Speech by the General Secretary of the C.C. of AKEL S.Stefanou at the event dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the AKEL Branch in Britain
Thursday 16 March 2023, London
Tonight’s event fills us all with great emotion, but also awe. We are celebrating 50 years of the AKEL Branch in Britain.
Fifty years of AKEL’s organised presence and activity in Britain.
Fifty years of struggles and service for Cyprus and its people, for the Cypriot community, its cohesion, presence, rights and organised intervention.
The AKEL Branch in Britain was founded on the rich history written by the first groups of Cypriot communists who at the beginning of the last century had migrated to Britain in search of a better fate and life.
In the distant 1930’s Cypriots began emigrating to Britain because of the acute mass poverty, political, social and class oppression, the lack of any prospects, even of the hope for something better. It was quite natural that Britain was popular destination for Cypriots to emigrate, given that Cyprus itself was a British colony.
Cypriot immigrants arriving here in Britain had to face huge difficulties and problems. Britain at that time may have been the biggest colonial power in the world with incredible wealth that the British colonialists stole from their colonies. But this wealth was going to the oligarchy, the aristocracy and economic establishment of the country, but the working class and the poor strata were suffering from mass poverty and deprivation and were subject to brutal exploitation. With them immigrants too were double victims of exploitation and discrimination, strangers in a country without knowing its language, without knowing where to go or what to do. It is a bitter truth that on arrival in Britain Cypriot immigrants had to face racism, social marginalisation, rejection, hostility and suspicion.
The first communist groups of Cypriots found solace in and support from the Communist Party of Great Britain. As it subsequently turned out later, the participation of the first Cypriot Communists in the Communist Party of Great Britain served as a great school for life in Britain and for the organised struggle in support of the working people in the country.
With the help of their fraternal party in Britain, Cypriot communists began to organise their lives, as well as their political and social activity. They first of all founded a newspaper, the “VIME”, to form an organisational structure around it and to enlighten Cypriot immigrants about their visions, aims and activity.
The “VIMA” newspaper offices filled daily with migrants arriving from Cyprus and finding help, support and solidarity there. The poor, but also those who were persecuted for their political beliefs left Cyprus and found in Britain another, small Cyprus that helped them to get back on their feet, to rebuild their lives. The contribution of organised Cypriots abroad to their compatriots has been invaluable. The newspaper “VIMA” was the springboard for the development of the creative activity of Cypriot communists, which supported immigrants from Cyprus practically but also substantially. Apart from founding their newspaper, Cypriot communists went on to also establish a school, the Greek School of London, and a Youth Club.
Through these structures, the expatriate Cypriots gained a strong and effective voice for their rights and for the rights of their homeland. These structures helped to restore and maintain a relationship between Cypriots who found themselves from the small IN size and population of Cyprus in the Britain of millions and bustling London.
The Cypriot communist’s activity was an extension of the creative actions which AKEL developed back in Cyprus in times of poverty and misery. With this action, the newly formed AKEL very early on began to open up unprecedented horizons for a large section of Cypriot society. From Famagusta, where AKEL Mayors such as Adamos Adamantos and Andreas Pouyiuros made pioneering and innovative actions by building schools, stadiums and workers’ apartment blocks, to the multifaceted work during the rich manifold work during the term as Mayor of Limassol of the then General Secretary of AKEL Ploutis Servas gave a way out and created opportunities for common, poor people to get an education, to engage in sports, to experience theatre, arts and culture.
These opportunities were not provided neither by the colonial authorities, nor by the plutocracy, which showed no interest in the poor. At the same time, AKEL and the Left built the local educational, cultural and sports clubs that opened up great horizons for working people and society.
From Famagusta, where the Mayors elected by AKEL, such as Adamos Adamantos and Pouyiuros, they were at the forefront in building schools and stadiums, to the workers’ apartment blocks constructed in Limassol under Ploutis Servas, to the local educational, cultural and sports associations that opened up horizons for the working people, to the creation of a Community school in Britain, this was and is AKEL. A political force that responds to the needs of the times, to the aspirations of the people, that plays a leading role with its policy to date in social demands, that does not destroy, but builds, opening up roads for our country and people.
This is AKEL, a political force that throughout its entire historical course has been building for the country and the people.
A political force that responds in a positive and creative way to the needs of the times, to the aspirations of the people.
A force that plays a leading role with its political positions in social demands, opening up paths for the country and society, the working people, the young generation.
In the heart of Britain, the Cypriot Left conducted a multifaceted struggle on many levels in support of the struggle waged by the Cypriot people to shake off colonialism. Permit me to focus on one characteristic example in particular, primarily because we owe these references to ourselves, but also to the young generation who must learn and remember History. On the eve of the execution of EOKA heroes Michalakis Karaoli and Andreas Demetriou, the Cypriot communist groups distributed among the Cypriot community in Britain a leaflet on a mass scale calling on every Cypriot to participate in the protest picket mobilisation they were organising.
