AKEL chief Andros Kyprianou has written to the attorney-general and House president to demand an investigation into allegations of hate speech in the legislature and on social media. He was referring to the scenes that took place inside and outside the legislature on Friday, during the debate of the Disy bill that revoked the Enosis referendum amendment, thus allowing the resumption of the talks.
His allegations were directed at the extreme right Elam, one of whose deputies had labelled deputies that supported the bill traitors in his speech, and a group of Elam protesters that shouted abuse and threats at him outside the House. Kyprianou also cited an exchange on social media between an Elam deputy and one of his supporters who advocated the return of Eoka B “which shot them (communists?) like dogs in their coffee shops.”
The latter comment was despicable, but this type of remark is common currency on social media on which the idea of freedom of expression has become an excuse for vile, abusive, aggressive and threatening language. If the attorney-general’s office started investigating such posts it would have time for nothing else. The internet and social media are a free for all, offering a platform to bullies, extremists and fanatics to intimidate and abuse people whose views they do not agree with. It is a much more general problem in need of some regulation.
As regards the verbal exchanges during the House debate, they should not have come as a big surprise given the way political debate is conducted. In the House, it may have been only the Elam deputy that spoke of ‘traitors’ but the truth is that rejectionist leaders implied that supporters of the bill were lacking in patriotism without spelling it out. Diko chief Nicolas Papadopoulos might not have said the word, but he implied it by referring to the ‘Akinci bill’ and its backers of ‘belittling and humiliating’ Cypriot Hellenism. Only ‘traitors’ could have backed a bill that ‘humiliated’ all Greek Cypriots and took away their dignity.
Sadly, ‘hate speech’ and labelling people we disagree with as ‘traitors’ and ‘agents of foreign interests’ are very common. It was not long ago that Akel would refer to Disy as ‘lackeys of the troika,’ because the party supported bills proposed by the lenders. Only a few weeks ago, Dr Eleni Theocharous christened the rejectionist parties as the ‘patriotic space’, clearly implying that Disy and Akel were deficient in patriotism. After the 2004 referendum, President Papadopoulos publicly dismissed supporters of the Annan plan as traitors and initiated a witch-hunt against them, by claiming they had been paid off by the US.
An investigation by the attorney-general will not solve anything. It will certainly not end the fanaticism and dogmatism that have always poisoned political life and, inevitably, debate. It will not make our society more open-minded or tolerant to divergent views and overnight introduce civilised and rational debate. Such a change of mentality and mindset will require many years, but it would be a start if politicians and all the parties – not just Elam – made an effort to set a better example.