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AKEL’s 1949 Purge

In March 1949, AKEL purged its leadership, significantly alarming British authorities, who viewed it not as a sign of atrophy or turmoil but as a sign of worsening conditions in Cypriot politics. The purge reinforced the idea that the Cypriot communists, like most communists, would in times of pressure and defeat turn not to moderation but extremism. (If this was true of communists, it was certainly true of British colonial policymakers.) This stereotype would later inform the debate regarding the potential consequences of AKEL’s proscription (i.e. driving them underground and to take up violence).

While AKEL was dealing with the legal fallout from the November 1948 demonstrations, Ioannou and Ziartides were struggling to find direction from Europe’s communist parties. Details of their mission vary between accounts—even between those of Ioannou and Ziartides.48 Ultimately, in early March 1949, AKEL’s entire Central Committee resigned because of their erroneous support of self-government and ‘petit bourgeois’ tendencies.49 At AKEL’s sixth Pancyprian meeting on 27-28 August, it was officially decided to reject any constitutional offer and instead demand enosis and only enosis.50

Ezekiel Papaioannou, who had been acting general secretary during Ioannou’s trip, was appointed general secretary, and a new Central Committee was elected which now included the trade unionists Ziartides and Fantis; Pantelis Varnava, a trade unionist who supposedly promoted violence during the 1948 Cyprus Mines Corporation strike; and Georgios Christodoulides, who was known to the British authorities for ‘his violent speeches’ and for organizing the demonstrations-turn-riots outside the Larnaca commissioner’s office on 28 June. AKEL’s Central Committee, as far as the British were concerned, now consisted of ‘all extremists’.51 Bennett noted that this effectively purged AKEL of ‘their Titos and Rajks’, which was shorthand for non-aligned nationalist-communists who might prove strategically useful to the British in dividing and undermining Soviet communism. Those purged included Servas, Ioannou, Adamantos, and Costas Partassides, the mayor of Limassol.52

According to Fisher, the Southern Department of the Foreign Office believed that this split was genuine and reflected the division between ‘Titoesque nationalists’ and ‘Kremlinites’ in northern Greece. (At this point, the Colonial Office file was upgraded to secret.) More likely, the purge was AKEL’s attempt to reposition itself as a pro-enosis party in time for the upcoming municipal elections. Either way, according to Bennett, ‘it will still no doubt be useful to AKEL to have feet in both camps’. The purge did, however, alienate its more moderate, pro-independence supporters, particularly Clerides, who was instrumental in AKEL’s 1946 electoral victory in Nicosia.53

Bennett lamented the loss of ‘the favourable opportunity presented in 1948 of having at least one side prepared to talk in terms of a constitution for Cyprus and forgetting about Greece’. Far from empowering AKEL, he had hoped that the nationalists and moderates might have been induced, or rather blackmailed, to cooperate with Britain in creating a constitution, for fear of AKEL dictating Cyprus’s future alone. Moreover, Bennett suggested that ‘if we could be sure that Servas and [company] are Titos at heart and not tactical burnt sacrifices, it would be rather fun to have a constitution and put them in office!’54

While probably a flippant comment on the frequency of artificial purges to shift blame from the party for previous decisions, Bennett might also have been testing the water, particularly in light of the Colonial Office’s history of backing certain moderate nationalists, for example in Ceylon in 1948. As Louis has observed, ‘The watchword became “more Ceylons and fewer Burmas”’.55 Nevertheless, nobody acknowledged Bennett’s comment in the subsequent minutes , and it came to nothing. The JIC furthermore deduced that in the short-term, ‘the internal security situation in the Island may be said to have improved. Taking the long-term view, the situation has considerably worsened.’56

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