Clerides, Glafcos (Cyprus)
Clerides has been the dominant figure in Cypriot politics since the country gained independence in 1960. A member of the House of Representatives from 1960–76 and from 1981–93, he was elected president of the Republic in Feb. 1993 (having assumed that role briefly in an acting capacity from July–Dec. 1974 during Archbishop Makarios’ exile). He was also the founder and leader of the Democratic Rally, the main party in government from 1985–2001. Clerides was a staunch supporter of the UN formula for reuniting Cyprus as a bizonal and bicommunal federation and of Cyprus’ application for membership of the European Union (EU). He was defeated in presidential elections in Feb. 2003, shortly before Cyprus was due to give its verdict on UN proposals for reunification.
Born in Nicosia on 24 April 1919, Clerides was the son of an eminent Cypriot barrister. After his formal education at the Pancyprian Gymnasium, Nicosia, and in the UK, he volunteered for the British Royal Air Force in 1939. Shot down over Germany in 1942 during a bombing raid on Hamburg, he was captured and, despite several escape attempts, remained a prisoner until the end of the war. Having returned to the UK to study law at the University of London’s King’s College, he was awarded an LLB degree in 1948. Called to the Bar at Gray’s Inn in 1951, he practiced law in Cyprus until 1960. He often represented Cypriots before the British colonial courts and was also responsible for drawing up documentation about alleged British breaches of human rights.
In 1959–60 he was a pivotal Greek Cypriot figure in the Zurich and London negotiations leading to independence and the adoption of a new power-sharing constitution. In the transitional period to independence he also served as minister of justice. Clerides backed Archbishop Makarios in 1959 for the presidency (despite his own father’s proposed candidacy). In July 1960, representing the Patriotic Front for the Nicosia District, he was elected to the House of Representatives, which in turn elected him as its president the following month (a post he held until July 1976).
From 1968 Clerides represented the Greek Cypriot community in the UN-sponsored intercommunal talks with the Turkish Cypriots. However, policy differences with Archbishop Makarios led to his resignation in 1976, when he launched a new right-wing political party, the Democratic Rally Party (DISY). Under his leadership DISY was the largest parliamentary party by 1985. Clerides stood unsuccessfully in the next two presidential elections. In 1983 he was defeated in the first round (with 34% of the vote) by the incumbent President Kyprianou; and in 1988 he lost in the second round, winning 48.4% of the vote, against the independent candidate George Vassiliou.
Clerides defeated Vassiliou in the second round of voting in the Feb. 1993 presidential election. His victory (with 50.3% of the vote) was attributed partly to the transfer of support from other parties opposed to a 1992 UN proposal for making Cyprus a federal state. Despite campaigning for reunification, Clerides distanced himself from the UN plan. After the election, the UN-sponsored negotiations with Turkish Cypriots to implement confidence-building measures resumed but failed to produce any positive results. Having been narrowly re-elected in the presidential run-off in Feb. 1998 (this time with 50.8% of the vote) Clerides formed an all-party national government to begin accession talks with the EU, describing membership as ‘a catalyst for better or worse’ in terms of ending the island’s divisions. In 1998, responding to international pressure, Clerides agreed to shelve a controversial plan to deploy Russian anti-aircraft missiles.
In a potential diplomatic breakthrough, Clerides and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktaș, met face to face for the first time in 4 years in Jan. 2002, agreeing to continuing negotiations. The UN proposed a plan under which Cyprus would be run as a ‘common’ state with two ‘component’ states, along the lines of Switzerland and its cantons. Although resolutely opposed it, Clerides gave it a more favourable response. However in the presidential elections of Feb. 2003, Clerides lost to Tassos Papadopoulos of the Democratic Party after one round of voting. Papadopoulos took over negotiations with Denktaș and the UN but failed to reach an agreement by the 10 March deadline. He died at the age of 94 on 15 Nov. 2013.