Communism and Nationalism in Postwar Cyprus, 1945-1955



This book analyzes the events that impacted the structure and competitive processes of the two dominant Cypriot political factions while under the watchful eye of British rule. Based on new archival research, Alecou addresses the social and political environment in which the Cypriot Communists and Nationalists fought each other while at the same time had to fight the British Empire. The differences between communists and nationalists brought the two sides to a frontal collision in the wake of the events of the Greek civil war. The class conflict within Cypriot society would at some point inevitably lead, in one way or another, to a clash between the two factions. The civil war in Greece constituted another field of conflict between Left and Right, accelerating the formation of a bipolar party system in which the vertical division of the Greek community in Cyprus eventually expressed itself.

Chapters (8)

Up until World War II, the greater part of the island of Cyprus was controlled by the senior clergy, an oligarchy of large landowners, the old notables. This drastically slowed the evolution of Cypriot society to the extent of validating the portrayal of its early twentieth century structures as “archaic.” Senior clergy and landowners cooperated, forming the ruling class. A group of merchants—the embryo of the future bourgeoisie—followed, along with a small group of intellectuals, predominantly educators. The vast majority of the populace were farmers and, to a limited degree, craftsmen.1
The Communist Party of Cyprus1 was officially founded in 1926 by the first Cypriot communists, who had returned from their studies abroad, and by workers, mainly from the wider area of Lemesos.2 It was, of course, preceded by the formulation of various “intellectual movements,” influenced by the demoticist movement,3 out of which the first socialist and Marxist groups emerged.4 The KKK appeared at a time when disappointment flared over failed expectations that England would cede Cyprus to Greece, as had happened in 1864 with the Ionian Islands. Not only did England fail to implement the promises it had made to Cyprus during World War I, but also England officially annexed Cyprus to its colonies in 1925. Workers’ living conditions were miserable, and poverty ravaged the populace.5 Within this economic impoverishment the first communist group, which appeared in Cyprus during World War I, began taking action. The ground was perfectly suitable for the development of the socialist movement.
By 1913, after centuries of acquisition, more than one hundred separate territories worldwide were under British rule. They displayed almost every variety of human community, and their internal diversity was sometimes extreme. As Darwin notes, “desert peoples and nomads; hill peoples and tribals; mining, forest-dwelling and fishing communities (such as Newfoundland); farmers bound to the grueling regime of wet-rice cultivation (as in the Burma delta) and yeoman-farmers in the temperate Dominions; slave-owners and slaves (until 1830); workers and masters in plantation economies; industrial societies with ‘proletarians’ and ‘capitalists’—all these and more could be found in an empire that contained some of the world’s largest cities as well as some of its poorest and emptiest landscapes.”1 Maintaining the efficient organization of these diverse territories and sufficient control over them was the chief task facing the Colonial Office.
The history of the Greek far right and the Cypriot far right have not been analyzed adequately as far as these movements concern this region. They are worthy of attention, however, as the Greek/Cypriot far right (see below for an explanation of the term) played a significant role in events in the region during the twentieth century. In short, for nearly three quarters of the century, especially from 1920 to 1974, the far right either starred in the political life of Greece and Cyprus or participated in the background. For all its efforts, its greatest failure is it failed to achieve political or ideological unity or to secure a wider legitimacy, even though it employed the dominant vocabulary of nationalism and evoked widespread political sentiment.
As we have seen, one of the factors that brought the two opposing sides in Cyprus to a fierce clash was the transfer of the civil war climate from Greece to Cyprus. This transfer was aided and welcomed by both factions, left and right; it also inspired the official policy of the ethnarchy against communism and enabled the official establishment of “X” in Cyprus.
While the right began to coalesce as a single faction and was led by the ethnarchy, AKEL had to contend with its intraparty issues. Specifically, the party’s stance toward self-government seemed to weaken when a member of the Central Committee (CC), Nikos Savvidis, on his return from Greece, informed the CC that KKE disagreed with AKEL’s “self-government-enosis” position.1 To clarify the issue, the CC commissioned party G.S. F. Ioannou and Pancyprian Federation of Labor (PEO) G.S. A. Ziartidis to travel to DSE headquarters in the Greek mountains for a meeting with KKE leadership regarding the tack they should take.2
The shipwreck of the Consultative Assembly served to sharpen the left-right conflict and to further radicalize the right, which adopted new characteristics in its approach to enosis. The right began using anti-British rhetoric after realizing how exposed it was by its adherence to riding the coattails of Greek–British friendship to its desired resolution of the Cyprus issue and also because the new Archbishop, a powerful figure, had taken a new political attitude toward the issue of union with Greece. The colonial authorities, of course, contributed to this shift by seeking permission from London to institute repressive measures on the island to declare a state of emergency.1
The demand for enosis began to take on new characteristics, especially after the 1950 referendum. Britain hardened its stance toward Cyprus; the primacy of the enosis struggle began to wane in some quarters; and the right and the Church undertook more dynamic initiatives in the island’s political arena. Each played a catalytic role in reshaping the character of the enosis struggle.
In this introductory chapter, Christofis and Kyritsi introduce the reader into the history of nationalism in modern and contemporary Cyprus. The scope of the analysis is a historical approach to nationalism, that is the view that the world of nations, ethnic identity, and national ideology are neither eternal, nor ahistorical or primordial but are rather socially constructed and function within particular historical and social contexts. In this framework, the authors explore how Cyprus—a small Mediterranean island that was and still remains marked by opposed nationalisms, that is, Greek and Turkish—constitutes a fertile ground for examining the history, the dynamics and the dialectics of nationalism.
Alecou aims to examine the reasons and consequences of the belayed development of far-right in Cyprus in the 1940s, focusing on the appearance and evolution of the “X” organization. While the effects of nationalism on the political life in Cyprus have been influential throughout its contemporary history, nationalism produced a permanent division among the society of the Greek Cypriot community. The analysis focuses on the evolution and radicalization of extreme right groups in Greece and then attention switches to the relation between the Greek and Cypriot nationalists, and especially the influence of the Greeks on the Greek Cypriots during the Greek civil war.
The present chapter adopts a comparative perspective and focuses on how the Greek and Turkish Left during the 1950s and 1960s treated the “national” issue of Cyprus. In particular, the chapter points that from the start Cyprus was presented in the party programs and speeches as part of their anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggle. At the same time, this was done without rejecting the island’s national importance and meaning to the “national centers”, i.e. Greece and Turkey. Furthermore, the chapter will identify whether the theoretical/ideological principles of Marxism coincided with practical matters, especially, when the “nation” is a case in point, both before and after the independence of Cyprus in 1960.
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