- Cyprus in the 1930s: British Colonial Rule and the Roots of the Cyprus Conflict by Alexis Rappas
The scene in Cyprus studies tends to be dominated by political history, sociological studies, and to a lesser extent military history (particularly of the 1950–1974 events). Contrary to the dominant trend, the study under review focuses on a single decade, the 1930s, identifying it as the starting point of the abortive 1931 uprising. It then tries to delineate the effects of later developments and therefore attempts to trace, at least in part, the roots of the Cyprus conflict back to these events.
Rappas’s book sets forth an ambitious aim: to examine the wider impact of colonial rule in Cyprus in the seminal decade of the 1930s. The task undertaken by the author is difficult. The chosen decade lacks a single unifying issue—although it offers many smaller ones as potential entry points for research, which have to be (and are) examined in parallel. The issues of authoritarianism, repression, and the varied forms of reaction are such entry points. In addition to this, historians often see 1930s-Cyprus as either the beginning of or as a significant stage in the development of a number of issues, including nationalism, the roots of chronic political or economic (under)devel-opment, and the origins of the party system. The difficulty of the task that the author undertakes is therefore compounded by the widely varied nature of events that have to be examined.
In examining the aforementioned matters, the author goes a long way towards effectively writing a social (and in part political) history of Cyprus. He begins by looking at the 1931 uprising (but without examining it in any detail)—an uprising the spontaneous character of which has long puzzled historical research (although recent research in Apostolides 2013 on the underlying economic circumstances in 1931 Cyprus argues that the reasons were clearly linked to nationalism more than anything else). Rappas then goes on to systematically examine questions related to the development of colonial rule in Cyprus, political developments (notably the constitutional question), attempts at social engineering undertaken by the British, religion (banning the election of an archbishop was the most pertinent issue), and the development of the role that labor and communism played, along with the reaction of the colonial authorities to it. In [End Page 414] a way, Rappas’s work aspires, with notable success, to become a continuation of the important work of G. S. Georgallides (1979, 1986), which has yet to be surpassed over thirty years after its publication.
Indeed the shock of the revolt for the British was quickly replaced by action, which was aimed at identifying and remedying the causes of the revolt as the British saw them; yet the causes identified were colored by the British preconceptions and even prejudices. In the spirit of the time (this was the 1930s Europe), the British’s answer was social engineering, namely, attempts to pry the inhabitants of Cyprus away from politics—particularly from the cause of enosis (union with Greece), to which most Greek Cypriots subscribed. Since the obvious answer—namely, to focus on the economic development of Cyprus—could not be realized (or even proposed) in the midst of the economic crisis of the 1930s, the British administration of Cyprus used the comparative advantage that the revolt had provided: in the wake of the revolt, even Britain’s liberal traditions could be ignored with impunity. After all, since authoritarian experiments were already happening in many other European countries, why not in Cyprus, a mere colony?
The question that arises once one has read the book is this: did the British ever understand Cyprus and the Cypriots? They certainly took notice of the importance of the enosis cause but decided it was not helpful to their objectives and took measures to combat it. But did they really appreciate the pride of place that the issue had in the minds of 1930s Greek Cypriots...