By George Psyllides and Stefanos Evripidou
THOUSANDS of people gathered yesterday at the funeral service of former president Glafcos Clerides who died on Friday at the age of 94.
People lined the road leading to the church, applauding and shouting “axios” (worthy) and “immortal” as the gun carriage carrying Clerides’ casket rolled by slowly, flanked by military police (MP) officers.
MPs carried the casket, draped in the Cyprus and Greek flags, inside the church as a military guard of honour presented arms and a band played the national anthem.
In his eulogy for Clerides, President Nicos Anastasiades said he was a politician who was sought by history and not one of those who persistently sought a place in history.
Anastasiades referred to the most important chapters in Clerides’ life, starting with his choice to interrupt his studies and volunteer to fight with the British Royal Air Force in the Second World War, during which he was captured after his plane was shot down over Germany.
The war left an indelible mark on Clerides, as from its ashes his vision of a united and peaceful Europe was born, said the president.
He went on to defend EOKA fighters during the liberation struggle against the British in the late 1950s and worked hard to avoid division of the country post-independence.
In 1974, he served as an honorable politician, who under difficult and chaotic circumstances managed to keep the state together, Anastasiades said.
Referring to his term in office as President of the Republic between 1993 and 2003, Anastasiades said Clerides undertook a multifaceted effort to enhance relations with Greece, reach a viable and functional solution of the Cyprus problem and achieve the great national and strategic goal of EU accession, despite Turkey’s threats and international hesitation.
“Glafcos Clerides never shied away from his responsibilities. He dared many times to shoulder the responsibilities of others without complaint. He stared death in the eye without flinching. He left the world with dignity, with remarkable mental clarity, with amazing tranquillity and magnificent graciousness.”
Anastasiades said it would constitute unforgivable ingratitude if he did not express in public everything he owed Clerides, his political father.
“I am grateful because you taught me that in critical times, the love of the leader for the country is not served by rhetoric but the boldness and determination to assume his responsibilities, ignoring political cost,” the president said. “That duty to the country is to be useful instead of likable.”
Anastasiades ended his eulogy with a pledge:
“My dear president, I want you to rest assured that we will continue your struggles with the same determination so that one day soon we will let you know that we were worthy of your expectations.”
Foreign dignitaries from Greece, Serbia and Israel flew to Cyprus to attend the funeral.
Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras arrived yesterday morning accompanied by Greek Parliamentary Speaker Evangelos Meimarakis, Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos, Defence Minister Demetris Avramopoulos and government spokesman Simos Kedicoglu.
Speaking to the press after a meeting at the Presidential Palace, Samaras said Clerides was “a man of prudence” with “a high sense of responsibility”. But these characteristics “did not take anything away from his boldness and fighting spirit”, said the Greek PM.
He leaves behind “a legacy of unity and collective mobilisation in the struggle to do justice to the cause of Cyprus”, said Samaras, adding that it was the responsibility and obligation of all to turn this legacy into deed, which is “the ultimate honour that he deserves”.
Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic also came to Cyprus with his foreign minister to attend the funeral as did Israeli Tourism Minister Uzi Landau, representing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Wreaths were laid by dignitaries present while others were sent by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Parliament President Martin Schulz, former presidents Giorgos Vassiliou and Demetris Christofias and by the family of the late Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash.
Turkish Cypriot politicians also attended the funeral, including former Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat and his spouse Oya, secretary general of the Republican Turkish Party Asim Akansoy, United Cyprus party leader Izzet Izcan, leader of the Communal Democracy party Cemal Ozyiyit and the grandson of Rauf Denktash.
Clerides was laid to rest at the Constantinou and Eleni cemetery next to his wife Lilla who died in 2007.
The family had requested that instead of wreaths, donations be made to the Committee on Missing Persons.
Earlier, Clerides, who served as Cyprus’ first House President in 1960, was honoured by parliament during an extraordinary session attended by Anastasiades and cabinet ministers.
In his address to the plenary session, House President Yiannakis Omirou referred to Clerides’ ethos, strong personality and extensive legal knowledge as decisive factors in building parliamentary democracy in the first years of the newly established Republic.
“Our duty is to continue his struggles, to ensure that his vision for a free, democratic and prosperous Cyprus becomes a reality. The love for his country and for Hellenism were over and above everything else,” Omirou said.
Condolences continued to pour in from around the world yesterday.
In a released statement, the US government sent its “heartfelt condolences” and praised Clerides’ “unexcelled” vision, resolve and dignity in his search for a political settlement in Cyprus and in leading his country into the EU.
“Throughout his life, President Clerides was devoted to the highest principles of public service, human rights, international cooperation, and peace. With courage and commitment, he helped to lead his country first to its independence and later, amidst the violence of 1974, to the restoration of constitutional order,” said a White House press statement.
“The American people will never forget the profound personal sympathy and support he offered on the day in 1974 that US Ambassador Rodger Davies and his Cypriot assistant Antoinette Varnava were shot and killed in the American Embassy.”
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano sent a message of condolences to his Cypriot counterpart noting that the death of Clerides “has moved me deeply”.
Clerides was a great leader and a good friend of Italy, he said, adding that Europe is left with the example of a politician with great courage.
Former UN Special Representative in Cyprus Michael Moller said in a statement that Clerides’ personal integrity, passion for politics and search for sustainable solutions would “continue to inspire future generations”.
“I was privileged to meet President Clerides on many occasions and to benefit from his sharp political intelligence, deep knowledge of the history of Cyprus, wise counsel and sense of humour,” he said.