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Legal Containment, 1946

The court system handed AKEL its first significant setback in January 1946. Eighteen members of the PSE, including a member of AKEL’s Central Committee, were brought up in court, charged with sedition, based on documents discovered in their premises during a police raid. During the trial, Stelios Pavlides, the attorney general—whom Governor Winster later described as ‘Col. Blimp to the nth degree’—outlined the ‘subtlety and sometimes masterful’ way in which the accused exploited ‘the young and inexperienced, the easily influenced uneducated classes, poisoning and inflaming their minds and inspiring them with destructive influences’. Moreover, Pavlides accused the PSE as a whole (which was not on trial) of encouraging ‘the overthrow by violence’ of Cyprus’s government. He also accused AKEL of directing the whole enterprise.40 Woolley echoed Pavlides’s sentiment to the Colonial Office: without the prosecution of this ‘nucleus of Communism and of Enosis’, Woolley argued, there was ‘little doubt that something in the nature of a minor revolution would have taken place in Cyprus’.41

During the judgment, J. M. Halid, the president of the court, stated that ‘the establishment by violence of a socialist regime based on Marxism is the ultimate object of P.S.E.’. Addressing the accused in his sentencing, he outlined that ‘[y]our teaching, if acted upon, would have caused chaos in the country’. On 21 January (which, Turnbull noted, was ‘by a coincidence’ the anniversary of Lenin’s death), all eighteen men were found guilty of sedition. Six received one-year prison sentences; the remainder were sent to prison for eighteen months.42

Turnbull claimed that the trial was ‘not one of trade unionists as such but of the A.K.E.L. party’, adding that he thought it was unfortunate that AKEL managed to hide incriminating evidence. Furthermore, Turnbull reported that he was resisting several proposals to proscribe AKEL by administrative order. Nevertheless, he continued:

[s]ober, sound trade unionism such as we know in England is entirely alien to the Cypriot character, for which heated political controversy [...] provides the ‘circenses’ [i.e. panem et circenses] of the equivalent of the Saturday afternoon football match. A.K.E.L. is no football match; on the contrary, it is dangerous, but it is the form which the desire for political excitement currently takes and when, in one way or another, it loses its attraction, it will be replaced.43

Juxon Barton, a principal in the Colonial Office’s Mediterranean Department, agreed with Turnbull’s assessment, adding that a firm confirmation from London of Cyprus’s colonial status might cause AKEL to change tactics ‘and possibly die of inanition’. Barton also agreed with Turnbull that proscription was a bad idea, specifically because it would have been ‘misrepresented in every part of the Middle East and in this country’.44

The connection between Cyprus and the Middle East was significant. The Middle East, an area of such vital importance to British imperial prestige and geopolitical power, was also deemed to be under threat from the spread of international communism and its anti-imperial campaign. As early as June 1946, British policy-makers were considering tactics of cultural warfare to address the onset of the Cold War in the region. For example, the British ambassador at Baghdad argued that to compensate for Muslims’ (supposed) susceptibility to communism, Britain must project its ideals ‘of moderation, toleration, social progress, and individual freedom’. By October, the Foreign Office decided that counter-communist propaganda in the Middle East should project Britain’s ‘democratic system of government, social services, organisation of industry and labour, administration of justice; in short, the British way of life offers the best example of orderly and rapid progress’.45

In this statement, the Foreign Office explicitly summarized Britain’s wider strategy in the Cold War. Policy-makers believed that the projection of the sociopolitical supremacy of British socialism was key to combating rival imperialisms for the hearts and minds of imperial subjects. The supposed moderation and toleration of the ‘British way of life’ was particularly important in the informal empire of the Middle East, where the British were less able to assert dominance through the politics of force. Whitehall was therefore sensitive to acts of colonial repression in the region, such as the proposed proscription of AKEL, which would have undermined its positive image.

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