Republic of Cyprus and diplomatic relations between our countries. This very fact proves our sincere desire to strengthen friendship and solidarity that are based on long-term interstate relations and traditional friendship and cooperation between the peoples of Cyprus and Russia. Relations between the Republic of Cyprus and the Soviet Union, and now the Russian Federation, were based on the generous assistance your country provided and continues to provide to Cyprus. The upcoming visit will reiterate Russia’s consistent and disinterested assistance to Cyprus in its fight for independence, full sovereignty and territorial integrity, and for the rights of our citizens by finding such a solution to the Cyprus problem that would put an end to the occupation and lead to reunification of Cyprus and its people.
The joint political declaration we signed with President Dmitry Medvedev during my official visit to Russia on November 19, 2008 was the first significant step towards deeper bilateral political, humanitarian, public, contractual, legal, trade, economic, scientific, technical, and cultural relations both at the governmental and public levels.
I am confident that in October we will show our countries’ political will for raising the current relations of friendship and cooperation that rest on the strong basis of mutual trust and respect to a new qualitative level for the benefit of our peoples.
WITH SINCERE BELIEF AND GOOD WILL
– During your presidency you have started the negotiation process. What are its prospects in light of the so-called presidential election in the occupied part of the Republic of Cyprus?
– As soon as I was elected President of the Republic of Cyprus, we put forth some specific initiatives that helped overcome stagnation in the resolution of the Cyprus issue and resume negotiations between the two communities aimed at finding a mutually acceptable solution that will put an end to the Turkish occupation and colonization and lead to reunification of the territory and nation within a bi-zonal bi-communal federation.
The previous head of the Turkish community on Cyprus, Mehmet Ali Talat, and I discussed for more than 18 months all aspects of the Cyprus problem -- public administration, distribution of powers, economy, European issues, ownership, security and guarantees, territorial delimitation, and settlers – and came to agreement and made progress on some of them. However some serious disagreements transpired too. So much has yet to be done to achieve a solution.
The election of Dervis Eroglu the new head of the Turkish community, considering his firm stance on the Cyprus issue, creates even bigger problems than those we have already encountered. Naturally, we are not rushing conclusions. Prospects for the resolution of the Cyprus issue will become clear during negotiations. But there is no doubt that the final outcome of the talks will depend on the position of Turkey, which plays a critical role on the Cyprus issue. Unfortunately, Turkey has so far not undertaken any practical steps to promote the resolution of the Cyprus problem, except for stating its commitment to its speediest settlement. Therefore, both Turkey and the Turkish-Cyprian leadership should start working with us in accordance with U.N. resolutions on Cyprus and the principles of international and European law, as well as the agreements of 1977 and 1979 between the two communities, so that we could come to a solution that will get the approval of both Greek Cyprians and Turkish Cyprians at separate but simultaneous referendums. We will continue working towards this goal, as before, with sincere belief and good will.
– The Balkans used to be referred to as the “powder keg of Europe” throughout the 20th century. Has the situation in the Balkans changed in the 21st century, considering
the Kosovo problem?
– It is a fact that last century the Balkans were a place of conflicts that were not limited to a specific geographical area (Balkan wars in 1912–1913) but developed into bigger global wars (First World War of 1914–1918). Unfortunately, in the 1990s the Balkans became a spotlight again due to the disintegration of Yugoslavia, the emergence of new states and the subsequent wars that resulted in NATO’s bombing of Serbia in 1999 over the Kosovo problem.
We hope that the situation in the Balkans will change in the 21st century. Prospective admission of all Balkan countries to the EU inspires optimism. I would like to recall that the EU was built out of ruins after World War II and gradually became a source of peace, mutual understanding and respect. Cyprus hopes that all Western Balkan countries will be admitted to the EU, and that all peoples in this long-suffering region will see peace and prosperity. The fact that the European perspective of the Western Balkans will become the main priority for Cyprus during its presidency in the EU in 2012 serves as a practical confirmation of our commitment.
As for Kosovo, this issue should be settled on the basis of international law. The solution to be found should be mutually acceptable to both sides, it should respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia, and it should be approved by the U.N. Security Council. Attempts to impose unilateral decisions, which are at odds with international law of course, will not help strengthen peace in the Western Balkans, but will only produce the opposite effect. We should avoid this by all means, and responsibility for achieving this goal rests with the international community.
NOTHING WILL DEROGATE THE IMPORTANCE OF THE VICTORY OVER FASCISM
– Our countries celebrate the 65th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany this year. What can be behind the attempts to reevaluate the results of World War II and glorify Nazi veterans in some of the EU countries?
