Wright’s Strong Hand

It was in this context of more organized and widespread enosis agitation that Wright formulated his plan to fulfil Creech Jones’s directive for constitutional advancement. On 13 January 1950, two days before the plebiscite and less than six months after his arrival at the colony, Wright wrote to Creech Jones that it would be impossible to introduce a constitution in Cyprus given how entrenched enosis was in the minds of all Greek- Cypriots, let alone to provide public security and to promote economic growth. Wright explicitly blamed his predecessor’s reform campaign as well as the belief, ‘studiously fostered by the communists’, that British sovereignty was based on world opinion and therefore could be removed via the UN. His plan had two stages.10

His first stage in preparing Cyprus for a constitution was to gain control of the press and political leaders, for which Wright requested substantial and controversial expansions of his executive powers. Wright complained that because there was no government oversight, editors competed for sales via sensationalized attacks on the Cyprus and British governments. He thus requested the power to suspend newspapers. In order to prevent suspended newspapers from simply continuing under a new name, Wright also sought two amendments to enable the colonial secretary to demand a cash deposit on a newspaper owner’s bond or to refuse a bond altogether. Moreover, he requested the power to prohibit the importation or reproduction of foreign newspapers.11

Second, Wright sought to expand the Prevention of Crime Law to include ‘any person whose utterances, publications or conduct’, in the opinion of a commissioner or court, were ‘likely to be prejudicial to peace, public order or good government in the Colony’. Wright argued that this power was effectively used by Governor Storrs after the 1931 disturbances without embarrassing the British. Wright wanted to use it ‘to warn, and if necessary to restrain’ those who incited anti-government agitation.12

Third, Wright sought to restore to the Aliens and Immigration Law the power to deport non-British natives of Cyprus. Much more controversially, however, he also sought permission to amend the Deportation (British Subjects) Law. The current law allowed for the deportation of British immigrants not native to Cyprus convicted under the criminal code of treason, sedition, or involvement in unlawful associations. Wright wanted to expand the law to include native Cypriots.13 He knew that this request ran against the general rule that every colony was responsible for its own undesirables who were also British subjects, a rule meant to protect Britain not only from being burdened by undesirable British subjects, but also from Soviet anti-colonial criticism for violating human rights.14

His second step, after these laws were enacted and enosis agitation was suppressed, was to proscribe AKEL and dismantle the communist system in Cyprus. While he believed that its influence was waning, Wright warned that AKEL had reportedly received instructions from the Cominform to intensify their enosis campaign as a means to weaken Britain internationally. Furthermore, Wright claimed that the communist troublemakers outnumbered those of the nationalists and that AKEL was so secretly and effectively organized, it constituted ‘the chief menace to security which we have to face’.15

Regarding the Greek-Cypriot Orthodox Church, on the other hand, Wright believed there was little to be done, except to curb overt sedition. He believed that the church’s influence would best be diminished once a constitution and legislative council were introduced. Until then, enosis agitation and AKEL were the first two obstacles. The governor concluded that ‘Cypriots need, and for the most part seek, to be governed and if we fail to govern them we shall before much longer reap an untimely reward’.16

Wright’s requests at first met considerable resistance in London. Bennett labelled Wright’s presuppositions as the ‘familiar talk of harassed Colonial Governors everywhere in the last half century’.17 Lord Listowel, the minister of state for the colonies (1948-1950), added that firm-handedness as an instrument of liberal colonial rule was contrary to British experiences in Ireland, India, and Palestine.18

More specifically, while Whitehall had no problem with Wright’s requests for bonds or even press censorship in principle, the Information Research Department preferred that local newspapers were handled through the court system and international newspapers, through customs law, to avoid the impression of authoritarian colonial rule.19 Martin and Bennett expressed concerns that the Prevention of Crime Law could be easily abused by eager British commissioners and that prosecuting especially leaders of the Greek-Cypriot Orthodox Church might prove embarrassing for the colonial administration.20 Wright’s proposed amendment to the Deportation (British Subjects) Law was, unsurprisingly, the most controversial. James Ede, the secretary of state for home affairs, simply called it unacceptable.21 The Colonial Office decided to wait until after the 1950 general election (to be held on 23 February) and after the chiefs of staff could be consulted before making any final decisions on Wright’s proposals.

