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By Peter Stevenson MEMBERS of Volunteer Doctors Cyprus have treated around 350 people at their free clinic in Nicosia since it opened three months ago, while two more, one in Paphos and one in Polis are due to open today. Limassol also has a free clinic, which was opened only last month, and plans have been drawn ...
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SOME 10 days ago, foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides raised expectations by announcing the possibility of a deal with Turkey for the opening of the fenced off area of Famagusta, for the return of its inhabitants. In exchange the Cyprus government would agree to the opening of Tymbou airport to direct flights. ...
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By George Psyllides PRIVATE auditors have expressed doubt the electricity authority (EAC) could be considered a going concern and have asked its board to draft a credible plan to tackle the problem, according to the auditor-general’s 2012 report on the semi-state company. Among other issues, ...
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Cyprus Internet Directory [ It’s more ‘just is viable’ than ‘just and viable’ ]

It’s more ‘just is viable’ than ‘just and viable’

THIS essay is motivated by a recent and revealing article in the pages of this newspaper by Serdar Atai (November 26, 2008). Atai describes a process of moral, ethical and cultural deterioration and even a slide into lawlessness, due to the publically sanctioned appropriation of Greek Cypriot properties in the north. The Turkish Cypriot authorities have chosen to interpret the rejected Annan Plan’s property provisions as giving them carte blanche to violate these property rights in contravention of international and EU law. Atai calls this the “Tyranny of Looting and Lies” under which honest and law-abiding Turkish Cypriots are treated as “morons”.

The type of process described by Atai has been analysed by academics and is closely related to perceptions of justice and fairness held in social interaction. To understand how, consider three important results from the economics and social psychology literature which studies how people cooperate in experimental settings:

1. People tend to act according to some principal of justice or fairness in their dealings with others but will eventually abandon these principles when they believe that others act in a more selfish way.

2. People’s perceptions of what is fair are not set in stone. Rather, they are flexible and can be bent to suit one’s personal interests. Thus, people involved in legal disputes interpret what a “fair” resolution to the dispute would be to fit their own identifiable interests. The more people diverge in their perceptions of what is a fair, the more difficult it is to achieve a settlement.

3. People who perceive the status quo distribution of rights or entitlements to be unfair are less likely to cooperate with others or, more specifically, are less likely to play along with the rules of the game and more likely to justify the use of coercive or violent action to change the initial distribution of rights.

All in all these results can be summarised by saying that people prefer to act in a fair way towards others but their tendency to do this depends on: others acting in a similar manner; the extent to which their personal interest coincides with fairness-driven behaviour, and, their perception that the social distribution of rights and entitlements is a fair one.

It is easy to see that Atai’s description of what is going on in occupied Cyprus is closely related to the first result: people act fairly but only if others also do so. One specific application of this result has been discovered by economists who study the issue of tax compliance. In particular, it has been shown that tax evasion increases when people perceive that others engage in it with impunity. Why should I do the right thing and pay when everybody else is not and getting away with it. My initial feeling of indignation may eventually give way, buried if you like, under the pressure to stop being the only “moron” who pays his taxes.

Atai’s talk of general moral erosion in the north is also relevant here. The problem is that people may start by not respecting tax laws but this disrespect may expand to other laws leading ultimately to a slide into lawlessness. There may eventually be no place in such a society for fairness, ethical or moral norms which dictate right from wrong. Ultimately, this leads to the deterioration of what political scientists call, social capital which includes trust and is seen as the glue that binds society together. And societies with less social capital are not only poorer ones (in terms of income), they also have lower quality governments and are prone to more social conflict.

How can this process of social deterioration be avoided or detained? By pursuing unlawful behaviour by citizens, to ensure the generalised respect for the rule of law. But who has to do the pursuing? The public authorities of course. And here is the tragedy of the process described by Atai. Rather than promoting the respect for the rule of law, the Turkish Cypriot authorities are directly undermining it by fomenting the direct violation of, internationally recognised, Greek Cypriot property rights in the north. In effect, the authorities in the north are lighting the fuse which will inevitably lead to the serious erosion of social capital in the north, to the detriment of the people it purports to govern.

So what should the Turkish Cypriot authorities be doing instead? They should be protecting Greek Cypriot property rights and be negotiating in “good faith” with Greek Cypriots in the search of a viable solution to the conflict. And they should be doing so for two reasons. First, for the benefit of their own citizens. And second, because this is only way to realistically reach a viable solution to the conflict. I have talked of the first reason above. Allow me now to briefly comment on the nature of a viable solution since it can be informed by the third result mentioned at the beginning of this article.

It is obvious that any solution which implies the uncompensated expropriation of properties will be less viable since it would create a status quo distribution of rights which would be perceived as unfair. Similarly, any solution which sanctions indefinite restrictions to the right of establishment of Greek or Turkish Cypriots in the part of the island not administered by them, is less likely to be viable. As a resident of multi-national Spain, I can assure you that no Spanish citizen would understand the imposition of any type of restrictions to residence, of Spanish citizens in ethno-linguistically distinct areas of Spain (such as the Basque Country or Catalonia). It would simply be perceived as something which contradicts all conceptions of what is fair or just.

Worryingly, just such a solution was contained in the Annan Plan submitted to double referenda and sanctioned by both the UN and the EU. Those displaced persons (mostly Greek Cypriots) which were to be expropriated would receive compensation in the form of “bonds” payable 25 years later from a fund initially financed by the federal government (again mostly Greek Cypriots): in a sense, Greek Cypriots expropriated under the Plan would have received compensation of an uncertain value payable from a fund that they will also have had to contribute towards.

And the right of establishment was violated by the low ceilings imposed by the Plan on the proportion of land which may be reinstated to displaced persons as well as permanent restrictions on the right of establishment aimed at preserving overwhelming ethno-linguistic majorities in each constituent state.

In the world of Realpolitik which characterises international relations, there is little room for fairness beyond empty rhetoric. Just ask the Melians who, after asking the stronger Athenians why they wanted to invade and destroy their island, received the answer: because we can. And one reason why it is relatively easy to pay lip service to justice norms without actually adhering to them in practice lies in the second result mentioned above: what is just, is, to some extent, in the eye of the beholder. Being a subjective concept it is malleable, and one important force acting upon our idea of what is just is our own interest.

But there is a danger here that all Cypriot earnestly seeking a viable solution to the conflict must guard against. The more we bend (or are forced to bend) our definition of justice to suit our ends (or those of others), the less likely we will be to find a settlement to the conflict. This was clearly illustrated by the overwhelming rejection of the Annan plan by Greek Cypriot voters. And, on a deeper level, we should be worried that a solution which is deemed unfair by many of us is less likely to be a viable one, ultimately because it will reduce the likelihood that people will play within the rules in the post-solution period.

It was Jean-Jacques Rousseau that said: man is born free but everywhere he is in chains. The vast majority of us, I think, would ascribe to some commonly held norms of justice and fairness. And we try to teach our children the importance of adhering to these norms. In the interest of a peaceful, prosperous and healthy society, it is crucial that those engaged in the search for a solution to the Cyprus problem, avoid a settlement which would chain both us and future generations.

Andreas Kyriacou is Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Girona (Spain). He has published several academic works on the Cyprus problem including, A Viable Solution to the Cyprus Problem: Lessons from Political Economy, Nicosia: Intercollege Press (2003). 


(Source: Cyprus Mail)
Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2008 Please contact Cyprus Mail for the copyright terms of this article.



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