NEARLY all presidents at some point say history will judge them. That time has arrived for Glafcos Clerides who passed away yesterday.
In the ten years that he was in office – from 1993 to 2003 – Clerides had built on the budding economy left behind by his predecessor George Vassiliou to the point where when Cyprus entered the EU in 2004, it was the wealthiest country of ten candidates, the crime rate was the lowest in Europe, the standard of living had reached enviable levels and unemployment was almost non existent.
As a person, Clerides was well liked and respected, not only at home across the political spectrum, but also abroad. He was jovial and approachable but never a pushover not least when it came to the Cyprus talks.
During his years negotiating round after round of fruitless talks with Rauf Denktash many eventually believed only new blood could solve the Cyprus problem.
They were wrong. In the ten years after Clerides left office, the Greek Cypriot side has had two more presidents and a third now entering the arena, and the Turkish Cypriot side has had two more leaders, and still in hindsight, it was Clerides who brought the Greek Cypriot side closer to a settlement than any other president before or since.
His efforts leading up to the drafting of the Annan plan and everything that had been put in place by March 2003 when Clerides left office, were scuppered.
One can’t help but wonder if those presidential elections had fallen a year later, would we be living in a different, united and less impoverished Cyprus today? Some pro-solution quarters believed that if Clerides had unconditionally accepted the Annan plan in November 2002 instead of leaving it to the National Council, which deemed it as only a “basis for negotiations”, the island’s fate would not have fallen to his successor, the late Tassos Papadopoulos.
Clerides told a pro-plan rally in April 2004: “The choice is between… ‘yes’ and jumping off a precipice. We don’t know how deep that precipice is.” Nearly ten years later we do.
The only other real criticisms that were levied against Clerides during his time as president was the handling of the Russian S300 missile crisis and the fact that the veteran politician appeared to be leaving the running of the country to his minsters, not always with positive results.
In 2001 looking back over eight years of his presidency, Clerides unlike our last president Demetris Christofias, admitted to making mistakes saying: “You won’t hear from me that I was infallible. It would be very arrogant to say no errors were committed.”
With the possible exception of President Makarios – who belonged to another era – Glafcos Clerides was more than just a politician. He was a statesman, more so than any of the island’s other presidents in modern times.
His protégé, Nicos Anastasiades, on election day this year described Clerides as his ‘political father’. Off to a rough start, perhaps Anastasiades will yet prove himself worthy of his mentor. He has big shoes to fill.
Clerides wanted the people of Cyprus to remember that he had entered the presidential palace as a man of modest means and would leave with even less. He will be remembered for much more than that.