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Our View: Where is Russia’s respect for freedom of expression?

The Russian embassy in Nicosia

IT IS quite astonishing that the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Cyprus could have issued a 1,500-word announcement disparaging and belittling a writer and journalist, because it took offence at the contents of a book he had written about the duplicitous role the Soviet Union had played during and after the Turkish invasion of the island.

The announcement was little more than a condescending, personal attack on Makarios Drousiotis, whom the Russian Embassy accused of being an “amateur researcher that does not know the scientific methodology of historical research and the principles of historical study and impartiality and does not know how to analyse and evaluate events.” It concludes its invective by declaring the book of “an extremely low scientific level and politically unacceptable.”

Apart from the personal attack there is also an unconvincing attempt to counter one of the main premises of the book that the Soviet Union had never taken a stand against the Turkish invasion because the big rift that it caused in NATO was welcomed by the Kremlin. At least the embassy stopped short of giving us lessons about the right to free speech and the concept of freedom of expression and confined itself to offering platitudes about “the scientific methodology of historical research.”

What the Russian Embassy has done is unheard of. No other embassy in Cyprus has ever resorted to such intellectual intimidation of writers, because it did not approve of their views. Countless of books have been written about the hostile actions of the US and Britain in Cyprus without their embassy issuing announcements, personally attacking the writer or attempting, supposedly, putting the record straight. And this was not because these books contained the unadulterated truth and used the “scientific methodology of historical research.” It was because in these countries, in contrast to Russia, respect for freedom of expression actually exists.

What was even more astonishing was that rather than defend free speech the majority of the political parties issued their own announcements, endorsing the views of the Russian embassy and urging President Anastasiades to take a position on the matter because as an employee of the presidency, Drousiotis was not allowed to write things that upset a friendly country.

Responding to this pressure, the government spokesman released a statement, saying that Anastasiades had assured the Russian ambassador, after the publication of the book, that the views expressed by a researcher did not reflect those of the president.

The interfering behaviour of the Russian embassy in Cyprus is not very different from the way the Soviet ambassadors behaved in the countries of the former Eastern Bloc, but why should it be any different given the subservience being shown by our government and political parties.

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