The liberation of Cyprus from colonialism and its liberation was at the heart of every activity by AKEL’s cadres and members in London and this is one of the many examples that refute every arbitrary and malicious accusation directed against AKEL during that period.
In 1972 the leadership of AKEL in Cyprus took the decision to establish the AKEL Branch in Britain. The decision was conveyed by the General Secretary of AKEL Ezekias Papaioannou who knew the Cypriot community very well since the lived for many years here in London. This fact alone underlines the importance that the then leadership of the Party attached to the organisation of the Party in Britain where there was – and still is – a very big Cypriot community.
The foundation of the AKEL Branch upgraded the activity and intervention of the Party in Britain. In an extremely difficult period in Cyprus, with anti-Cypriot NATO conspiracies intensifying, AKEL developed a strong policy on Cyprus. It is during this period that AKEL establishes contacts with political figures in the British Parliament who supported the just demands of the Cypriot people.
AKEL here in Britain simultaneously denounces and exposes the pro-Greek Junta propaganda which was spreading its tentacles within the Cypriot community through various circles, primarily within the ranks of the Church. This is the period when an attempt was made in Cyprus to depose Makarios through the ecclesiastical coup d’état launched by three bishops. This situation had its consequences and ramifications for here in the Cypriot community.
The treacherous coup d’état and the brutal Turkish invasion of Cyprus mobilized the Cypriot community of Britain on a truly mass scale. With AKEL at the forefront, the Cypriot community collected and sent a huge amount of humanitarian aid to Cyprus. At the same time, a new wave of Cypriot emigration began towards England.
As the only Cypriot party in the community at that time, AKEL took decisive action, briefing and enlightening the people about the Cyprus problem. It played the leading role in the demonstrations and protests that were organised on the Cyprus problem, making representations to the decision-making centres in Britain. Trafalgar Square was overwhelmed by mass mobilisations of thousands of Cypriots who asserted the vindication of our homeland and by marching in the heart of London with AKEL always at the forefront. The Party was just as decisive and in the front line in the establishment of the National Federation of Cypriots, which undertook the task of enlightening and internationalising the Cyprus problem.
Throughout all these years, the AKEL Branch in Britain has embraced and supported Cypriots in the community. It deals with the major and secondary problems facing the community, keeping alive the Cypriot consciousness, as well as its relations with Cyprus. AKEL became the vehicle of the common struggle of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots for the salvation of Cyprus, its liberation and reunification. Moreover, many Turkish Cypriots who arrived in the country either in search of a better life or hunted by the Turkish TMT and the chauvinist establishment of the Turkish Cypriot community found protection and support in the AKEL Branch in Britain. It is well known that the Turkish Cypriot ultra-right – modelled on the Greek Cypriot far-right – murdered, threatened and terrorized left-wing and progressive Turkish Cypriots seeking cooperation with Greek Cypriots.
AKEL has become a vehicle for the common struggle of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots for the salvation of Cyprus, its liberation and reunification. Besides, many Turkish Cypriots who arrived in the country either in search of a better life, or persecuted by the Turkish TMT and the chauvinist establishment of the Turkish Cypriot community, found protection and support in the AKEL Branch in Britain. It is well known that the Turkish Cypriot extreme-right – modelled on the Greek Cypriot far-right – murdered and brutalized leftists and progressives who sought cooperation between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots.
Comrades and friends,
Despite being a long way away from home, the AKEL Branch in Britain has always been and continues to be present in the political and electoral battles being waged in Cyprus. The high percentage achieved by Andreas Mavroyiannis in the Presidential Elections undoubtedly bears the stamp of the work that was done by the Party’s Branch in Britain.
We fought a very long political battle to bring progressive change to our country in the recent presidential elections. A battle that was fought on many levels. Although we did not succeed in electing Andreas Mavroyiannis to the Presidency of the Republic, we have every right to be proud because we waged a battle with all our forces and a large section of Cypriot society embraced our proposal for progressive change.
After the Presidential Elections, AKEL, as the strongest opposition force, will continue to struggle for the key challenges that did not cease after the end of the elections. The problems and deadlocks continue to plague our country and must be addressed to the benefit of the many and not the privileged few, to the benefit of the country. Above all else, the de facto division of our country must be addressed, which is perpetuated by the illegal presence of tens of thousands of Turkish occupying troops. We are on the verge of the permanent partition of our homeland and we must act immediately by planning and assuming targeted initiatives in the right direction.
The new President of the Republic has first and foremost to address the lack of credibility left that the previous President has left behind. Mr. Christodoulides must convince the international community that he has a genuine political will for a solution of the Cyprus problem. This must be done in order to convince the UN Secretary General to undertake a new initiative on the Cyprus problem.
We do not know what the content of the President’s thoughts on the Cyprus problem is, particularly with regards a more active involvement of the European Union in the procedure. That is precisely why we have called for a meeting of the National Council to be convened, so that we can be briefed, but also to outline our views.
