Tassos Papadopoulos: Politician who led resistance to the reunification of Greek and Turkish Cyprus

Whatever sentiments are evoked by the death of the Greek Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulos, President of Cyprus from 2003 until last February, it is hard not to admire his timing. The man whose entire life was an affront to compromise and concession made his exit just as those ideas finally gained the ascendancy in Cyprus.

It was a testament to how quickly the political tide turned on the divided Mediterranean island that Papadop-oulos went from being Cyprus's main political actor to merely a bystander inside the last year of his life, after he lost high office and public support. A marginal role would not have sat well with the chain-smoking power-broker who had played practically every government role in nearly five decades in politics.

Papadopoulos was born in 1934 to a middle-class Nicosia family. His father was a teacher with prominent friends and the young Tassos went to London to study law at King's College. The Inns of Court were a fertile breeding ground for future Cypriot leaders on both sides of the ethnic divide. Papadopoulos qualified as a barrister at Gray's Inn, following a near-identical path to that of Glafcos Clerides, a fellow King's graduate and the Greek Cypriot politician whom he would eventually oust from the presidency, and Spyros Kyprianou, another Gray's Inn man and future Cypriot president. But it was also the path taken by Papadopoulos's life-long Turkish Cypriot adversary, Rauf Denktash, who was at Lincoln's Inn a few years earlier. Between them, these four lawyers were to dominate politics on the island following its division in 1974.

Papadopoulos returned to Cyprus in 1955, just as dreams of union with Greece were turning sour and Greek Cypriots were taking up arms against the colonial power, Britain. He was drawn into the ranks of the Eoka guerrilla movement, soon switching over to its political wing, Peka.

When Cyprus won its independence, in 1960, Papadopoulos was present at the negotiations. He was one of only a handful of delegates who voted against the agreements which cleared the way for independence, signed in London and in Zurich; this was an act of defiance or intransigence (depending on your standpoint) that set the tone for the rest of his career.

At 24 he became Cyprus's youngest cabinet minister, for internal affairs. It was the beginning of a tortuous path to the highest office that he would complete in 2003, by which time he had served in almost every ministry, from the interior to finance, natural resources and labour.

He was part of the administration of Archbishop Makarios in 1974 when a Greek-inspired coup d'etat toppled the government. He was imprisoned briefly. Despite this apparent distance from the plotters, he had in fact been prominent in the controversial Akritas movement, whose avowed aim was to empty the island of Turks – an objective that created much inter-communal violence. The coup plotters' ambition to unify the island with Greece prompted Turkey to invade and by the time the fighting finished the island was divided and Europe's longest-running political crisis had begun.

As a recognised nationalist leader, Papadopoulos was to be one of the key figures responsible for scuppering successive international efforts to reunify the island and reconcile the two communities. He was one of the leading rejectionists when in 1992 the then Secretary General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, put forward his "set of ideas" – the closest the island was to come during the 1980s to a comprehensive deal. In the decade that followed Papadopoulos was in the headlines again when his Nicosia law firm was accused of helping the Serb president Slobodan Milosevic, a fellow Orthodox Christian, circumvent a UN arms embargo.

Papadopoulos's political talent was displayed to greatest effect in 2003 when he won a narrow victory over Clerides in the presidential election. Despite being a staunch conservative he won the backing of the Communist party and campaigned on a ticket of "change". He cultivated the idea that as a hardliner he was better placed to make concessions and could get a better deal for the Greek Cypriots as the island headed for membership of the European Union. Critics hoped for the best while his supporters counted on his rejecting all moves towards unification. His election victory appalled many outside the country and Denktash said it would make any peace deal impossible, as Papadopoulos was a "Turk basher".

The new president assured everyone that "times had changed" and so had he. He then set about sabotaging international efforts to settle the Cyprus crisis. In 2004 a new UN plan was rejected in a referendum by 76 per cent of Greek Cypriots, principally because Papadopoulos had campaigned so hard against it, to the extent of giving a tearful television address. In the same year, after Cyprus's entry to the EU, the clever barrister avoided the "nuclear option" of using the veto to block Turkish entry, but he did let wither each new initiative to reunify his island.

In the end he was caught out by his incorrect calculation that the wealthy south would realise it had won the peace and, like him, decide it could wait indefinitely to make a settlement with the Turkish north on its own terms. Affluence had not completely suffocated Cypriots' desire to reunify their island, and in February of this year Papadopoulos was replaced by Dimities Christofias, after the communist ran a campaign pledging to revive talks with the Turks and seek an urgent solution.

Daniel Howden

Tassos Papadopoulos, politician: born Nicosia 7 January 1934; member of House of Representatives, Cyprus 1970-2003; Leader, Democratic Party 2000-08; President of Cyprus 2003-08; married Photini Michaelides (one son, one daughter, one stepson, one stepdaughter); died Nicosia 12 December 2008.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map