Transnistria is a breakaway territory of Moldova located on a 400-kilometer-long, narrow strip of land on the left bank of the Dniester River between Moldova and Ukraine. Though internationally recognized as part of Moldova, Transnistria declared independence during the collapse of the Soviet Union in July 1990. Its desire for independence was driven by Transnistria’s residents’ fears that Russian-speakers would lose positions of economic privilege and perhaps even basic language rights in an independent Moldova, or that the country might unite with Romania. The brief 1992 war ended with a Russia-mediated ceasefire. Transnistria, which is often described as a “second Kaliningrad,” remains unrecognized by any country, but manages to survive thanks to Russia, which continues to provide military, political and economic support. Long-running talks supervised by the OSCE, Russia and Ukraine have failed to deliver a settlement.
The aim of the project in Cyprus was to bring representatives from both Moldova and Transnistria to learn from Turkish and Greek Cypriots’s experiences related to confidence building measures (CBM’s), bi-communal activities and other measures aimed at fostering trust. The group met with representatives from both the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, including former leaders George Vassiliou and Mehmet Ali Talat. They also met representatives of NGOs, businesses and the international community. They were fortunate to be in Cyprus just after the New York talks between the leaders of the two communities and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and had the opportunity to meet with the two chief negotiators and receive a timely update on the present round of peace talks. Needless say, both versions were different.
While Moldovans and Transnistrians are able to move freely between sides of the river without having to fill out any sort of visa, which is not the case for Greek Cypriots travelling to the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC),” much what they saw in Cyprus regarding person-to-person contact was quite mind-blowing. For example, in the “buffer zone” at the Ledra Palace crossing, a restaurant/bar called “Chateau Status,” where both Greek and Turkish Cypriots hang-out, really took their breath away. Further along there is an organization called the House for Cooperation, where we held a number of our meetings. It is a bi-communal organization that bring together people from both communities for various projects. This sort of thing does not exist in the case of Moldova-Transnistria.
They were also surprised by the amount of benefits the Greek Cypriots give Turkish Cypriots. When then Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktaş agreed to open the closed border in 2003 (after almost 30 years), it allowed Turkish Cypriots to obtain Republic of Cyprus passports. Tens of thousands did this, meaning that they could freely travel around the world. Moreover, Turkish Cypriots also have the right to claim social security benefits, health care, child care allowances, tuition sponsorship for students and more. In the 2004-2008 period, Greek Cypriot financial support to the Turkish Cypriot community was some 170 million euros.
They were also very interested in how EU financial assistance is delivered to the unrecognized leadership in the North, including technical assistance for harmonizing the Turkish Cypriot legal and administrative structures with the EU and how projects undertaken are handed over to the Turkish Cypriot authorities. The answers frequently revealed a complicated structure -- including third parties -- to make this possible.
The issue of the EU’s Direct Trade Regulation for Turkish Cypriots was also widely discussed, with the group concluding that, given that up until 1994 Turkish Cypriots were able to trade directly with the EU, Greek Cypriot objections to the regulation (currently on ice) are unfounded. They were also fascinated by the role of Turkey, which many compared to that of Russia.
However, after four days of meetings, the group actually concluded that in many cases, CBM’s may actually be counter-productive to a settlement. People who are able to mingle freely and live relatively happily side-by-side do not seem to feel a great deal of urgency to change the status quo. Moreover, it would seem that participation in bi-communal activities is limited to a core group with the wider populations not showing much interest in taking part.
Many in the group also concluded that the fact that Cypriots already had an opportunity to reunite under the 2004 Annan Plan, which crashed and burned thanks to the Greek Cypriots voting it down in 2004, did not bode well for the future and that the party least interested in a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation solution was the Greek Cypriots. No matter how much Greek Cypriots may claim to “love” their Turkish Cypriot brothers, it seems that they cannot accept them as equals.
Although the two conflicts are different, and one should not draw parallels, the group certainly left the island with plenty of food for thought, which I believe should be of benefit for their own situation.