Cyprus Mail
Guest Columnist Opinion

Expat View: Moving beyond ill-conceived, dangerous perceptions

Terrible blight, unfinished and empty commercial and residental properties

By Clive Turner

Perceptions. We all have them, about everybody and everything that crosses our path, and they are almost always reached quickly, and once made, they are pretty firmly fixed. They can change, but it takes many influences to alter those first impressions. We meet someone new, we see a politician, an actor, a singer, and an impression is immediately created.

Here in Cyprus we expats from wherever, have perceptions of our local hosts – and they in turn certainly have their perceptions of us. They hold the view that many Brits think too highly of themselves. And unfortunately there are those who reinvent themselves when they come to live here. There is a woman I know who has such airs and graces that I term her ‘The Duchess’. She couldn’t be more ordinary, but intolerably pretentious. There’s a very wealthy man I know who simply cannot help himself constantly boasting. Both are deeply unattractive. No wonder the Greek Cypriots look at such examples of the expat community and shake their heads.

Yet there are some truly delightful expatriate folk with hugely diverse backgrounds and experience. They have come here to enjoy the culture, not to change it. They want to admire and make the most of all that Cyprus has to offer.

But looking at Cyprus from the expat point of view, the perception we have is of a rather lazy country mired in bureaucracy, tainted by corruption and rusfeti, with a damaging unwillingness to listen, and a near universal tendency to live in the past rather than look forward to what ought to be a glowing future.

History has much to teach us, but a lot of what it can tender is an insight to what can make a better future. Brooding, with celebrations of the sadnesses of that past can hold back healthy enthusiasm.

Elsewhere, too, there is a seeming obsession with historical indignities and inflictions of submission. Of course they must always be remembered – but it is tomorrow that matters more.

All that said, I know many shrewd, highly intelligent Cypriots who despair of the economic illiteracy that has set back that future by decades. They rightly worry about the weak leadership. They are tired of the pandering to union pressure, with its concomitant agenda of continued political power. They desperately want to move on from political squabbling akin to the playground, and they yearn to grow stronger on the international stage. The many advisors coming and going point up the inability of local titans to manage the economy and resolve problems. Yet, there is no doubt that with the high educational standards, and the practical abilities inherent in Cyprus – a better future is within grasp. With the will, and with good tempered and less impulsive leadership, and more thoughtful and less self-important politicians, the experience available could bring about soaring improvements for this lovely island.

One of the more immediate improvements wouldn’t be difficult to implement. Everyone agrees on the terrible blight evident in the sheer number of unfinished housing and commercial structures – with so many wasted, deteriorating and unoccupied premises wherever you look. This is rare in the UK, because they are simply not allowed to remain in the state we witness here. Local law is based on the English model and in England, as here, land is precious and expensive with building permits severely controlled.

Shouldn’t this be the case in Cyprus? We need to clear away the dross and exercise much firmer control.
Turning to firmer control, and looking at the up-coming generation, one does wonder at the tolerance extended to young schoolchildren currently given to pronouncing on what they perceive (perceptions again!) to be unfair dismissal of their opinions about almost anything to do with their schools’ management. Isn’t this a tad precocious? Nobody wants to suffocate youngsters’ developing awareness of the world around them, but there is a natural discipline and control that needs to be brought to bear so that matters presently outside these protesting young people’s experience are rather better supervised.

So, to the British or other European expatriate who wanders around believing his perceptions about Cyprus to be the only ones that are valid, and to the Greek Cypriot who told me to go home to reduce the expatriate influence on local affairs (if only!) I say all this posturing is counter-productive. We all need to be more perceptive about the good things surrounding us; to exercise more tolerance towards each other; to work more for the common good; to pressure the government to listen more; and to look outwards, so that this unique island becomes a beacon in the Eastern Mediterranean’s complex of communities.

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