– The victory of the peoples over fascism became a turning point for Europe and the world in general. The victory over fascism, for which the Soviet Union sustained the heaviest losses and in which it played a critical role, generated big hopes and created all prerequisites for the restoration of peace and democracy and for the development of cooperation between countries and nations. The fact that many of those hopes never came true and mankind after World War II got caught in the whirlpool of the Cold War does not derogate the importance of the victory over fascism. Attempts to distort history and “justify” fascism are met with indignation and wrath; they are unacceptable and have to be condemned. This is a manifestation of extreme disrespect for tens of millions of victims of fascism, disrespect for millions of people who fought against fascism and gave their lives. In addition, these are dangerous steps that create the risk of new tragedies like those that have already been experienced by mankind. This is why attempts to revise history must be stopped immediately. Both by virtue of our convictions and our positions, we support Russian people and, generally, Soviet people who taught the world a lesson of heroism and selflessness, shedding torrents of blood for the hammer and sickle banner hoisted on top of the Reichstag.
– Unlike other counties that joined the European Union on May 1, 2004, the Republic of Cyprus is not seeking to become a NATO member. What is the reason for that?
– Our proclaimed goal is that after the Cyprus issue has been settled, the United Federal Republic of Cyprus should be demilitarized. In the future, the whole island should be demilitarized of course with the closure of the British military bases that have been in Cyprus since 1960. Since the goal is demilitarization, it would be a contradiction to join such a military organization as NATO. Besides, the Republic of Cyprus, as a member state of the European Union, is engaged in the common defense and security policy. Due to their historical experience, the majority of Cyprians have never advocated any aggressive military coalition.
THE POTENTIAL OF OUR ECONOMIC COOPERATION IS QUITE BIG
– What areas of trade and economic cooperation between our countries are, in your opinion, most promising? How effective is the work of the Association of Russian Businessmen in Cyprus?
– Trade and economic relations between Russia and Cyprus keep improving all the time. It must be said that important inter-governmental economic agreements were signed during my visit to Moscow. The potential of economic relations between the two countries is also demonstrated by a large number of Russian businessmen who use Cyprus for their entrepreneurial and investment activities. The total volume of Russian investments in Cyprus in 2008 was €2 billion. These investments targeted mainly financial and economic services, real estate management, trade, and repairs. In addition to financial and economic aspects, and real estate, the energy sector appears to be quite promising for the development of trade relations between the two countries. We can also witness a gradual increase in the number of Russian tourists visiting Cyprus despite the fact that their number has declined over the past two years because of the global financial and economic crisis that has affected the Russian economy as well.
As for trade relations between the two countries, I should say that Cyprian export to Russia increased by 55 percent in 2005-2008. Despite a natural decline in tourism in 2009, we feel optimistic about our trade relations. The main products Cyprus exports to Russia are pharmaceuticals, citrus fruits and food in exchange for grain, wood, iron, and fodder.
The Association of Russian Businessmen in Cyprus helps develop Cyprus-Russia trade and create favorable conditions for Russian entrepreneurs in our country. The Association maintains close contact with the Russian Embassy to Cyprus and governmental agencies of the Republic of Cyprus. I should also mention the Cyprian-Russian Business Association that works energetically to promote stronger economic and trade relations between our countries.
– Is there military-technical cooperation between Russia and Cyprus?
– Such cooperation exists and it is based on the Program of Cooperation for 2010 that includes a number of events in Cyprus and Russia and exchanges of visits by high-ranking Defense Ministry officials. At the same time, Russian military schools are considering the possibility of training Cyprian military officers.
In addition, we are engaged in consultations on further expansion of institutional cooperation between the Republic of Cyprus and the Russian Federation.
– Schengen hurdles restrict Russian tourism to EU countries. What are visa regulations like in the Republic of Cyprus? What steps has the Cyprus government taken to simplify visa procedures for Russian citizens?
– As you know, Cyprus is in an advanced stage of harmonizing its procedures with those in the Schengen group despite the fact that our country has not joined this zone yet. So our national visa system is to a large extent similar to the Schengen one. In fact, the Schengen terms of issuing entry visas are generally stricter and less flexible than those we have in Cyprus, and in this respect the final adoption of the Schengen rules can affect the flow of tourists from Russia to some extent. But since we attach so much significance to maximum simplification of visa procedures for our Russian friends wishing to visit our country, the relevant Cyprus agencies are doing their best to guarantee that Cyprian consular services in Russia apply the Schengen terms – after our country has joined the Schengen zone – in the most routine and simplified manner. Right now and until Cyprus joins the Schengen zone, visas are issued to Russian citizens free of charge within 24 hours of application. A pro-visa system has also been used lately to allow Russian citizens to obtain an entry visa electronically by e-mailing an application to the competent Cyprian consular service.
– Your awards include the Russian Pushkin Medal, which is presented for a contribution to integration and mutual enrichment of cultures. How broad is cultural cooperation between our peoples? What does the Russian language mean to you and your family?
– I must say that it’s a great honor for me to have such an award as the Pushkin Medal. As I have already said, a large number of Cyprians studied in the Soviet Union and many are studying now in Russia. This fact confirms the great significance of cultural and humanitarian cooperation between our countries. The knowledge of Russian, familiarization with Russia’s customs and traditions, and communication with ordinary people create unbreakable bonds of friendship, respect and cooperation, and bring about undying memories that stay with us all our life. On the other hand, the appearance of a large number of Russian people in Cyprus also helps strengthen relations between our countries.
