Christofias, Dimitris (Cyprus)
Dimitris Christofias became the European Union’s only communist head of state when he was sworn in as president in Feb. 2008. Christofias, the leader of the far-left Progressive Party of the Working People (AKEL), was elected after two rounds of presidential elections. He vowed to pursue talks with the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ (‘TRNC’. to find a solution to the division of the island.
Christofias was born on 29 Aug. 1946 in Kato Dikomo, Kyrenia province, which is now under Turkish control. His father was a member of the Pancyprian Federation of Labour (PEO), an umbrella organization of trade unions in Cyprus with close ties to the AKEL. Christofias attended the Nicosia Commercial Lyceum where he joined the Pancyprian United Student Organization (PEOM) at the age of 14. In 1969 he became a member of AKEL, PEO and the United Democratic Youth Organization (EDON; AKEL’s youth wing). At the fifth congress of EDON held the same year, he was elected to the central council. From 1969–74 Christofias studied at the Institute of Social Sciences and the Academy of Social Sciences in Moscow, where he graduated with a doctorate in history.
On his return to Cyprus in 1974, Christofias was elected to the post of central organizing secretary of EDON. In 1976 he was elected member of the Nicosia-Kyrenia district committee of AKEL and the following year became general secretary of EDON. He was appointed to the AKEL central committee in 1982 and was elected a member of the political bureau in 1986. In 1987 he resigned as general secretary of EDON to take on his new post on the secretariat of the AKEL central committee and in April 1988 was made general secretary, a post he still holds.
In the 1991 parliamentary elections Christofias was voted into the House of Representatives, winning re-election in 1996 and 2001. On 7 June 2001 he became president of the House and retained the post in 2006. In his capacity as AKEL general secretary and president of the House, Christofias was a member of the national council, the advisory body to the president on the ‘Cyprus problem’.
Ahead of the 2008 presidential election Christofias campaigned on finding a solution to reunite the divided island—despite backing the 2004 rejection of a UN reunification plan. In the first round of voting he came second with 33.3% of the vote, displacing the incumbent Tassos Papadopoulos of DIKO (Democratic Party). In the second round he received the support of DIKO and defeated right-winger Ioannis Kasoulidis, obtaining 53.4%.
Despite widespread reservations about his communist background, Christofias promised to preserve the country’s market economy. He also quickly kick-started talks with Northern Cyprus, meeting Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat in March 2008. Agreement was reached on reopening a key crossing in the divided capital, Nicosia, and they declared their intention to relaunch formal reunification talks. Meeting again in May, they acknowledged their differences but reaffirmed their commitment to ‘a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with political equality’. Following a further review in July, Christofias and Talat met again in Nicosia in Sept. to begin direct intensive negotiations.
Substantive progress was nevertheless slow, reflecting the underlying fragility of the peace process and the complexity of the issues of contention, such as governance and power-sharing, territorial adjustment, property ownership and security guarantees. In addition, parliamentary and presidential elections in the ‘TRNC’. in April 2009 and April 2010 respectively, were won by the right-wing nationalist National Unity Party and its hardline leader Derviş Eroğlu, casting doubts on the prospects for further progress towards a reunification settlement.
Parliamentary elections for the House of Representatives in May 2011, which resulted in a narrow victory for the right-wing opposition DISI party, reduced Christofias’ room for manoeuvre in negotiations. His political position was further undermined in Aug. when DIKO withdrew from the coalition government. At the same time, the already strained public finances came under increasing pressure in July following a munitions blast that knocked out the country’s main power station, and in the same month Cyprus’ international credit rating was downgraded.
The impasse in communal negotiations persisted in 2012. In April the UN acknowledged that progress to date was insufficient to warrant holding an international conference to finalize a durable settlement. Moreover, the prospects for any further political advance were complicated by the Cypriot assumption of the rotating presidency of the European Union from July and by Greek Cypriot presidential elections scheduled for Feb. 2013. In Nov. 2012 the Cypriot government agreed a financial bailout with the EU and International Monetary Fund in support of the flagging economy.
Christofias did not seek re-election at the presidential elections held in Feb. 2013.