ON CYPRUS, where ethnicity is the sum of politics, Archbishop Makarios moved easily from leadership of the Greek Orthodox community, to leadership of the struggle for independence from Britain, to the presidency when independence was achieved in 1960, to dominance of his country's public life in the ensuing years. With his death yesterday of a heart attack, a vacuum forms in Cyprus, and no one can be sure how it will be filled.

The archbishop cut a strikingly individualistic figure on the world stage. But through most of his career it was not entirely clear to either his supporters or his enemies whether he saw Cyprus as a Western-style country in which ethnic groups must try to come to mutually agreeable terms, or as an Eastern-style territory for the preservation of Greek values alone - perhaps by political union with Greece. His supporters revered him, not least for his displays of Byzantine and democratic political skills. His enemies, including the Turkish minority and mainland Turkey, were certain he was the instrument of a whole Western conspiracy against them. The United States, always more interested in stabilizing the eastern Mediterranean than in coping with community passions, at best only dimly understood, gritted its teeth and held on.

During a political upheaval in 1974, Turkey seized and occupied 40 per cent of Cyprus, insisting, indefensibly, that there was no alternative if the safety and welfare of the Turkish minority were to be ensured. If, as some suspected, the archbishop then concluded that Cyprus's true interest lay in community reconciliation rather than dependence on Athens, the Turks never gave him the chance to prove it. Tied in political knots of its own, Ankara had since 1974 balked any progress on ending the division of Cyprus and on establishing ways for Greek and Turkish CYpriots to coexist.

For a towering figure like Archbishop Makarios, it always seems there is no replacement. A period of introspection and sorting out is inevitable. The risk of it is that either mainland or island Turks may be tempted by the disarray in Nicosia to make more irreversible the Turkish grip on northern Cyprus. This could further strain Greek-Turkish relations and further embarrass American diplomacy in its so-far unsuccessful attempt to repair NATO's torn southeast flank. It is a time for responsible statesmen to give Cyprus the calm it needs to prepare its future.