Home Political science Britain’s Cold War in Cyprus and Hong Kong: A Conflict of Empires
EOKA’s Revolt and AKEL’s Proscription
The reaction in Cyprus to the defeat of the Greek motion in the UN was unsurprising. Both of the right- and left-wing farmer unions joined in a general strike, while students took to the streets in destructive demonstrations. In Nicosia, for example, secondary schoolchildren pulled down British flags and broke windows at, among other places, the colonial secretariat’s offices and the Government Tourist Office. They were met by police batons and tear gas. Police arrested 25 people, who, according to Armitage, were ‘mainly Communists’. The military was brought in for support and in response to being attacked, opened fire, injuring three people. These larger demonstrations allegedly evolved into ‘bands of hooligans up to 100 strong’ which walked ‘about doing what damage they can at Nicosia and Limassol’. Some 80 Turkish-Cypriot vigilantes, who threatened to exacerbate the situation, were ‘dispersed with tear smoke’. Rumours circulated the following day of plans to torch the US consulate and the attorney general’s house.62
Upon his return from campaigning on behalf of Cyprus at the UN in New York, Makarios III stated that it was time for Cypriots to increase their struggle and self-sacrifice for enosis. Moreover, he expressed his satisfaction with the previous outburst of violence and congratulated those who shed their blood for the cause.63 Despite, once again, a clear articulation in support of violence on behalf of the nationalists, British policy-makers blamed AKEL. Lennox-Boyd stated in the House of Commons that ‘here again, not for the first time and, no doubt, not for the last, Communists are prepared to put other people in to do work from which they hope to profit’.64
In January 1955, Cyprus authorities captured a boat transporting over 10,000 sticks of dynamite by a Greek crew allegedly intended for the new National Front for the Liberation of Cyprus.65 While the right-wing press downplayed the incident, claiming the dynamite was for illicit fishing, AKEL condemned the nationalists for contemplating ‘such a foolhardy enterprise’.66 On 1 April, EOKA, led by General Grivas, executed that foolhardy enterprise, by detonating bombs in and around government buildings in Nicosia, Limassol, and Larnaca.67 The Cyprus Emergency had begun.
In the British House of Commons, Kenneth Robinson, Labour’s opposition whip, blamed the outbreak of violence in Cyprus on the Colonial Office’s policies and ‘ill-chosen words’. R. H. Turton, the joint undersecretary of state for foreign affairs, ironically responded by accusing Robinson of abetting ‘Communist terrorism in Cyprus’.68 The Colonial Office immediately informed the Foreign Office ‘that there was in fact no evidence that the riots were Communist-inspired’ and ‘that Communist leaders had condemned these acts of violence’. AKEL, according to one Foreign Office official, had placed itself ‘inconveniently in the right’.69
Nonetheless, Lennox-Boyd proclaimed in the Commons three days later that ‘it is not part of our policy to abandon resistance to Communist imperialism in the cold war, and that we have to take a number of other important steps to secure that aim’ in Cyprus. Viscount Hinchingbrooke, a Conservative MP, stated that, in Cyprus, ‘the only effective political party [...] is the Communist Party. They cannot be allowed to flood the Constitution, to dominate it and control it at this stage, otherwise there would be another British Guiana situation’, where British policy-makers suspended the only six-month old constitution to prevent allegedly procommunist subversion from the majority People’s Progressive Party.70 This sentiment was echoed in a note by Selwyn Lloyd, the minister of defence, to the Cabinet, which concluded that ‘[w]hilst the Communist element is not openly engaged at present, it needs to be fully understood that it has the greater potential power of the two sections of Greek-speaking Cypriots demanding Enosis’ to seize power, either through a new constitution or the withdrawal of British forces.71
In November, police in Cyprus obtained a communique allegedly written by AKEL’s politburo. It called for:
all Cypriot patriots, Greeks, Turks, and Armenians, men, women, and youths, right-, left-wingers and independents, labourers, agrarians, artisans, craftsmen, scientists and business men [...] to be united in the common democratic and mass struggle for freedom.
