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Youth and Proscription

Taking little heed of Whitehall’s continued (if increasingly shaky) commitment to the strategy of reform, Turnbull, as acting governor, sought to counter AKEL’s growing interest in Cypriot youth by means of repressive measures. His defence security officer reported that AKEL was instilling in the minds of young men ‘Communist doctrines and Communist hates’ in order to create ‘the nucleus of a “fighter” group on the same pattern as the Stern Gang’.61 The Stern Gang, or Lehi, was a Zionist terrorist organization in the 1940s devoted to the removal of the British from Palestine and the formation of a Jewish state. AKEL’s alleged ‘fighter group’ was the Progressive Organization of Youth (AON), and in April 1949, Turnbull sought permission from London to proscribe it.

Established in 1944, AON was reinvented in 1947, according to Turnbull, ‘as a typical communist youth organisation concerned with the indoctrination of adolescents with communist propaganda and their preparation for active membership of the communist party’. AON was also a channel for communication with communist organizations abroad. The Cyprus government was concerned about ‘the increasingly frequent contacts between members of A.K.E.L. and the Slav countries (and about which it has not as yet proved possible to do anything)’.62 In January 1949, this concern was substantiated when the Czech government announced its intention to award eight Cypriots with scholarships to study at the University of Prague.63 Similar to the Hong Kong government’s assessment of communist youth activities there, Turnbull identified AON as ‘the most dangerous single long-term instrument in the hands of the communist party’. He thus sought authorization to proscribe AON as soon as possible.64

To assess Turnbull’s request, officials in the Colonial Office turned to British experiences in Malaya for direction. On 23 July 1948, just over one month after the outbreak of fighting, the Malaya government proscribed the Malayan Communist Party and its satellite organizations, but this was too late as the party leaders and fellow travellers had either gone underground or been arrested before proscription was announced. Owen H. Morris, the Colonial Office principal who wrote the memorandum, determined that 'once the [Malayan Communist Party] had adopted the policy of armed action and was prepared to murder and intimidate on a large scale’, its moderate supporters and satellite organizations ‘had to be deterred by far more forcible and repressive measures than the mere proscription of their parent organisation’. If its intelligence had been better, the Malaya government claimed it would have prosecuted the Malayan Communist Party some months previously to frustrate the latter’s preparations for rebellion.65

Morris concluded that these lessons demonstrated the merits of preemptive proscription as well as the value of improving colonial security services.66 The latter in Cyprus was particularly troubling. Fisher considered the connection between Turnbull and the security services to be ‘somewhat embarrassing’ and pondered if the defence security officer knew ‘about (i) Marxist theory [and] (ii) what is happening in Greece’. The intelligence was so inadequate, Fisher claimed, that it was unknown to the Colonial Office, for example, whether the Akelists visiting Prague would return to Cyprus as simply ‘practised doctrinaires or will they be good at blowing things up’.67

Nevertheless, according to Creech Jones, while proscription was legally permissible and potentially beneficial on some levels, the probable disadvantages made proscription imprudent. He listed: the hypocrisy of taking action against AON but not AKEL which had identical political aims; the consequences if AON was driven underground, particularly in increasing its appeal ‘to enthusiastic and hot-headed young men’; and the ease with which AKEL could simply create another youth organization.68

Fisher disagreed. She contended that while proscription was ‘a singularly sterile policy’, it ‘may be the simplest effective way of keeping the Island in order’, particularly in the absence of any ‘new ideas to offer the young Cypriot politicians as a rival attraction to the body of Marxist- Leninist doctrine’. Martin recommended that Turnbull should not only proscribe AON but do so before the arrival of Sir Andrew Wright, the governor-designate, to avoid association. Martin rejected the comparison with Malaya and emphasized the value of ‘clipping [AKEL’s] wings’. Unable to find a positive solution, reflecting the inadequacy of Labour’s new approach, the Colonial Office reached a compromise. Creech Jones granted the Cyprus government ‘a free hand to proscribe [AON] if they were satisfied after considering the arguments against such a course’, but only after Wright arrived and had time to assess the situation.69

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