The November Demonstrations

Winster initiated the abandonment of Labour’s new approach of colonial reform by requesting a number of increased powers from London, including permission to refuse visas for Cypriots travelling to the Soviet bloc (particularly Czechoslovakia) and to charge expressions of communist sympathies as sedition.40 Both of these requests were denied, because ‘the propaganda honours would go to AKEL and to the Cominform’.41 Nevertheless, the Cyprus government landed its most punishing blow to date against AKEL in November 1948, when it prosecuted over 70 Akelists under existing legislation, the Assemblies, Meetings, and Processions Law.

The Assemblies, Meetings, and Processions Law criminalized the arrangement of or attendance at a meeting of more than four people, to hear a political speech without a permit from the district commissioner. It was passed in 1932, in response to the 1931 riots, but was more often utilized to contain AKEL’s public rituals and demonstrations. Public rituals, which can be used to construct, define, and legitimize explanations of social life and identity on the one hand and constitute ‘the life blood of revolution’ on the other, were essential battlefields in the cultural Cold War.42

With its unsuccessful industrial action and unpopular violence, combined with the government’s tougher stance, including a police search of ‘the long sacrosanct’ headquarters of the PEO, AKEL sought revitalization by claiming responsibility for Winster’s retirement.43 Emboldened by this self-proclaimed victory, AKEL, through one of its front organizations, the National Liberation Alliance, applied for permits to hold large meetings and processions across Cyprus. (The National Liberation Alliance was formed by AKEL to provide a non-communist umbrella union for all pro-enosis political parties, although it was, unsurprisingly, only successful in enlisting left-wing organizations.)44 Permission was granted for the meetings but not for the processions. On 18 November, to protest the Assemblies, Meetings, and Processions Law, under which their programmes were limited, these meetings turned into illegal mass demonstrations.45

Cyprus authorities cracked down on the demonstrations. From Limassol alone, 36 people were convicted, 34 of whom were sent to prison: Servas for three months; Pantinos Mavroyannis (a member of AKEL, trade union leader, and municipal councillor for Limassol), Evangelos Vanellis (a member of the PEO’s Central Committee), and six others for two months with a ?5 fine; 23 others for one month with a ?10 fine; and two women for three days. In Larnaca, 34 people, including a municipal councillor, were imprisoned for at least one month. Even with the prosecutions in Famagusta outstanding, 76 persons were sent to Central Prison as a result. Less than a week later, George Photiou, a member of AKEL’s Central Committee and municipal councillor for Larnaca, was sent to prison for three months for his role in another illegal procession.46

Leading members of the National Liberation Alliance urged Creech Jones to overrule the sentences, to release the prisoners, and to repeal all illiberal laws, especially the Assemblies, Meetings, and Processions Law. All of these requests were ignored, especially the last one. Fisher summed it up:

Clearly if we wish to put Communists into prison without fuss the continued existence of this law, which every spirited Cypriot will wish to break, provides a most useful means of doing so [and] I imagine that until there is some general new deal in Cyprus there can be no question of repealing it.47

As with Hong Kong’s repressive ordinances, Labour’s ‘new approach’ to colonialism in the Cold War was no match for the realities on the ground and the inability of the British to offer ‘something better’ than communism, let alone enosis. Thus even Fisher, who was perhaps the most ardent believer in Britain’s inherently ‘better case’ against communist ideology, accepted the need for the politics of force against the communist enemy.

 
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