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The 1950 Plebiscite

Wright assumed the governorship of Cyprus on 4 August 1949. He had considerable experience of the country, serving on the island in different posts, including colonial secretary, between 1922 and 1940. In fact, it was Wright’s overturned car which supplied the rioters in 1931 with the fuel to burn down Government House. He was the inspector of the supposedly communist-infiltrated Cyprus Regiment during the Second © The Author(s) 2017

C. Sutton, Britain’s Cold War in Cyprus and Hong Kong, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-33491-2_12

World War before becoming the colonial secretary of Trinidad and then governor of the Gambia. In this last post, Wright was a popular governor, especially after he organized the first democratic elections for the Gambian Legislative Council.1 Upon his return to Cyprus in 1949, Creech Jones charged Wright with the task of ‘making some constitutional advance’.2

In opposition to constitutional advancement, however, still stood both enosis and communism. In late 1949, AKEL asked the Ethnarchy Council to co-author a proposal for a UN-sponsored plebiscite on the question of enosis. The council refused, and AKEL prepared to act unilaterally. The council, however, was not to be outdone and organized a plebiscite of its own, under the leadership of Michail Mouskos, the popular, youthful, and gifted Bishop of Kition (and future Archbishop Makarios III).3 Meanwhile in Greece, Nikos Zachariadis, the general secretary of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), defied instructions from Moscow to end the civil war and called for a new and disastrous offensive in August 1949.4 Weakened by internal dissension, significant casualties, and Tito’s decision to close the Yugoslav border in July, the KKE finally declared a ceasefire on 16 October.5 The KKE’s defeat and the recent Tito-Stalin split flung AKEL back into a state of political confusion. Instead of continuing with their original plan, AKEL announced its cooperation with the church’s plebiscite, despite lacking an invitation to do so.6

The result of the plebiscite was perhaps unsurprising, with more than 95 per cent of Greek-Cypriot voters supporting enosis. Subsequently, the KKE and AKEL both sought to capitalize on the plebiscite. According to a government report, AKEL planned to invite Russia or a Soviet satellite state to introduce the ‘Cyprus question’ in the UN. To avoid the plebiscite being ‘prostituted to Communist diplomacy’, the church wanted to negotiate with Athens, London, and Washington. Failing that, the rumour was that Egypt or India would be asked by the nationalists to sponsor the application at the UN.7 Thus AKEL and the nationalists sent separate delegations overseas to solicit support.

Meanwhile, AKEL reinvigorated its domestic political and social programme, which included more demonstrations by unemployed Cypriots, more strikes, more rural campaigning, the re-establishment of the Pancypriot Organization of Democratic Women, and ‘a more militant’ Progressive Organization of Youth (AON).8 Fisher noted that while AKEL erected a successful framework, it was ‘having uphill work in filling it in’. Nevertheless, there was still no other political movement in the colony which could rival such organization. Fisher concluded that ‘[t]he real question, of course, is how much of all this would go on if Akel were either proscribed or decapitated’.9

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