By Bejay Browne
UNEMPLOYMENT among the Pontian community in Paphos is at an all-time high of more than 50 per cent with more than four hundred families dependent on charities to survive.
In many cases where families have one working spouse, the wives are the sole provider, a scenario previously unheard of in Pontian culture, said 49-year-old Raoul Tsachides, the head of the Pontian Society.
He told the Sunday Mail, that the economic crisis has hit his community the worst with more than 50 per cent of adults unemployed. The community head said that problems have been exacerbated by a ‘two faced’ Cyprus government, which has led to many being unable to gain citizenship, which has in turn adversely affected their chances of employment.
“On one hand the government says ‘you are our brothers and we are a democracy and you have same rights as us’, but they don’t offer practical help. They’re not interested,” he said. “Many Pontians who have been here legally for years are unable to get a Cypriot passport. They don’t want us to have them. I’m fed up of asking.”
Paphos is the hub of the Pontian community in Cyprus and is regarded as their ‘capital’. Greek and Russian speaking Pontians from Georgia flocked to Cyprus and Greece in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.
At the height of Cyprus’ economic boom in 2005, Paphos was home to around 12,000 Pontians attracted by the job opportunities in building and agriculture. Now there are fewer than 5,000.
“The first Pontians came to Paphos in 1991 and there were only around 30 of them. Slowly numbers grew as family members joined them and numerous people opened up businesses. These have mostly closed now,” said Tsachides.
George Moesedes, 50, has lived in Cyprus for 23 years. He owns his own Paphos home and has worked as a taxi driver, using his own car, for more than a decade. In 2002 he applied for citizenship; thirteen years later, he is still waiting.
“It’s the bureaucracy here, it’s madness. I have filled in all of the forms and papers many times and they don’t want to help. I’m told my case is ‘in Nicosia’ and I’m constantly given the run around. It’s racism and discrimination,” he said.
Moesedes originally came to live in Cyprus in 1992 as a Georgian passport holder. In 1996 he was given a Greek passport, but he has still been unable to claim Cypriot citizenship.
His wife and two daughters are all unemployed. His eldest daughter has lived in Cyprus since she was four, and his second daughter, who is now 18, was born in Cyprus. They have yet to be granted citizenship.
Tsachides said he sympathises with the dire straits facing hundreds of families in Paphos, as he has only recently managed to find a job himself. His wife, who usually works as a chef in a hotel, is also not currently working, as the premises closed for the winter.
“We are hoping that my wife will be back at work in a few weeks. I am only working as a security guard for a few hours a day, and only three times a week. I don’t care what job I do. I need to work to have money for my family.”
Tsachides, who has three children, stressed that Pontians are hardworking. He said that most work in hotels and in construction, neither of which provide stable employment. Many men are unemployed and some are only working part time. In most families the women are bringing in the money, a big departure from tradition. Many Pontian men are psychologically affected by this and depression is a big problem, he said.
“This situation is very difficult for the men and we don’t like it. The nature of Pontian men is to look after women and our mentality is that men must bring in the money. Your wife having to support the family is not normal, the women are usually at home with the children.”
According to Tsachides, most Pontian women work in the hotel industry in Paphos as chambermaids and cleaners. Men working in this sector are mostly employed as waiters and gardeners. The community head said that their only hope is that some of the unemployed will go back to work in the spring.
“People very worried and living very frugally. In previous years there was more work open to us as we speak Greek and Russian. But as the Russian market is also collapsing, there won’t be as many tourists this year and therefore a lesser need for Russian speakers.”
The community head said he is particularly concerned for the elderly.
“We all help each other, but it’s hard when you have so little yourself. I am particularly concerned for the health of older people and we are hoping that there will be some sort of help from the government.”
He said that there have already been a number of extreme life threatening cases where the relevant government departments have stepped in to help with food or medical treatment.
Tsachides suggested that a dedicated state body should be set up to deal solely with problems facing the Pontian community.
“The government should do more to try and help. This group could act as a go between and concentrate on the problems of Pontian people, such as help to find jobs, passport problems and so on.”
He said that Pontians are pinning their hopes on Paphos upcoming role as cultural capital of Europe in 2017 to create more jobs.
“Hopefully there will be many jobs which we will be needed for, such as doing up some of the building, repairs, generally cleaning up in Paphos and in the hotels. We are hopeful that we will find work.”