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Home arrow Political science arrow Britain’s Cold War in Cyprus and Hong Kong: A Conflict of Empires


Charged with executing London’s new deal, Winster arrived in Cyprus on 17 March 1946 with a two-pronged strategy: ‘a clear veto on Enosis unaccompanied by one harsh or provocative word or action and the pursuance of an enlightened and liberal policy in all internal affairs’. By July, Winster boasted to Creech Jones that he had resisted calls ‘to take very drastic action’ against the Greek-Cypriot nationalists from the colonial secretary, the attorney general, the commissioner of police, a number of district commissioners, and ‘all the members of the Executive Council’.10 The Greek-Cypriot nationalists, in his assessment, were not a real threat, as they wanted neither a constitution (which it boycotted in fear of communist domination) nor enosis (which it clamoured for only ‘to deprive the Left of a cry against them’).11

It did not take long, however, before Winster recognized that his ‘enlightened and liberal’ approach, while supposedly disarming nationalist agitators, was being exploited by AKEL. Soon after his arrival, Winster in fact witnessed the sociopolitical strength of AKEL when its candidate, Leontios Leontiou, despite being ‘a great firebrand’ of right-wing, prognosis politics, was elected as the new archbishop of the Cypriot Orthodox Church. (Leontios set the record straight but only after the election.)12

Winster labelled AKEL’s decision to campaign for Leontios as a part of the Soviet Union’s Cold War against the British Empire. He informed the Colonial Office that he believed that AKEL was ‘the tool of Soviet Russia’ and was thereby being utilized ‘to get domination over the Orthodox Church as a means of extending Russian territorial domination’, explicitly linking the Soviet Union’s cultural Cold War with territorial imperialism.13 Whitehall agreed; ‘[i]n a sense’, minuted Charles Y. Carstairs, the head of the Colonial Office’s Research Department, ‘the worst has happened’.14

Yet more alarming still was the related appearance of Soviet officials in Cyprus. The Cyprus government’s political report for June noted, with intense suspicion, that:

the first occasion on which Russian officials found it necessary to visit Cyprus coincided with (a) the Russian drive to use the Orthodox church as a means of infiltration, (b) the election of the Archbishop of Cyprus, and (c) a volte face by the chairman of the Synod which was decisive in the election as Archbishop of the only leading ecclesiastic on friendly terms with the AKEL party.15

British concerns on this account were not misplaced. In fact, as early as 1945 the Soviet Union began supporting the Moscow patriarchate to expand its influence (and the Soviet Union’s influence) in the Eastern Orthodox Church as part of the cultural Cold War.16 Furthermore, the JIC published a report in late 1946 which warned that ‘officials of Soviet Missions have made considerable use of Communist Party members for espionage and subversive political activities’.17

Thus as early as July 1947, Winster was already considering repressive measures in contradiction to his liberal approach, to protect the reform project from the perceived Soviet-directed communist menace. Winster complained that ‘the difficulty of pursuing’ his two-pronged strategy was

the subversive propaganda carried on by the Communists [...] who endeavour to thwart and misrepresent every progressive step taken by Government, and who are inspired not by love of Cyprus but by a desire to see Cyprus and Greece under Russian domination.

While he was ‘all for infinite patience’, Winster warned that ‘events may reach a pitch where we must either speak much more strongly than we have heretofore or acquiesce in letting the situation rot and disintegrate’.18

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