In view of this meeting, we must underline the following:
First, the Cyprus problem must be solved within the framework of the United Nations and on the basis of the Resolutions of the International Organization. The European Union clearly has a role to play, which is why it has been present at a very high level in recent years at various important milestones in the negotiations. It was present at Mont Peleran, Geneva and Crans Montana. The presence and intervention of the European Union is therefore nothing new.
According to the 2021 EU Council conclusions, this role is limited to that of an observer in support of the negotiations taking place within the framework of the United Nations. The European Union therefore cannot and does not want to replace the role of the United Nations. I am not suggesting that the President is seeking to do so. However, he must clarify what he further thinks about the role of the European Union in the efforts to solve the Cyprus problem beyond the role it already plays.
Secondly, we are convinced that there is no other way and no other path for a solution to the Cyprus problem other than continuing the negotiations from where they had remained at Crans Montana in 2017 on the basis of the Guterres Framework and preserving the negotiating acquis [Note: the body of work agreed so far at the negotiations] that has been created after many years of efforts and talks.
The continuation of the negotiations from the point where they were interrupted ensures that the solution will be on the basis of a Bizonal, Bicommunal Federation with political equality as set out in the relevant Resolutions of the UN. By safeguarding the body of work that has been agreed so far at the negotiations critical and sensitive issues that have been agreed between the two sides will not be opened up. This is extremely important because if we allow such issues to be opened up it is very doubtful – not to say certain – that with such a Turkey and such a Turkish Cypriot leadership that we are confronted with, these issues will never be closed.
Therefore, the President of the Republic is called upon to clarify and take a stand on this crucial issue: how does he think he can achieve the resumption of the negotiations? Does he agree with what the Secretary General and the Security Council of the United Nations have been saying for four consecutive years about a resumption of the negotiations from where they had remained, or will he seek something else? It is time for concrete answers, not generalisations. The elections are over and now the issues must be handled in practical terms.
We will raise these issues in the National Council and await the President’s answers. And as always, AKEL will participate in the National Council session by putting forth clear positions and positions.
One thing is certain: if we are left with partition, Cyprus will be sitting on a ticking time bomb. It is for this reason that AKEL has never compromised and will never compromise with the partition of our homeland. It will never compromise with the solution of confederation or a two-state solution. It will never settle, as certain forces and circles have, for a convenient temporality that we have been going through since 1974. The de facto situation is sliding from bad to worse as time goes by. For AKEL, the solution of the Cyprus problem on the basis of a bizonal, bicommunal federation is the only way for the liberation and reunification of our country.
Comrades and friends,
The need for progressive change in our country continues to exist. The need for progressive thinking to prevail over conservatism and regression continues to exist. It is imperative that rationality prevails over populism and phobic syndromes. There is a need for political ethics to prevail over immorality. Genuine patriotism must marginalise nationalism and the exploitation of patriotic sentiments to serve expediencies, and solidarity must combat racism and xenophobia decisively. Social sensitivity, transparency and accountability need to replace impunity, greed, non-transparency and authoritarianism. Honesty and openness to corner corruption, callousness and greed continues to be a priority.
The political force that can continue to stand at the forefront of this struggle is AKEL, mobilising the Left and the entire progressive spectrum of society. It is important that in these elections we have again established and developed our contacts with a section of our people who had previously distanced themselves from us. It is important that we have met with progressive people who have rallied their forces with us on the basis of political principles and a specific political agenda. The challenge that lies ahead of us today is to proceed to forge a big majority progressive pole with AKEL representing the main axis of this pole.
To do this, we are already in the process of elaborating an action plan focusing on a progressive political agenda with specific goals to the benefit of Cyprus and our society. At the same time, we are preparing ourselves for a structured democratic dialogue with the members and friends of the Party on the changes to be made in the Party so that, without changing our character and identity, AKEL can intervene more effectively and quickly in our country’s affairs. We have before us the convening of the Statutory Congress this coming autumn where we will discuss, first of all, the organisational reconstruction related to the structure, forms of work and procedures of the Party.
And secondly, we will discuss the organisational and two-way political relationship of the Party with social organisations, movements, groupings and personalities with which AKEL shares the same sensitivities, objectives and political agendas on general and specific issues.
Cyprus needs a strong, consistent, combative and mass AKEL, with open doors to every progressive and democratic person, with an open mind, that can identify the needs of progress and translate them into a political proposal that will lift our Cyprus higher.
This is the great challenge that lies ahead of us on the day after the Presidential Elections. We will fulfill this goal through hard work, with consistency to our goals and with an eye to the future.
I express the wish that the fifty years of AKEL’s rich and invaluable services in Britain will be recorded in history as the beginning. The beginning of a history that is part of the almost one hundred years of the course of the Communist Party of Cyprus-AKEL. A History born in the streets, neighbourhoods, workplaces, universities, fermented in the great moments of Cypriot history with the yeast of tomorrow. For a progressive, prosperous and peaceful Cyprus.
All the very best in all your struggles that lie ahead.