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Our View: Clerides’ passing marks the end of an era

Yesterday, people who may never have voted for Glafcos Clerides, nor agreed with his policies – perhaps even resented him – mourned his passing.

Among the hundreds of tributes that have poured in from world leaders, foreign ministers and UN negotiators past and present, the words integrity, decency and statesmanlike have all featured prominently. In a first for a Greek Cypriot leader, even the Turkish foreign ministry issued a press release saying how they were “saddened by the news of the passing of Glafcos Clerides”.

For Clerides’ supporters, such descriptions are the very least he deserved for his dedication to creating a unified country. That circumstances failed to allow him to achieve his vision adds another layer of poignancy.

But even those who opposed his vision and the steps he took to achieve it, those who felt unable ever to vote for DISY, are aware that an era has passed. The Cyprus he moved in at the height of his powers is unrecognisable today. Among the tributes are the mentions of his humour, his love of a cigar, the odd shot of zivania and the worry beads. They all give a very human dimension to fancy words such as integrity and decency, but they also represent the quintessential Cypriot form of leadership that worked so well in the 20th century. Such a leader could be at home in the village coffeeshop talking to villagers and sympathising with their concerns and in return garnering their support for him as a man as much as for any of his policies. The personal touch created binding relationships that could work in a small country.

Paternalistic perhaps, but also sympathetic and easy going, almost laissez faire.

It was this type of leadership that one of his successors, Demetris Christofias, tried to imitate as he played up his origins as the poor boy from Dikomo who understood the concerns of the people. But by then the time had passed, and that Christofias failed so spectacularly in his attempt is not entirely down to the vast differences in personality, political beliefs and achievements of the two men.

Nor is it that Clerides’ Cyprus was a simpler place in every way. To even suggest that is to demean the horrors of the invasion and its aftermath and the tortuous efforts he made to stitch a fractured country back together.

But as we joined the European Union, and then attempted to beat fellow members at their own game by building up our banks and becoming a financial service centre, we forced the sun to set on Clerides’ form of leadership. Different rules applied and because we didn’t realise that soon enough, or take them seriously, we failed spectacularly. If the post-EU world had an ever-diminishing space for a Clerides-style leader, the post-troika world – with its impersonal diktats from far away – has no space at all.

As we near the end of this traumatic year, it is no wonder that many will look back on the Clerides years with nostalgia and regret.

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