By Jean Christou and George Psyllides
Former DIKO MP and member of the European Parliament Marios Matsakis is returning to the party to help fight the political and economic “tsunami’ it is facing, he said on Wednesday.
DIKO said in an announcement that the firebrand politician and former state pathologist had sent a letter to party chairman Nicolas Papadopoulos offering to help as much as he can “in the fight of the country’s democratic forces to get the country out of the difficult and critical condition it was in today.” Matsakis had more or less fallen off the political map since his term as MEP ended in 2009.
Matsakis told the Cyprus Mail on Wednesday that he was responding to the party’s call for the return of all members who for various reasons had withdrawn or distanced themselves or were stricken off, as he had been. He said he was taking the open invitation to return as a given that he would be accepted back into the fold.
But he does not plan to run for MP in next year’s parliamentary elections. “I don’t intend to stand for office,” he said, adding that he was only returning because he felt there was “an urgent need for all democratic forces to join voices and actions in order to save the country from a number of things”.
Chief among them was what he called the conspiracy to resurrect the 2004 Annan plan. “I will join my voice with those who oppose a new Annan plan,” Matsakis said, adding that he didn’t have any confidence in the UN, the US, Turkey, or newly-elected Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci or President Nicos Anastasiades, all of whom were pro Annan plan. “This all points to the obvious for me,” he said.
The economy was another issue both the fact that little had improved, he said, combined with the fact that the guilty were still walking free. “I find this incredible,” he added.
Almost always described as a maverick, Matsakis has never been shy of media attention, making his name known through a number of antics such as sneaking into the British bases and disrupting their military exercises, sparking a riot when arrested by the British during a protest in Episkopi and stoking tensions after being arrested by the Turks for entering the buffer zone and removing a Turkish flag from an observation post while an MEP.
Despite his morbid profession as state pathologist, Matsakis gained celebrity status within a year of arriving in Cyprus in January 1994.
“I am very popular. I also have enemies and receive death threats, but I don’t lose any sleep over that,” he said.
He also accused politicians of talking and doing nothing. “They belong to old people’s homes,” he said although he joined their ranks as a deputy in 1996, ten months after being fired on television by then health minister, Manolis Christofides.
“He is the most incompetent minister I have seen for a long time.” Matsakis said during a confrontation with Christofides in front of television cameras in the ministry’s car park. “The state of Cyprus can live without Matsakis,” Christofides shot back. “I’m firing him… you are fired Mr. Matsakis.”
As an EU parliamentarian, he ruffled a few feathers with his views on the rights of gay couples to have children, resulting in his office being bombarded by angry colleagues with posters promoting gay family rights.
Taking a more active role in the Cyprus problem, in August 2000 he went into the occupied areas and raised the Cyprus flag on a Turkish flag pole, which led then defence minister Socratis Hasikos to brand him a threat to national security.
He later said he would not run in the 2001 elections but denied that his decision provoked by criticism over the flag incident. He said he was disillusioned with the parliamentary system and that there was a witch hunt against him. “All I am doing is bringing a fresh, new, European way of thinking to the people.”
He said that being a deputy was a hindrance to his outspoken campaigns.
“If I can contribute by causing problems on the ground, by putting my life in danger, then I will. Things only move in Cyprus if there is a crisis.”
Despite the anti-establishment rant, Matsakis went on to get re-elected in 2001.
Matsakis’ animosity to the British was also well documented. From the moment he arrived on the island he declared all-out war on the British bases (SBA) disrupting shooting practice, hiding out in camouflage gear in the Akamas for days at a time to stop British military exercises, and getting arrested at least four times by SBA police for disrupting events such as the Red Arrows annual fly over and protesting against a controversial antenna.
It all came to a head in July 2001 when he was arrested for cutting a wire fence to enter the restricted antenna area.
His arrest led to riots that went on into the early hours as people gathered at the Episkopi base to demand he be freed.
The violent clashes left around 40 police officers injured, the Episkopi police station badly damaged, and caused around CYP 500, 000 in damage. Matsakis was unrepentant, saying he would fight to the end and do everything necessary to stop the ‘satanic’ mast from being built. “We shall protest and protest and protest. And I repeat, over my dead body will they install this antenna,” he said.
Former British High Commissioner Edward Clay once described Matsakis as “a medical monkey up a stick” after a seven-hour vigil aloft an aerial at Akrotiri.
In November 2005 Matsakis snatched a Turkish flag from a pole in the buffer zone. He returned it to Turkish journalists while in Brussels.
But he was arrested for doing so as he tried to cross to the north to present a New Year’s gift to former Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat.
He tried but failed to get elected in parliament in 2011 as a candidate of Citizen’s Rights Bureau of the Popular Socialist Movement (LASOK) in the Limassol district, his birthplace and the town he represented twice before as DIKO MP. He also ran unsuccessfully for President in 2008.
Matsakis once said: “I don’t trust the government and I embarrass them when I show their deficiencies, their inadequacies and there are lots and lots and lots of them. The government would like me to be sent to Siberia for a long period.”