Cyprus Mail

Our View: Bullying a debate-stifling way of life

Christoforos Pissarides the Nobel Laureate economist

CYPRUS’ Nobel economics winner Professor Christoforos Pissarides issued a written statement last weekend to answer accusations in the press that he had been scare-mongering, on the instructions of President Anastasiades, when he spoke about the consequences of not passing the foreclosures bill.

The professor took offence at the “ridiculing and personal attacks” against him, as all he had said was that he did not know whether the failure to pass the bill would lead to a new haircut of bank deposits because any decision would have been taken at a European level. In a written statement, he said: “It is impossible for me to understand how from this, the opposition and almost the entire press concluded that I had been instructed by the president to engage in scare-mongering, for his reasons. My academic and personal standing would not allow me to do such a thing, even if he asked me to, something that never happened.”

As an outsider, Pissarides was not aware of the intellectual intimidation and bullying that opposition parties and the press routinely exercise against those they disagree with. This is how public debate takes place. When someone says something about an important issue that challenges the positions or propaganda of the parties, he or she has to be cut down to size. This was an imperative in the case of Pissarides as he is a Nobel winner and an authority on economics whose views people might compare unfavourably to the irresponsible nonsense uttered by opposition parties.

He was therefore portrayed as a weak-willed man who lacked integrity and would happily engage in unjustified scare-mongering if the president instructed him to do so. This is how the parties and media intimidate and try to silence anyone who challenges their views – they attribute ulterior motives and question their integrity and honesty. People that supported the Annan plan, for instance, were dismissed as traitors who were serving the interests of foreign countries. No need for rational debate when the argument can be won through bullying, intimidation and personal insults.

This public intimidation has always worked because few are prepared to take a stand. Most people do not respond because they are afraid of confrontation and going against the tide. Others believe it is futile because the bullies are not open minded and would not engage in a rational debate presenting their arguments in a civilised way but would simply hit back with more abuse. It is depressing to say this, but the targets of the bullies are in a no-win situation, as the government found out in the last week.

The union bosses’ response to the finance minister’s suggestion for the taxation of the retirement bonus was blatant bullying. They immediately called a strike and every day they appeared in the media attacking Georgiades and the government for penalising the public employees, breaking the law, violating the constitution, behaving arrogantly and much more. Nobody dared point out that in calling a strike the unions were flagrantly violating the industrial relations code. Within a few days, President Anastasiades, exhibiting no resolve, was bullied into submission – the proposal was dropped and the dispute was put down to a misunderstanding.

In the same week the governor of the Central Bank Chrystalla Georghadji became the target of AKEL’s bullies, who are experts in intellectual intimidation. They made a big fuss and verbally attacked Georghadji because she decided to hire as her PA a person who had taken early retirement and left the Central Bank when AKEL’s man, Panicos Demetriades took over. AKEL even recruited the auditor-general in its intimidation drive. Georghadji had chosen this person because she had rich experience, having served as the PA of two previous governors.

Instead of standing up to the bullies, and saying that as governor it was her prerogative to hire whomever she wanted as her PA, Georghadji showed her distaste for confrontation, by issuing a bland announcement citing rules and regulations to defend her decision. AKEL’s intimidation had put her on the defensive, creating the wrong impression that she was trying to cover up some irregularity.

The bullies, be they communist propagandists, hard-line nationalists, union bosses or self-righteous journalists have always had the upper hand, because very few are prepared to stand up to them. We know it is a thankless task taking the bullies on and that sensible people are reluctant to confront them, but our society will never progress as long as they control public debate abusing and bad-mouthing whoever challenges them. Not even internationally respected, decent academics like Pissarides are spared this reign of intellectual terror if they refuse to toe the line.

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