Cyprus: EU’s missing member goes to the polls

Supporters of Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat in the Turkish-occupied eastern Cypriot port city of Famagusta, March 29, 2010.
Supporters of Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat in the Turkish-occupied eastern Cypriot port city of Famagusta, March 29, 2010.
16 April 2010 – Der Spiegel (Hamburg)

The Turkish residents of Northern Cyprus will go to the polls to elect a new president on Sunday. The future of their internationally ostracized republic, the most isolated in Europe, is at stake. A solution to the three-decade division between Greek southern Cyprus and the Turkish northern part of the island is nowhere in sight.

The president approaches, walking at a quick pace. The look on his face indicates that he has little time and a lot on his plate. He is in the process of abolishing his republic, and he hopes to convince the electorate to support his plan on April 18.Mehmet Ali Talat is the Cumhurbaskani of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, the president of Europe's most isolated country.

The walk to his palace in the northern section of the capitl Nicosia leads past barbed wire fences and ruins. Mail and telephone calls can only reach Northern Cyprus through Turkey, and there are no flight connections to the rest of the continent. In the eyes of the international community, the republic proclaimed by Talat in 1983 doesn't exist, or at least it isn't supposed to exist. So far only Ankara has sent an ambassador to this northern section of the last divided capital in Europe. The representatives of other European countries have their offices south of the line of demarcation, only a short walk away in the Republic of Cyprus, which is part of the European Union.

The Mediterranean island gained its independence from colonial rule half a century ago. There has been a cease-fire along the border that separates Turkish and Greek-speaking residents since 1974. Cyprus has been a member of the EU since 2004, but the northern part of the island remains under diplomatic quarantine. The president, who has no status abroad, sits down in his armchair and says: "Time is running out. We had intended to solve the problem by the beginning of this year. But the Greek Cypriots aren't cooperating."

Talat's goal is a Cypriot federation with a central government and a shared flag. Sunday's presidential election in the Turkish north will also be a referendum on Talat's proposal. After five years in office and tough negotiations with the south, Talat faces a vote in which he may not get reelected. His opponent, Dervis Eroglu, advocates a less compromising approach toward the island's Greeks. But a solution is necessary, one way or the other, says President Talat. The citizens' patience is at an end, he says, and the upshot could very well be "permanent partition." Read full article in Spiegel Online International...

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