Northern Cyprus – General strike and protest, April 1st: Jokes are over!

Diren Deniz

With this imaginative slogan, a campaign started through social media calling for a protest on April 1st, outside the Prime Minister’s office. Twenty trade unions called for a strike on the day and participation in the protest, as well as the parties of the left and the opposition. More than 10,000 people participated! 

Resign!

One of the most popular slogans was “Sucuoglu government – resign!”. It has not even been 35 days since the new government was formed. The early parliamentary elections took place on January 23. However, it took almost a month for the “winner” right wing UBP to be able to form a government, together with the centre-right DP and far-right YDP; the same parties that also formed the government before the elections!

The “new” government was not given any honeymoon since it is as if the elections never happened!. 

Since the elections, the living conditions in the North have worsened. The price hikes of basic products, the daily power cuts, provocatively hiring more people to the state apparatus but declaring that there is no money, plus an unconstitutional law that wants to lessen the number of the municipalities, pushed people in the streets. 

Beer cheaper than milk

In recent months the prices of basic goods are rising at an unprecedented rate. In the North, the workers suffer not just from the inflation due to currency devaluation (paid in TL), but also from the added import taxes (even the products from turkey are imported using foreign currency). Additionally, a large part of the local economy is functioning on the basis of sterling or euros (such as rent and car sales). 

In order for the government to do something about this, they actually raised the tax on some products! So when people were complaining about the price hikes by saying that beer is cheaper than milk, the government put extra tax on the beer, to make it more expensive, but did not lower the tax on milk! 

Petrol prices have also been rising at a very fast pace. Since May 2021, petrol prices have risen almost 15 times! Over the last couple of weeks, petroleum companies created chaos by pressuring the government into a price hike, ceasing to provide any petrol at the pumps (the government has price controls on petrol). Petrol stations closed early and many people had to go by without filling their cars. In a country where public transport is almost non-existent, not having petrol means there is no way to go to work. 

Power cuts and undemocratic laws

As if this was not enough, last month, almost everyday there was a powercut of 1-2 hours all over the island. The cuts were blamed on a lack of energy resources used in power plants, or unspecified technical problems. However, it is widely known that KIBTEK, the electricity company, is due to be privatised, since this policy was included in a protocol signed some years ago. As in all public companies, the government is letting it collapse until they can sell it for a song. 

The final straw was the law proposed by the government to reduce the number of the municipalities, targeting mainly those that traditionally lean to the left , or elect members of the opposition as mayors.

More than 10,000 to the streets

All this resulted in 10,000 people participating in the protest on Friday (there are officially 250,000 inhabitants in Northern Cyprus, so that is a big number). Since March 29, there has also been a tent outside the Prime Minister’s office where the youth of the left wing organisations together with representatives of the trade unions have camped and state that they will stay there until the government announces concrete measures regarding the price hikes and poverty. 

Trade union representatives in their speeches talked about a revolt that is starting and will continue. This is encouraging news. In the past it was unfortunately often the case that marches in the streets represented both the beginning and the end of pressure on the Northern Cyprus government. However, on this occasion, the slogan “Jokes are over” suggests that this campaign will escalate. A one day general strike by 20 unions will not be enough for this government, or indeed the next, to cease bailing out the rich at the expense of workers. A continued escalation of civil disobedience, industrial action and a campaign by all the movements in the streets will be needed in order to send a message to all political parties that enough is enough. 

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