As a Greek Cypriot, I found Christopher Hitchens’ ‘Détente and Destabilization: Report from Cyprus’ in nlr 94 interesting. However, I feel that the section on the Left parties is very weak, for the following main reasons.
1. On p. 64, Hitchens attacks the attitude of akel (Progressive Party of
2. It is not clear from the context in which Hitchens quotes Grivas in relation to ‘left-wing traitors’, whether he takes this assertion as being a true one. Personally, I feel that it should strongly be denied, and treated merely as a pretext for killing left-wing trade unionists and leaders. akel incidentally did not rely only on high level talks to stop the killings of its members; it organized large demonstrations and strikes in protest, which were a greater safeguard than any words of sympathy from Makarios.
3. It is a pity that Hitchens, in his eagerness to demonstrate how reformist akel is, has made a number of omissions which in fact distort the real picture. Thus, for example, he writes: ‘From 1960 onwards, the party recovered ground by absolute support for Makarios at all levels’ (p. 64). This is not true. In 1960 akel, largely from fear that Makarios was going to support the right-wing extremists, backed John Clerides in the presidential elections. The conflict between the two only really disappeared after the 1963 constitutional crisis.
4. Hitchens’ account of akel’s policies does not make clear the kind of theoretical framework within which the party operates. At its last congress, held just before the 1974 coup, it outlined its programme: it gave full support to Makarios in the anti-imperialist struggle, called for minor reforms at home, and mentioned the possibility of socialism in the future (see Information Bulletin, Prague, for the congress documents). Similarly, a glance at any issue of Haravghi would show that it consists basically of articles in support of Makarios, articles demanding reforms such as better roads and water supplies, and portrayals of how good life is in the Soviet Union. This derives from the classic two-stage programme defended by the majority of the communist movement in Cyprus since the party was founded in 1926. Numerous articles by the party leader Ezekias Papaioannou make clear that, while attacks on imperialism in general are permissible, the attack on capitalism at home is strictly a secondary issue.
Why then does akel have the support of the majority of Greek Cypriot workers and a significant number of peasants? Hitchens does not really
5. Hitchens seems to place much of his hopes for revolutionary change in Cyprus on edek (United Democratic Union of the Centre), a small party led by Vassos Lyssarides. True enough, as Hitchens’ account of their attitude to Angola and Vietnam shows, their propaganda is very much inspired by third-world movements. Yet I would argue that this in itself proves very little about the revolutionary potential of the party. Anybody who knows people who are either members or supporters of akel would tell you that they are also quite aware of what is happening around the world. I well remember, for instance, in the early sixties, how eagerly the news about the struggle in Vietnam was discussed and watched on television at the small akel meeting house in the village where I lived. A glance at recent issues of Haravghi shows similar coverage of Angola. I believe that neither akel nor edek should be judged merely on the slogans which they use about Vietnam or other distant places. To its credit, edek put up an armed struggle against the murder squads of fascists and the National Guard after the July 1974 coup. Despite akel’s unwillingness to fight, it is also true that individual members did fight, either as members of the tactical police force or in small groups, and many of these were killed. akel’s policy is still to follow a democratic line, but it would be wrong to suggest that individual members took no part in the fighting. edek has probably grown since 1974, but it should not be forgotten that its role is still that of a defender of Makarios’s national struggle against imperialism.