By Hermes Solomon
THE SUDDEN and unexpected passing of Tasos Mitsopoulos came as a profound shock to the nation, all other news taking a back seat as the island’s media transmitted three days of ‘glowing’ tributes – exaltations not dissimilar to those of several years ago, when we lost a young minister of education to a heart attack. Then, as now, token grief ran riot.
The headline in last Sunday’s Politis, a broadsheet usually unsympathetic to all politicians, stated that ‘Only the good die young’, implying that the ‘bad’ and ‘ugly’ live to old age, and in Cyprus, greatly outnumber the good.
In his relatively short political career, Tasos was always polite, quietly spoken, honest, and hard-working – undeniably a man committed to party and country. He was all but deified in the media by colleagues, friends and ordinary citizens, elevated to god-like status in the same manner as EOKA freedom fighters became ‘eternal heroes’ and a former president reduced to a ‘village idiot’. The latter is an inappropriate soubriquet for Demitris Christofias, who some claim destroyed the economy single handed, as we know he had help since village idiots are generally regarded as harmless.
Tasos was painted as a ‘good apple’ in a barrel of bad, perpetuating that picture of ‘purity’ the media ascribes to ‘rising stars’. He simply got on with the job in hand, so much so that he ignored the warning signs the previous day of the ruptured cerebral aneurysm that killed him.
A former minister of health was advised by his under-secretary not to appear daily in the media spotlight, claiming spectators would soon ‘turn off’. Tasos rarely appeared on TV chat shows, and when he did, he was always respectful, self-deprecating yet thorough, preferring the voice of reason above that of populism. Only now do the press proclaim his politics a breath of fresh air in what most regard as a decadent political arena.
What can we learn from this small nation’s and his gentle family’s immeasurable loss? Perhaps the disproportionate number of tributes he received identified what has always been missing in government – honesty, integrity and putting one’s country before self.
Does dispensing goodness, like mud, stick as much to the dispenser as to the recipient? By saluting the man in such great numbers, were we subconsciously seeking repentance of our sins, the bad and ugly hoping to redeem themselves in the eyes of God and country? Or were those many profuse and often tearful TV tributes merely histrionics intended to deflect attention away from, or enhance the personas of, contributors?
On the day I, like many others, shed a tear for his family, and more selfishly for the loss of what Tasos stood for. Was my tear influenced by media hype or a sudden sense of despair of Cyprus’ hopelessness?
His funeral befitted royalty and was broadcast live.
When I arrived that same morning at my dentist’s surgery, the dentist was glued to a TV screen. He told me that his and Tasos’ daughter were in the same class at school, and that Tasos rarely missed a parent/teacher evening. Tasos was loved by all because he imparted love to all, said my dentist.
Due to recent party political debacles, the government welcomed three ‘new’ men to take charge at the ministries of health, education, and communications and public works.
Our president investing in the as yet politically untarnished, all three of whom display, like Tasos did, an air of humility combined with a pronounced will to work hard in the interests of the country, might turn the tide of antipathy and cynicism directed at government by an increasing number of voters.
Let no man write my epitaph was a 1960 movie about residents of a Chicago tenement, who joined forces to save a troubled teen from a life of crime.
Unfortunately, this past 54 years of unpunished crimes committed by our politicians, self-serving businessmen and bankers who, in conjunction with a former president or presidents, collectively destroyed the economy, has made this government’s task of joining forces to save the republic, inconceivable.
If the good die young, should the bad and ugly be sent to jail or left free to get away with their ill-gotten gains?
We are taught to always speak well of our dead. Most of us tend to observe this dictum, but History does not.