THE APPALLING entitlement culture that reigns supreme in Cyprus was displayed once again in the centre of Nicosia on Tuesday as high school students shut down the bus terminal, abusing and threatening bus drivers, in protest against having to pay bus fares. The students were entitled to free travel on buses until October 2, when the government planned to introduce a 15-euro monthly ticket for teenagers.
On the previous day, students in Nicosia and Limassol left their classrooms, during the third period, ignoring school rules and teachers’ pleas in order to express their opposition to the introduction of fares. The union mentality is part of the entitlement culture and is learnt at a very young age, although we should not blame the children for copying the behaviour of their militant teachers.
With such role models, is it any surprise children behave in this terrible way? They are doing nothing more than their teachers have been doing when they felt their interests were being threatened. They believe, like many politicians and union bosses, that the state has a moral obligation to provide free services even if it cannot afford to do so.
The kids have been so well indoctrinated with union ideals that they talk like union officials. A statement, one of their committees issued on Monday, said “the decision to implement the new fare was unilateral and the relevant ministries have refused to meet and discuss the matter with the students.” Everything must be the result of dialogue and consensus in the union-run entitlement culture, the government having to consult 13 and 14-year-olds before making policy decisions.
If we were a wealthy country and had a profitable bus service, school-children could have been allowed to use buses without paying, but this is not the case. The service is a big loss-maker and the cash-strapped state is obliged to minimise loss. The troika, which, in contrast to our politicians, adopts rational problem-solving, suggested the introduction of bus fares for students and pensioners, in order to cut the state’s losses. Needy children that cannot afford the fares could be issued with a free bus-pass but the rest must pay.
The worst aspect of this story was that populist deputies backed the demands of the kids at a Thursday meeting at the legislature and on Friday the government said it would be putting back the introduction of fares by a month. It was a criminally irresponsible decision, as it rewarded the hooligan-type behaviour of the schoolkids. The message our state sent to teenagers was that anti-social behaviour was perfectly acceptable – when they broke school rules, ignored their teachers, stopped traffic and intimidated adults (bus drivers in this case), they would get their way – the end justified the means.
Not surprisingly, the schoolkids’ pseudo-union issued a statement on Friday boasting that the government suspended the fares because of the mobilisation of their members who were fighting the “government’s and its henchmen’s efforts to keep schoolchildren docile.” While Friday’s decision was a “positive step”, the kids vowed to continue the struggle until the plan to charge fares was scrapped. They would “never” accept the imposition of fares.
We teach militant entitlement from a very young age. We encourage children to believe that the state had to provide everything free of charge instead of teaching them to expect nothing without working for it. But who is going to teach this, their teachers who have the most trenchant sense of entitlement in our society or the populist politicians that satisfy the most unreasonable demands by interest groups, for fear of losing votes?
But our politicians are afraid to stand up and say the blatantly obvious – teenagers have no political rights, no say in government policy, and they should stay in their classes and obey school rules – less they are accused of being undemocratic. Is it a sign of healthy democracy to have a bunch of rowdy teenagers dictating government policy? By this logic we should give 13 and 14-year-olds the right to vote as well.
Communications minister Tasos Mitsopoulos, should have shown a greater sense of responsibility than the populists in the legislature. He should have stuck to the decision to introduce fares on Wednesday, if only to prove that the government does not give in to militancy and intimidation by a bunch of rowdy schoolkids. Instead he has shown them that with anti-social and threatening behaviour they will always get what they want. Sadly this is how our democracy works and nobody has guts to change it.