Home Political science Britain’s Cold War in Cyprus and Hong Kong: A Conflict of Empires
Winster, who agreed to remain in post until early February 1949, now faced what he described as ‘intensified dissension between the Right and Left which amounted to a spectacle almost resembling civil war’.31 Everything became politicized. In addition to different newspapers and trade unions, Greek-Cypriots were now forced to choose between different nationalist and communist cultural clubs, football teams, cafes, grocery stores, pharmacies, barbershops, cigarettes, alcohol, and coffee—a division which still exists today.32 These everyday things and places were indeed the symbolic weapons and battlefields of the cultural Cold War.
Meanwhile, AKEL, frantically attempting to recover the prestige and purpose it lost from its collaboration with the British imperialists in the consultative assembly, intensified its violent industrial action. PEO-led general strikes against the Amiandos Asbestos Mines and the Cyprus Mines Corporation, which were the lifeblood of Cyprus’s economy, as well as the building industry, included physical assault, arson, dynamite attacks, improvised landmines, and subsequent police action. Each strike, however, ended in failure.33 According to Winster, the copper mine strike was largely settled when the resident director of the mining company, who ‘hates AKEL, Trade Unions and Communists’, and Archbishop Makarios
II, who ‘hates the same outfits’, found ‘common ground in being glad [...] to give a dirty dig to anything on the Left’ and reached a compromise.34
In September, another leftist strike in Nicosia involved ‘masked men’ and ‘gangs of thugs’ assaulting employees at both work and home. The nationalists responded by employing the X [the Greek letter Chi] Organization to defend its workforce. A number of skirmishes ensued between the two rival parties , and police found illicit arms in their possession twice in September. By October, X Organization members wore black berets with a silver badge consisting of the crown of the Greek monarchy set over an ‘X’. John Bennett, the radical and talented head of the Colonial Office’s Mediterranean Department (1947-1952), called them ‘Right-wing “Cagoulards”’, referring to the fascist, anti-communist terrorist group in France which attempted to overthrow the Third Republic between 1935 and 1937.35
News of the violence prompted a discussion in the House of Commons in which Rees-Williams, the under-secretary of state for the colonies, put the blame squarely on AKEL. He outlined that during the five and a half months between 1 June and 17 November, there had been 29 incidents involving the use of dynamite and 74 incidents of assault, malicious injury, and arson. Of 129 recorded court cases, all but nine involved right-wing plaintiffs against left-wing defendants.36
Despite the marked rise in right-wing violence, the JIC claimed that these events demonstrated ‘that a campaign of mounting violence has been launched by the AKEL [...] following a series of reverses, with a view of gaining sufficient power to ensure its success in the Municipal elections in April 1949’. The JIC cautioned that ‘should the Builder’s strike fail, which appears likely, it is probable that AKEL will take even stronger action, for their only alternative is to admit defeat and suffer eclipse at the hands of the Right Wing Nationalist’. The JIC was particularly concerned about the party’s recently instituted insurance programme for dependants of Akelists who might be hurt or killed by the British authorities. AKEL, according to the JIC, was ‘determined to achieve its objectives at whatever cost’.37
In the Colonial Office, Bennett attempted to quell these alarmist reports. While AKEL might have been able to emulate the Malayan or Greek communists in structure and rhetoric, he maintained that there was ‘no evidence that it is prepared for open rebellion’.38 Mary Fisher, a principal in the Colonial Office’s Mediterranean Department, agreed: we are far too timid in our whole approach to communist infection. Our line ought surely to be ‘We have a better case [and] are prepared to prove it. Come who will’, not ‘We can’t allow anyone to hear the opposition case, lest they should believe it [and] act accordingly’.39
While Fisher pushed for a positive strategy which promoted the supposedly innate supremacy of the ‘British way of life’ in the cultural contest against communist imperialism, others were more pessimistic. The Cyprus government was desperate to quell this outbreak of political violence. Winster, with Whitehall’s support, ultimately abandoned the new deal tactics of reform and returned to overt repression of communism.
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