Wright, however, was unwilling to wait. He informed Creech Jones on 26 January that 18 of the 86 most prominent Cypriot communists, including ‘some of the most potentially dangerous’, were then or recently in Czechoslovakia and that they were ‘there receiving full Marxist revolutionary training’.22 Some in the Colonial Office, particularly Fisher and Martin, were supportive; the latter argued that ‘we should be guided by the fact that this is a cold war and that Cyprus is an important military base and not by what may be included in a Covenant of Human Rights still under discussion’. However, Jim Griffiths (who replaced Creech Jones after the 1950 general election), with Foreign Office support, refused Wright’s request. Griffiths instead offered the governor greater liberties in refusing passports to suspected communist troublemakers.23

Wright was tenacious. He sent to Griffiths another request to treat AKEL’s general secretary, Papaioannou—‘one of the most influential and dangerous of [the] Cyprus communists’—as a prohibited immigrant. Wright simultaneously sent another telegram which relayed a story from an Athens newspaper that secret Soviet radio transmissions were directing propaganda efforts in Greece, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Persia, Iraq, Germany, and Cyprus. According to the newspaper, the instructions urged ‘the people of Cyprus to rise in revolt’. Wright acrimoniously added that Cyprus was not included in the ‘instructions for murder of senior government officials’.24 Griffiths was still unconvinced and refused.25

Griffiths’s refusals were undoubtedly informed, at least partly, by growing international pressures. Not only were the Greek-Cypriot plebiscite delegations successful in internationalizing the ‘Cyprus question’, Britain’s failure to introduce a constitution in Cyprus put it in a vulnerable position regarding the UN charter on self-determination. The Colonial and Foreign Offices turned to the chiefs of staff for any concrete strategic argument they could exploit against both enosis and international criticism for failing to introduce self-government. They were particularly interested in arguments which might play well with the US, ‘where the fear of Communism is stronger than [its] anti-colonial feeling’.26

The chiefs delivered a list of ambiguous and tenuous arguments. They claimed that Britain required ‘a free hand to station in Cyprus [...] forces which may be considered necessary, at any time, to meet the strategic situation’. More specifically, the rejection of enosis would bolster Turkey against ‘Russian aggression’, which was now ‘a most important factor in allied strategy in the Middle East’. If nothing else, the chiefs stated, it was ‘essential that Cyprus does not come under Communist control in peace’. They therefore determined that ‘Cyprus must remain under British sovereignty’.27

While this would help justify the rejection of rnosis in the UN, the chiefs’ conclusions meant that Britain was, as Fisher put it, now ‘primarily an occupying power and must be prepared to take such measures as are

necessary to maintain our position in the Island unimpaired’.28 A reappraisal of British colonial policy in Cyprus was therefore required, and the first issue considered was Cyprus’s internal communist threat. Because Cyprus was ‘too small, too prosperous, and too easily policed and held’, Fisher rejected the suggestion that AKEL could take control in Cyprus as communists had done in Czechoslovakia and attempted to do in Malaya. She maintained that AKEL’s aim would be to frustrate Britain by endeavouring ‘to improve their intelligence, to continue their efforts (hitherto unsuccessful) to infiltrate into the Civil Service and Police, and to keep a reliable and well-disciplined organisation in being for use when the occasion should arise’. AKEL’s efforts might be assisted, Fisher argued, by external powers using Cyprus ‘very effectively’ to injure diplomatic relations between the US, Britain, Greece, and Turkey as well as ‘to discredit the U.K. as a colonial power’.29

Identifying a key element of the imperial Cold War, Bennett concurred:

The more we can be forced into having to repress the Cypriots, the happier the Cominform will be. [...] We rejected a deal on the basis of internal selfgovernment for fear of the risks which it might carry internally in Cyprus. But if Miss Fisher’s analysis is right, that risk can perhaps be exaggerated, especially when weighed against the advantages which a tight authoritarian regime gives to the other side in the cold war.30

The problem, Martin replied, was drawing the ‘line between too much and too little “repression”’.31 Indeed, this was the general British approach to the war of rival imperialisms, which had little chance against the seemingly progressive, nationalist-embracing, peace-loving activities of the Soviet Union and its front organizations.

Despite acknowledging that it was in ‘the interest of communism in general that [the government] in Cyprus should be made to appear as repressive as possible’, Fisher was not convinced repression should be so quickly dismissed, particularly if ‘the war in the Middle East ceased to be cold’. She reasoned that if it was considered to be

likely that the Russians will, as their next move, switch the heat from the far to the middle East, it would be reasonable to suppose that the Cyprus communists would be required to take more positive action to diminish Cyprus’ use as a military base. Before deciding what to do about Akel, we should, I think, try to discover (i) what the ‘best opinion’ is about the next scene of Russian activity [and] (ii) whether there are any indications that Mr Papaioannou has acquired a new policy while touring the Eastern European capitals.

She noted that MI5 did not have answers to these questions when she and Barton asked them ten days previously.32

Nevertheless, Fisher argued, if the assumption was

that we may be faced with a warm rather than a cold war (? dynamite rather than the Stockholm appeals & leaflets) to make up our own minds whether the balance of advantage lies in waiting for Akel to stick out its head before striking or whether to move first.

She added that AKEL would find going underground in such a small and densely populated island very difficult, ‘unless it had the whole community with it (which is very far from being the case)’.33 Thus in January 1951, the Colonial Office, subject to a few amendments, granted Wright the powers he requested, except to deport British Cypriots.

 
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