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US Interest

As Cyprus increasingly featured in the great game of the Cold War, the US also took a keen interest in the island, specifically regarding defence of the eastern Mediterranean. Stratton Anderson, the second secretary and counsellor at the US Embassy in London, was instructed to relay the US State Department’s concerns about communist influence in Cyprus. The State Department, while stressing its intention not to intervene in the colony, offered to take action in Greece and Turkey with the aim of assisting the Greek-Cypriot nationalists in the upcoming municipal elections. Anderson delivered the message in an unsigned memorandum to Edward H. Peck, an experienced British diplomat who was seconded to the Foreign Office in 1947 to work especially on Greek affairs. Anderson stressed that the memorandum ‘was not in any sense a formal communication’.74

The memorandum outlined the US’s assessment of the upcoming Cypriot elections, which forecasted the communists winning a majority of the municipalities. The memorandum then suggested ‘certain things which might be done to alter the foregoing situation and the probable outcome’. First,

one should bear in mind that the Nationalists can win everywhere (except possibly Famagusta) provided their personal opinions of, or differences with, their own candidates do not keep them from the polls. To turn out the vote, however, the Greek Orthodox Church must be urged, or prodded, into public display of its interest in the election results. There is no apparent reason why the Bishops should not continually and openly support the Nationalists candidates instead of confining their efforts, as they do now, to assurances given in private meetings.75

The memorandum suggested that the US Embassy in Athens might be able to influence the Cypriot church through the Greek Archbishop Damaskinos and his friendship with the Cypriot Archbishop Makarios II as well as to induce ‘friendly editors in Athens’ to encourage unity among the Greek-Cypriot nationalists. Furthermore, while most of the Turkish- Cypriots were not expected to vote, the memorandum claimed that those who do ‘will almost certainly support a non-Communist ticket’. And as the Turks constituted an estimated 20 per cent of the electorate in Cyprus, the US Embassy in Ankara could be persuaded to push for a similar press campaign there. Thus, ‘local Turks should be urged to vote for a full list of non-Communists, and not merely for the Turkish candidates’.76

Peck forwarded the memorandum to the Colonial Office for assessment. Fisher responded with a list of reasons against British, let alone American, interference along the lines suggested by the State Department. First, the Greek-Cypriot Orthodox Church was involved as effectively as it could have been: ‘The Bishops have taken an extremely unequivocal line about communism, and (I should have thought) have made it clear enough that any communist supporter would be worthy of excommunication’. Second, even if greater participation was possible, it would not be advantageous for the British. According to Fisher, encouraging a group whose only constructive policy was ‘Union with Greece and out with the English’ would have created ‘a curious impression’. Third, seeking Greece’s assistance in the matter would contradict the well-established policy of resisting Greek interference in Cyprus. This last argument likewise applied to Turkish intervention.77

Fourth and most important, Fisher was convinced ‘that any manoeuvre such as that suggested would in fact play straight into the hands of AKEL’. The process would certainly not remain a secret, and:

even if the faintest suspicion of it got about[,] the Cyprus communists would be presented with a trump card. ‘We always told you’ they would say ‘that Cyprus is being turned into an Anglo-American imperialist base. Now you see the proof in this American attempt to dominate our municipal elections.’

Therefore, Fisher stressed, it would have been ‘the greatest possible mistake’.78

Fisher added that the Colonial Office felt that AKEL’s ‘influence and capacity for harm’ derived from its effective control of trade unionism rather than of municipal governments. She argued that ‘[t]he disturbances of this past year would I think have taken place with no less violence even if all the Mayors had been Right Wing Enosists’. The elections, Fisher noted, were ‘after all municipal elections’. The Colonial Office maintained that political and social reforms, especially regarding labour, were the key to destroying AKEL. Peck replied that he and Anderson were both convinced by her arguments against the proposals. Anderson, however, did ‘again stress the American interest in seeing that Cyprus was not rendered untenable as a strategic base by large scale Communist activities’.79

Fisher reassured Peck one month later, this time outlining that the Colonial Office considered the ‘number of genuine Communists trained, orthodox and convinced’ to be ‘not very large’ and ‘all well-known’ to the authorities. These Akelists were ‘on the whole an able and efficient lot’. Fisher argued that ‘while nothing very positive can be done about the skilled professional communists’, it was conceivable ‘to weaken the machine at their disposal’.80

Fisher’s arguments, especially downplaying AKEL’s political power, are perhaps surprising. The British regularly utilized the threat of communism to seek and direct US support. This exchange, however, is a clear reminder that while the British needed and sought US financial and defence support to rebuild its economy and great power status, they were unwilling to accept interference in colonial affairs. So while the British would use a much weaker AKEL in 1954 to entice (unsuccessfully) US support in the UN (see Chap. 12), Fisher understated official concerns regarding AKEL in 1949 to keep the US from meddling. After all, British colonialism was hard enough to defend as a force for democracy; interfering in elections and doing so with covert US assistance would have certainly undermined Britain’s case in the imperial Cold War.

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