By Achilleas Antoniades
In early 2004 I took up my position as High Commissioner for Cyprus in Australia. I had many opportunities to meet with and speak to Mr. Alexander Downer, the then foreign minister of Australia. I want to recount two occasions that are directly relevant to the present debate about his role in resolving the Cyprus problem.
When I learned that his ministry was organising a visit by a high-ranking representative of the “TRNC” to Australia, I asked to see Mr Downer in his office. The meeting was cordial until the moment I protested at the initiative of his foreign ministry to host a representative of a “state” his own country did not recognise.
Mr Downer surprised me with an explosion of anger over my objections. He was not only unreceptive and insensitive but he lashed out at me in a totally unbecoming manner. “What is your problem?” he said. “Get over it. They are humans too. They need an opportunity to present their point of view.”
Of course he knew that it was not a humanitarian issue I was raising. It was an issue affecting directly the integrity of my country. He chose to ignore it. It turned out that his future agenda included a visit by the Turkish Prime Minister. This was obviously part of the preparation. Seeking favour from the Turks is not something Mr. Downer is not used to. All in the name of good relations based on the Australian experience at Gallipoli, going back to the first World War.
If Mr. Downer was prepared to give such recognition to the Turkish Cypriot regime then, is it any surprise that he now conducts visits to the office of the “Foreign Minister” in the occupied areas? Does his position as the Special Adviser of the UN Secretary General on Cyprus make any difference? Apparently not. Warnings had been provided at the time of his appointment. Don’t we wish we had done something then?
The second incident concerns one of Mr Downer’s annual speeches to the diplomatic corps. He spoke at length about his country’s relations with all areas of the world. I was amazed to notice that he did not say a word about his country’s relations with the European Union, something that did not escape the attention of other colleagues too. When I approached him, trying to inquire if this was an unintended omission, his usual explosive, even abusive manner came through: “F**k the European Union. Who is the European Union? There are other more important areas in the world,” he blasted out. My other EU colleagues were aghast.
This is the man we have trusted to help us solve our problem and integrate a united Cyprus into the European Union.
Achilleas Antoniades, Retired Diplomat, Deputy Chief of Mission to the USA, High Commissioner to Australia, Ambassador to the Czech Republic