By George Koumoullis
DEMOCRACY is not just about the elections of the president and deputies every five years. More than anything, democracy means debate based on rational arguments and respect. In a proper debate, everyone has the right to freely express an opinion and regardless of how extreme it is, it should be respected.
What has been happening in Cyprus in recent years, but especially these days, is nothing more than the undermining of democratic values. Many of the supporters of the status quo are not prepared to engage in a sober and dignified dialogue. Instead they respond to the arguments of the supporters of the bi-zonal, bi-communal federation (BBF) with ever-increasing abuse littered with threats and curses. And if anyone doubts this, I invite them to take a tour of social media, where they will read profanities levelled against ‘federation-supporters’ that would make a sailor blush.
Why is there such undemocratic behaviour? Many analysts attribute these undemocratic attitudes to our education so I consider it superfluous to deal with this aspect of matter. But it would be a serious omission not to mention the negative role played by the Orthodox Church in this undemocratic behaviour. At the big conference of the Orthodox Church held in Crete recently, the Bishop of Limassol Athanasios declared that the only correct faith was that of the Orthodox Church and those who did not follow it were ‘heretics’.
In the mind of the average ‘faithful’ the word ‘heretic’ is a synonym for ‘non-believer’, or ‘whoever is not with us, is against us’. There is no respect for diversity and the right to choose one’s faith or, in terms of what we are discussing today, to support a settlement of the Cyprus problem. How can democracy flourish with such mentality? The big irony is that the ideas of Athanasios and his fellow travellers clash with those of progressive people, not of the 21st, 20th, 19th or 18th centuries but of the 17th century.
I would suggest that the bishop broadens his horizons a bit and read the book by the renowned philosopher John Locke, ‘Letter on religious tolerance’, written in 1689. Locke said something that is self-evident for all democratically thinking people: that every church is orthodox to its self, and mistaken and heretical for the others. What one church believes is considered the truth and anything contrary is condemned as wrong. The sad conclusion is that the (worthless according to Athanasios) Enlightenment has not yet reached Cyprus, as if we were millions of light years away from Europe.
The comment that was never adequately condemned by Cypriot society was the grossly offensive term mouthed by Tassos Papadopoulos to refer to the 24 per cent of Greek Cypriots who voted ‘yes’ in the 2004 referendum. He referred to one in four Cypriots as ‘nenekos’. The word derives from Demetrios Nenekos, who, during Greece’s war of independence in 1821, co-operated with the Turkish conqueror (the equivalent in English is quisling – a person who co-operates with an enemy occupying force). It is considered one of the worst insults to level against a Greek. In other words, then president Papadopoulos labelled 24 per cent of Greek Cypriots national traitors because they supported – whether they were wrong to do so is irrelevant – the Annan plan. When such a mentality is grafted on a society by its head of state, how can democracy take root?
Deeply disturbing and worrying for democracy, but also for our physical well-being, was the slogan ‘Fire and axe to the Turk-worshippers’ written on placards held by students during the November demonstrations against the establishment of the pseudo-state. The father of this slogan was Theodoros Kolokotronis (one of the leading figures of the Greek war of independence) in what was then an attempt to limit co-operation with the Turks so the war would succeed. But who are the ‘Turk-worshippers’ today? According to the students and their party guardians ‘Turk-worshippers’ are all those who support BBF, which is the majority of the people.
The slogan clearly states that all of us who support a settlement must be set on fire and killed in the most brutal way – by axe. It is indisputably a public incitement to violence and hatred, which is illegal in the EU. According to the website of the Ombudswoman, whoever threatens public order or poses a threat to life, freedom or physical integrity of any group of citizens is punished by imprisonment. Unfortunately, justice once again ignored this cause of anger, depression and humiliation to a large section of the population. Why did the police take no action? Why did the ministers of interior and justice stay silent? And, most importantly, why did the attorney-general do nothing about this blatant violation of the law?
On second thoughts, what more can I expect from a state that wrote off all the offences of the thugs who attacked Turkish Cypriot students at the English School because they were the offspring of ‘aristocratic’ families? The same state which also dismissed all the offences by gymnasium students linked to the attack on Turkish Cypriots and their cars in November 2015? What seriousness and objectivity can one expect from a state with such a record?