By Gavin Jones
THERE are landmark instances in history when those in charge of affairs of state during disasters and fiascos have behaved honourably. They either resigned from office, because their rule was untenable as they’d lost the confidence of their peers, or else there are those who literally fell on their swords or took poison. Personalities in this latter category include Caesar’s assassins, Brutus and Cassius, Queen of the Iceni, Boudica, and Antony and Cleopatra. However, ‘honour’ is nowadays a rarity in public life with people clinging on to power despite their poor judgement and lack of success or else they park responsibility for failure onto others in the vain hope that this subterfuge will ensure their own survival.
Consider the behaviour of Edward J. Smith, the captain of RMS Titanic, which hit an iceberg and sank on 15th. April 1912, and that of Francesco Schettino, captain of the Costa Concordia, which suffered the same fate on 13th. January 2012. The fact that these disasters occurred almost a century to the day apart is possibly the only thing of note with which to compare them. Although Smith wasn’t personally on duty when disaster hit the Titanic, after he ensured that as many people as possible got away in lifeboats, in the best tradition of the day he told his crew to save themselves and unflinchingly opted to remain in the wheelhouse and go down with the ship. Conflicting reports exist as to his last words but he’s remembered for his British stiff upper lip and calm demeanour in the face of certain death.
Compare that with the actions of the captain of the Costa Concordia after it had sailed too close to land and struck a reef: he abandoned his ship while there were still at least 100 passengers on board. It would be cold comfort to those who died and suffered trauma that he was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to a prison term of 16 years.
Smith made the ultimate sacrifice as he unconditionally took overall responsibility and thus blame for what had occurred. The less said about Schettino, the better.
Following on from the above, we need to look nearer to home and consider what is probably to date the most glaring example of political expediency and denial of blame, to which many would add gross dereliction of duty bordering on cowardice. I refer, of course, to the aftermath of the explosion at the Evangelos Florakis Naval Base, more commonly known as the Mari disaster. This occurred on 11th. July 2012 when 98 containers of explosives, stored in the sun for over 2 years, self-detonated. 13 people lost their lives and the nearby power station, which supplied half of Cyprus’ electricity, was put out of commission. For the record, this was the world’s fifth largest non-nuclear explosion.
The resignations of the Defence Minister and National Guard Commander-in-Chief were dwarfed by the running for cover of many others, not least the then President of the Republic, Dimitris Christofias. After appointing a respected lawyer to lead the investigation into the catastrophe, once the details and magnitude of the disaster were published, Christofias duly rejected the findings which unsurprisingly parked the blame fairly and squarely on his shoulders.
Although not unique to Cyprus, Christofias’ conduct betrays a phenomenon which seems to have infiltrated the ‘culture’ of the island. Namely, a distinct lack of willingness to take responsibility, let alone admitting fault or taking the blame for even the slightest mishap or transgression. Instead of resigning like his Defence Minister, and subsequently his Foreign Minister, as bold as brass Christofias continued in office and saw out his term despite the general outcry and disgust hurled in his direction. To add insult to literal injury, at current gatherings of the National Council, he’s to be seen sitting next to the current President, doubtless offering his input vis-a-vis the Cyprus problem. Thick-skinned, shameless or what.
This lack of apportioning blame and doling out pardons is a national trait instigated by President Makarios who dished out the latter to members of EOKA B despite their murderous activities which resulted in the destruction of the state, 40% of the population becoming refugees and led to over a third of Cyprus being under the occupation of the Turkish army. It would appear that incompetence, even rebellion, is very rarely dealt with and almost condoned.
Continuing this theme, there’s this insistence by a great many that all of the island’s woes, both geopolitical as well as financial, are the result of conspiracies instigated by the scheming foreigner and that little or no blame can be laid at their own backyard. Greek coup of 15th. July 1974? Wholly the work of Kissinger. Turkish Invasion 5 days later? Kissinger again aided and abetted by the perfidious British along with NATO. Economic crisis of 2012/3? It’s because the island adopted the euro and, according to some AKEL diehards, it was a capitalist plot. Nothing whatsoever to do with government mismanagement and non-existent banking protocols, not forgetting the purchase of €4.5 billion worth of Greek government bonds when everyone else was dumping them. Collapse of the international conference at Crans Montana in July last year? Solely because of Turkish ‘intransigence’.
I’ll close on a lighter note and relate an incident that happened to a friend of mine. One day he was sitting in his stationary car in Paphos when the driver of the vehicle in front reversed and severely damaged his bonnet. The instant reaction offered to my friend beautifully sums up the squeaky clean ‘culture’: “I’m not to blame as you shouldn’t have been parked behind me.” Laughed? I almost died!