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AKEL and the Iron Curtain

While not on the same scale as Hong Kong, the movement of people, particularly to and from communist-controlled territories, was a key concern for British policy-makers regarding Cyprus. In February 1949, Geoffrey Wallinger, the head of the Foreign Office’s Southern Department (1947-1949), wrote to Bennett about the ‘increasing number of Cypriots [who] appear to be going behind the “iron curtain” on various “missions”’. Wallinger explained that his department’s interest in the matter was specifically connected to its interest in the Greek Civil War, adding that ‘there would be mutual benefit in obtaining such information as may be possible from our Missions in Eastern Europe about the activities of these gentlemen’. Furthermore, he requested that the governor send to the Foreign and Colonial Offices a summary of each individual’s name, probable destinations, and background information. This information would then be forwarded to the relevant chanceries, which had already been briefed on the situation.70

Turnbull complied. He sent reports which detailed, for example, that one individual was issued a passport for Britain, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, and Switzerland. The report described him as a ‘[f]anatic communist’ and a leading party member who frequently wrote for left-wing newspapers. His Greek ex-artiste wife was supposedly an AKEL-sympathiser and lectured for AON. When they left Cyprus, intelligence suggested that they were heading for Russia. Instead, the individual was reportedly studying in a university in Czechoslovakia. These lists were then forwarded by the Southern Department to the chanceries in Athens, Belgrade, Bucharest, Budapest, Moscow, Prague, Sofia, and Warsaw, with the request that information as to the whereabouts and actions of these individuals would be relayed back to Whitehall.71

The Foreign Office’s Information Research Department, which was the primary mechanism of Britain’s overseas anti-communist propaganda campaign, considered the combination of Cyprus and Czechoslovakia to be particularly troubling. It explained in correspondence with the chancery in Prague that:

[t]he importance of the influential Communist Party [of Czechoslovakia] in so strategic a colony as Cyprus needs no emphasis; and we shall therefore be glad of anything you may be able to send us about Cypriots, over and above other British subjects. We are sending copies of this letter to the Chanceries at Moscow, Sofia, Bucharest, Budapest and Warsaw, in case anything comes their way.72

The chancery in Bucharest had more bad news for the Foreign and Colonial Offices, namely that there had ‘been an attempt to start a certain amount of traffic the other way’. The chancery had received two applications from the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for diplomatic visas for Cyprus, allegedly to facilitate travel to Egypt. The chancery did not grant the visas. Instead of officially refusing them, the chancery stalled, and the Romanians did not pursue it.73

The involvement of the Foreign Office and its Information Research Department indicated the extent of official concern regarding Cyprus in the Cold War, especially regarding travel to and from the colony. The British, it turned out, were not the only ones who sought to exploit Cyprus’s strategic location in the eastern Mediterranean, and British foreign policy-makers and intelligence officers scrambled to prevent Cyprus from becoming part of the Soviet Union’s communication, training, and imperial network. For the time being, however, the only course of action available to British authorities was monitoring Cypriot communists’ movements.

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