Recent events in Cyprus, occurring in the context of the global capitalist crisis, have led to a sharpening of the class struggle in this small island nation. As elsewhere, in Cyprus there is an attempt by capital and its allies to make the working people pay for the crisis faced by their system. The usual package of austerity measures - privatization, attacks on pensions, increase in the retirement age - are being pushed by some sectors. The government of President Dimitris Christofias - a leader of AKEL, Cyprus' Communist Party - is fighting to protect the working people of the republic from these assaults
In Cyprus elections last May for delegates to the country's House of Representatives resulted in fierce political infighting and realignments. This was followed, in July, by a disastrous explosion at the Evangelos Florikas naval base. In the wake of these events, the centrist Democrat Party, DIKO, left its governmental coalition with AKEL.
The ostensible reason was given as disagreements over the "Cyprus question." That refers to the ongoing occupation of the northern third of the island by Turkey, the result of a failed right-wing coup and subsequent Turkish invasion. But public assertions to the contrary, Cypriot sources report that the departure of DIKO was actually due to the intense political pressure put on DIKO from certain sectors of capital and allied social forces. Because Cyprus has a presidential system of government the shift in political alliances does not affect the executive branch, and so AKEL's Demetris Christofias continues as president of the republic, and remains so at least until February of 2013. However the changes will make it more difficult for the government to protect the interests of the working people.
In general the ongoing global financial crisis and the consequent Greek financial crisis have not affected Cyprus as deeply as might be thought, but certain effects have been felt. For one thing, the Bank of Cyprus holds a lot of Greek bonds, and tourism from Europe, vitally important to the Cypriot economy, has suffered a sharp downturn. The decline in tourism exacerbated a downturn in the construction industry as people stopped building vacation homes. In addition, given the depressed atmosphere of the usually vibrant tourism sector, hotels and other tourist-related industries put expansion plans on hold.
There are some recent positive developments however.
The recent political realignment has resulted in Cyprus having a clear left-wing government, at least in the executive branch, and a recent cabinet reshuffle has moved the executive branch even more clearly towards the left.
Also, recent geological surveys have indicated the strong possibility of significant deposits of natural gas in Cypriot waters to the south. Reactionary circles in Turkey are very disturbed over this development, which may dramatically alter the economy and geopolitics of the region. Drilling, by the U.S.-based company Noble Energy, is scheduled to begin soon.
In addition to all this, the recent period has actually shown an increase in the tourist revenues that are so important to the country.
Finally, and most importantly, unlike anywhere else in the world, unions and workers in Cyprus are striking and demonstrating in favor of governmental polices and against parliamentary attempts to renege on past deals and to force through austerity measures.
The next few weeks will be of tremendous importance in determining the outcome of the struggles of the Cypriot working people, commentators say.
Photo: Protesters hold candles outside the presidential palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, July 18, after an explosion of dozens of gunpowder-filled containers at a naval base July 11 killed 13 people and knocked out a key power station. (AP/Petros Karadjias)