Britain in the Mediterranean

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A visit to Cyprus helps to dispel the myth that the British Empire died of natural causes half a century ago.  It did nothing of the sort.  The empire rebranded itself as the Commonwealth of Nations, and carried on much as before.  The Commonwealth countries—53 in all, including two, Rwanda and Mozambique, that were never British possessions—meet harmoniously every two years, for the leaders to network and get photographed with the Queen.

Cyprus was a terrorist playground in the 1950’s and 60’s, when the nationalist, anti-British group EOKA, under the mad Col. Georgios Grivas (known as Digenis, “the leader”), kept the country in armed turmoil.  Their cause was Enosis (“union”), the sacred union of Greece and Cyprus.  To that end, British housewives in Limassol were shot in the back.  Enosis is now as dead as the Dreikaiserbund; the two Greek communities have no wish to share or to pool their problems, which are startlingly asymmetrical.  Both are undischarged bankrupts.  As an English columnist said at the time, “the finance minister Greece needs is Enosis Onions.”  Greece now has to deal with boatloads of migrants, currently some 50,000 per month, many of whom land in Lesbos.  Cyprus, also bankrupt, has had to be bailed out under stringent discipline.  But Cyprus does not have a migrant problem.  Being an island, Cyprus never joined the Schengen Agreement, under which migrants who have passed through the E.U.’s external borders move into a borderless union.

The banner year of modern times was 1974, which opened with the death of Grivas.  Under President Makarios, Cyprus lost a third of her territory, when the Turkish army, intolerably provoked by the archbishop’s maneuvers and fearful for their own identity, invaded the island and secured their own ethnic sector in the north.  Makarios died in 1977, and his giant statue in Kykkos Monastery in the Troodos Mountains, guarded by a Cypriot soldier, is his memorial.  His successors ran the country with such spectacular incompetence that in 2013 E.U. authorities and the IMF moved in, and the state was compelled to confiscate all uninsured bank deposits over ?100,000.  Since those scalped were in large part Russian crooks, not everyone wept.  But it did look bad.  The government, subsequently in the grip of tight austerity, has lately announced that their hiring freeze on public-sector employees will be extended to the end of 2017.  The island remains divided, a U.N.-sponsored peace plan in 2004 being accepted by the Turks and rejected by the Greeks.  There is talk of a “bizonal bicommunal federation,” but no agreement is yet in sight.

For the ex-imperialists, there is little downside.  The burden of ruling the island was lifted in 1960, to Britain’s great relief, and Cyprus now has the appearance of a British protectorate.  The country has an R.A.F. sovereign base in Akrotiri, and another sovereign base in Dhekelia with a major signals-intelligence role.  In effect, Cyprus is a pleasance for the British pensioner class, which frolics through its prolonged winter break like the partygoers in the Mosaics of the House of Dionysos and Aion in Pafos.  The Cyprus economy is kept afloat by that class, which is very well treated by the locals—not surprisingly, since the hotel and restaurant clientele is close to 100-percent British.  They are on to a good thing and know it.  “Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen bluehn?”  But the Germans and Scandinavians are nowhere to be seen, while in Spain they are everywhere.  There is an informal, unannounced partitioning of resort lands by national taste.

Oddly enough, the European migrant problem did touch upon Britain in Cyprus.  In October a couple of boatloads of migrants from North Africa, not knowing what they were doing, made landfall.  The beach where they grounded happened to be owned by R.A.F. Akrotiri, which at once impounded the boat people.  They may have thought that they would speedily be wafted to England, that El Dorado of the migrant class, but they were soon relieved of their misunderstanding.  The British handed over most of the migrants to the Cyprus authorities, where they are deemed to have sought asylum with no further rights of movement in the E.U.  Some two dozen refused the deal and stayed in Akrotiri, protesting volubly.  They are housed and fed but have no chance of leaving on their own terms.  The sacred union of migrants with Britain has yet to be ratified, and, since David Cameron has now referred to the Calais people as “a bunch of migrants,” to widespread, confected outrage on the left, there is no chance of further concessions on that front.  Cyprus is all but free of the European migrant crisis.

And that is part of its attraction.  Administered by the locals, staffed by Eastern Europeans, governed by Brussels, watched over by the R.A.F.—which has a short flight due east to Syria—the Republic of Cyprus has everything, starting with climate.  Every morning the sun beats down on betoweled hotel loungers, on which those reclining are, contrary to myth, British.  The breakfast sausages are pork, not chorizo.  Liquor prices are ludicrous; on the Pafos promenade cafés, a pint of beer can cost €1.69.  The muscular pound overbears the slimline euro.  What’s not to like?

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