Despite little proof of authenticity, let alone any explicit call for violence beyond the rhetoric normally employed in AKEL publications, George Sinclair, the new deputy governor (1955-1960), interpreted this document as proof of ‘a cardinal change of direction’ for AKEL: if EOKA ‘with the backing of the Ethnarchy, intensifies its efforts to disrupt Government and the life of this island, it seems [...] that Akel might take this opportunity of joining in’. The director of intelligence in Cyprus concurred.72
However, Sir John Harding, the former chief of the imperial general staff who had been governor of Cyprus for just over two months, was focused on the immediate nationalist agitation, requesting from London approval to detain and deport the Bishop of Kyrenia for his incitement to violence on 4 December. Lennox-Boyd refused, because his deportation would have deterred the resumption of negotiations with Makarios III (as well as Greece’s assistance in the matter). Instead, Lennox-Boyd ‘made it clear to the Governor that he should take the earliest opportunity of proscribing the Communist trade unions, which he had full authority to do as soon as he thought fit, and of arresting and deporting Communist leaders’. The Cabinet was ‘in general agreement’ with these decisions (after the fact).73
Thus, on 14 December 1955, British authorities carried out Operation ‘Lobster Pot’. In the early hours of the morning, AKEL, AON, the Pancypriot Organization of Democratic Women, and the Union of Cypriot Farmers were proscribed, and 128 communists were detained. In the end, authorities detained four additional communists, closed AKEL’s mouthpiece, Neos Democratis, seized AKEL’s properties, and froze AKEL’s funds. By 16:40, only 35 known communists were at large, including two who were abroad and one who died before the operation had begun. One of those abroad was Ziartides, the general secretary of the Pancyprian Federation of Labour (PEO) and the ‘most notable figure in the A.K.E.L. hierarchy’. British authorities nevertheless detained every other known important office holder of Cyprus’s several communist organizations, including Papaioannou (the general secretary), Partassides (the mayor of Limassol), Georgios Christodoulides (the mayor of Larnaca), and Ghalanos (the editor of Neos Democratis).74
The government justified its actions with a press release, which read that:
[i]t was the Communists who since the war led the way in resorting to riot, sabotage and physical intimidation in pursuit of their political aims.
It was they who developed the whole paraphernalia of ‘struggle’ against established authority—the mass demonstrations, political strikes, daubing of slogans, seditious propaganda and monster petitions. That a large number of the public now accepts violence and agitation as a substitute for normal democratic processes is largely their doing.75
Proscription shocked many in Cyprus and Greece. The reactions from the Greek press were ‘almost uniform’ in their condemnation of what was understood to be a British ploy to promote to the world that the nationalist revolt was ‘Communist controlled’.76 As Crawshaw has put it, ‘allegations of violence, valid in 1948, could not be sustained in 1955’ against AKEL, whose activities ‘came within the law’ and whose subversion was inconsequential when contrasted with that of the church, not to mention EOKA. Makarios III, responding to the subsequent ‘wave of sympathy’ for AKEL from the public, gave the long-desired invitation for a united front.77 The communists, however, decided that they would gain more by remaining apart from the violence and indeed garnered much public support in doing so.78 In early 1958, AKEL became the target of violence, as Grivas ordered EOKA to begin killing leftists for their alleged treason. Fifteen leftists were killed during the emergency, including one who was publicly stoned to death in front of a village crowd.79
The US State Department was pleased ‘at the official level’ with the decision to proscribe AKEL.80 John Foster Dulles, the US secretary of state, explained to the Greek minister of foreign affairs that:
critics of the present British Government were attacking it for giving up the Suez base and pointing out that no sooner had the base been taken over by Egypt than the Communists had moved in. Similarly, with respect to Cyprus, it is important to make sure that it did not pass under Communist control.81
Since the breakdown of the consultative assembly in 1947 and certainly after the plebiscite in 1950, British policy-makers responsible for Cyprus struggled to find a constitutional solution which supported their projected image as a progressive colonial power. Despite the fact that these two major events were victories for the Greek-Cypriot nationalists and despite the fact that the nationalists became increasingly more disruptive than the communists, the British, both in Cyprus and London, (not to mention the US) continued to prioritize AKEL and its front organizations as the primary threat to the colonial process. Instead of a lack of foresight or comprehension (as posited by Crawshaw and others), this reflected wider British efforts over the past decade in resisting (perceived) communist imperialism and fighting the Cold War on the ground in the colonies of the British Empire.
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