Scientific knowledge and experience of many Cyprians who studied in the Soviet Union or Russia provided the firm basis for their success and achievements in Cyprus in various areas. Such realities undoubtedly bring our countries and peoples closer together and boost the development of both humanitarian cooperation between Cyprians and Russians, and cooperation between our countries.
In our family Russian is spoken by my wife and me. We met and married when I studied in Moscow. I must confess that apart from the spiritual baggage, which we acquired and for which we are grateful, as well as our acquaintance in Moscow where we became husband and wife, we also appreciate the fact that we probably spent our happiest days and gave life to our first child there.
The knowledge of Russian allowed us to familiarize ourselves with the Russian spiritual heritage and become good and close friends with many Russians. The language also helps us maintain active contact with Russia and study its culture filled with outstanding achievements.
Interviewed by Yevgeny KOSOV
HEAVENLY CYPRUS.Dramatic Fate
This picturesque island, the third largest (after Sicily and Sardinia) piece of land in the Mediterranean, is known for its historical heritage and recreational excellence. According to ancient Greek mythology, Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love called Cypride, appeared from the foam of the sea..
Due to its favorable geostrategic location, Cyprus changed hands for centuries. During the Third Crusade it passed from Byzantium to Richard the Lionhearted, and from the Venetian Republic to the Ottoman Empire, and subsequently to the British Empire.
On October 1, 2010, the Republic of Cyprus will celebrate its 50th anniversary. The island’s independence from the British rule is celebrated only in the part of the island that is controlled by the government of the Republic of Cyprus. The Zurich and London Agreement of 1959 allowed the United Kingdom, Greece and Turkey – the guarantors of Cyprus’s “independence, territorial integrity and security” – to interfere in its internal affairs (Treaty of Guarantee). Greece and Turkey were also entitled to have big military contingents on the island (Treaty of Alliance). The United Kingdom kept two big military bases (Dhekelia and Akrotiri) in Cyprus, and secured itself the right to use other small sites and infrastructure.
Under the constitution, the president of the Republic of Cyprus is a Greek Cyprian, and vice-president is a Turkish Cyprian. They are elected separately by their respective communities for five years by secret ballot. The president and vice-president exercise executive power through a government they form together. But in 1963, Turkish Cyprians seceded from the government in protest against attempts by the first president of the Republic of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios, to change the constitution. Currently, the government consists of twelve representatives from the Greek community. Under the constitution, there should be seven representatives from the Greek community and three from the Turkish community. The president presides at the government meetings.
The island was divided into the Greek (Republic of Cyprus) and Turkish parts in 1974. The Turkish part, the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), was recognized only by Turkey. In response to the Greek military junta’s attempt to annex Cyprus and under the pretext of protecting Turkish Cyprians, Turkey occupied 37 percent of the island.
In 1974–1975, the Population Exchange took place: Turkish Cyprians moved north, and Greek Cyprians went down south. Greeks make up 77.8 percent of the population, Turks 10.5 percent, Armenians and other ethnic groups 11.7 percent. About 788,000 people of the island’s population of one million live on the territory controlled by the Republic of Cyprus. Orthodoxy and Islam are official religions. The Cyprian Orthodox Church, which has the status of quasi-public institution, is quite influential in the country’s public and political life. Greek and Turkish are official languages in the Republic of Cyprus.
In 1975, the U.N. Security Council asked the Secretary-General to use his good offices in Cyprus in order to help settle the Cyprus problem. Under U.N. Security Council Resolution 186 of May 4, 1964, U.N. troops were deployed in Cyprus with their mandate being regularly extended by the Security Council. The capital city of Nicosia located in the center of the island is divided by the Green Line. The territory north of the line is controlled by TRNC. In April 2004, both parts of Cyprus held referendums on reunification into one state on the basis of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan. Sixty-five percent of TRNC citizens supported the plan, but 75 percent of Greek Cyprians rejected it. When the U.N. Security Council voted on the matter, Russia used technical veto to prevent the plan from being forced upon Greek Cyprians as it contained rigid deadlines, gave the U.N. Secretary-General the powers of arbitration, and limited the rights of the negotiators.
On May 1, 2004, the Republic of Cyprus joined the European Union. Following the admission to the EU, the government of the Republic of Cyprus decided to secede from the Non-Aligned Movement. Cyprus is a member of the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the British Commonwealth. Diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union were established in
August 1960. On April 7, 1992, the Republic of Cyprus recognized Russia as a legal successor to the Soviet Union.
The leading industry in the Republic of Cyprus is services (tourism and banking) which generate more than 70 percent of GDP. Industry accounts for 19.7 percent and agriculture for 3.9 percent of GDP.
According to Cyprus data, the country has rich offshore hydrocarbon fields in its exclusive economic zone.
In February 2007, the government announced a tender for their exploration and development.
Following the accession of the Republic of Cyprus to the EU, the country abolished the offshore regime for international companies. Now all companies pay a unified corporate tax of 10 percent, the lowest rate in the European Union. In 1998, Russia and the Republic of Cyprus signed an agreement on the avoidance of double taxation.