By Constantinos Psillides
TEMPERS have been running high the past few weeks after President Nicos Anastasiades all but announced in an interview that he would pardon former defence minister Costas Papacostas who was given a five-year sentence in 2013 for his involvement in the Mari naval blast, which killed 13 people in 2011.
Papacostas, 76, has been hospitalised for almost two years, and three weeks ago he suffered a second heart attack.
The victims’ families were not thrilled about the possibility of a pardon.
They responded with an open letter asking the president to not consider it. Papacostas family sent their own letter, asking that he is pardoned. They said he was made a scapegoat for what happened at Mari.
Attorney-general Costas Clerides said Papacostas’ case has merit but he was afraid of people protesting. He was right.
I have not seen people so united in their hatred for something, since ‘Lost’ aired its final episode. People blame Papacostas for what happened and believe that there is no excuse to be made for someone – even indirectly – responsible for killing 13 people.
Since kamikaze pilot is not a career option for me (scared of planes) I decided instead to take on this particular suicide mission and argue in favour of the pardon.
First, let’s all take a deep breath and calmly agree on a few things. While he certainly doesn’t think so, Papacostas is definitely guilty. He might not be the one who blew up the containers but the outfit he was in charge of – the National Guard – failed to perform its duty.
Of course, you could argue that by extension, former President Demetris Christofias is also guilty, but that’s another can of worms best left closed at this point.
Additionally, Papacostas was convicted by a court of law and should serve the whole sentence.
Secondly – and please excuse the bluntness- the man is dying. Even if his health is not that bad, even if he is pretending like a 10-year-old who wants to skip school, he is a 76-year-old man with severe respiratory issues who has suffered two heart attacks.
I think it’s a safe bet that if he is pardoned he won’t go on a drunken binge aboard a cruise ship in Ibiza.
Thirdly, he will never shake off the Mari stigma. Never. And I don’t mean “never” as in “until he dies”, I mean until trumpets sound from the skies, the Earth is torn asunder and the son of God appears for the second time.
The name “Papacostas” will forever be linked with Mari and the former minister identified as the one behind it. Every documentary shot on the subject will end with his conviction, and future school books will always conclude this part of history with his name. Sure, there might be a footnote saying that people felt that Christofias should be in his place but who really reads footnotes anyway?
Fourthly – and saddest of them all – letting him die while officially an inmate won’t bring back the dead. I wish it could, but it won’t and the only relief the victims’ relatives will get will be a short-lived one.
With those facts in mind, I think we can agree that there is nothing to be gained by not agreeing to pardon Papacostas. Setting him free is not a sign of promoting impunity; we already made sure that he will be punished perpetually. It won’t be seen as vindicating his claim of innocence; he will go to the grave maintaining that it wasn’t his fault and we have already made up our minds.
The only thing a pardon will accomplish is allowing an old man to die in his own bed, surrounded by his family instead of being guarded by police officers. Is that so terrible?
It would be the right thing to do and we desperately need to do the right thing, especially now. People have grown far more cynical, vindictive, and spiteful since the financial crisis hit. The banking meltdown not only decimated our savings. It ravaged our psyches. We are now meaner, quicker to pass judgement on others and scream bloody murder whenever we feel offended even in the slightest. We allowed our primal instincts to take over, demanding retribution and turning “an eye for an eye” into our own personal mantra.
This kind of thinking has no place in a modern society, especially one planning to colonise other planets. Rising above our instincts is what keeps the society going. It is the reason we abolished the death penalty and why we grant pardons to lifers. It is the reason why we opt for civility and mutual understanding instead of brutal individualism. It is why we don’t throw sickly children over the cliff any more but instead try to cure them.
Letting Papacostas die as a convict will hurt us as a whole. We need this victory over our darker side. We need mercy to prevail to give us a hope for a brighter, more compassionate future.