Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

Cyprus: the Iran of Europe

Archbishop Chrysostomos

By George Koumoullis

THE ISLAMIC Republic of Iran is a theocratic state in which God is considered the highest authority and supreme ruler. Of course, the administration is carried out by a human ruler (as the Almighty does not take on such duties) who supposedly represents God and is called a spiritual leader.

In the case of Iran, this leader is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who looms large above the popularly elected president of the country. Apart from the fact that the Ayatollah must approve the candidacy of the president, he is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the chief of the security services, head of the secret service and the only man with the right to declare war.

In Cyprus, there are elements of secularisation but also elements of theocracy which set it apart from the rest of the European countries. Clearly the Archbishop does not have the powers of the Ayatollah, but he is not as disempowered as we might think as on some issues he has greater powers than the elected president.

The main pillar of the Cypriot establishment is the Archbishop and as such could be compared to the spiritual leader of Iran. His activities are not just religious but mainly temporal. I think it would be tediously superfluous to go through all the ways the leader of the Church exercises temporal power in order to prove the point, but some stand out, like the obligation of all important foreign visitors to meet him.

Then there is the rejectionist rhetoric included in his Sunday church sermons (completely unrelated to the church service), his economic might, and the absolute control he exercises over every education minister (his approval is needed before the minister is appointed), not to mention his role as a TV boss which gives him the power to shape public opinion.

He could boast, with justification, that he has bewitched a part of his flock which considers him as blessed by God, like the Ayatollah, with the ability to distinguish Good from Evil, the beneficial from the harmful, the patriotic from the unpatriotic, the moral from the immoral and, of course, shares from warrants.

Living in Cyprus one feels the big influence of religion, a feature of Iran. For example the television news of the state broadcaster CyBC was not shown at 8pm during Holy Week but later because of the transmission of the evening church service. Cyprus flags were flying at half-mast on Good Friday (at least at National Guard guardposts) even though under our constitution there is a complete separation of Church and State.

When you turn on CyBC radio or television in the afternoons there is a strong possibility the show would be of a religious nature. The message these shows want to give is very simple – genuine Greeks are those who are devoted to the Greek Orthodox doctrine. Unfortunately the Cypriot clergy has not yet comprehended what the English philosopher John Locke said in the 17th century – that every church considers itself orthodox but for other churches it is wrong and heretical.

On another show, on Logos radio, which (thankfully) was recently axed many listeners would call in and demand that the state mercilessly went after people of other faiths and other ethnic origins because they were taking the people’s income. On a TV channel, a charismatic theologian, who has been accused by the Holy Synod of not being devoted to the principles of the Church, appears every week. This would suggest that whoever does not faithfully follow the Greek Orthodox doctrine runs the risk of excommunication; fortunately beheadings are not on our Church’s menu.

Cypriot theologians contribute to the ‘iranification’ of Cyprus as they proclaim themselves as fighters against sects and as our God-inspired instructors. When asked a smart question by a TV viewer such as for example, ‘if Christ was resurrected where exactly is his body’ the theologian either does not answer or answers in a language that nobody can understand. ‘Blessed are the poor in mind,’ a cynic might say.

The theocratic control of political power is apparent in religion and history lessons in schools in both countries. The lesson of religious studies, as it is taught today in Cypriot schools, does not have a place in a modern school as it is nothing more than propaganda for the Greek Orthodox Church. Theologians teach religious discrimination by promoting only one religion as correct, inadvertently cultivating religious fanaticism and intolerance.

As for the teaching of history, the Archbishop’s caretaker in the government (education minister) does not dare change an iota in the way the lesson is taught. A teenager graduates from secondary school and does not know that during the time of the Ottoman Empire all the archbishops were quislings. He does not know that the Church (both here and in Greece) fought against all those ‘scoundrels’ who planned the 1821 revolution against the Turks. He does not know that on March 23, 1821in the church of the Patriarchate an announcement was read which excommunicated Greeks who revolted. Nor does he know that the Church in Cyprus was the biggest usurer during Turkish rule.

Kleptocracy and corruption are also common features of the two countries. Kleptocracy, as we have experienced it in Cyprus is characterised as the type of government corruption by which those exercising power are involved in continuous transactions and deals with state and other figures with the aim of getting rich.

In Iran kleptocracy is also thriving and seems to be more deeply-rooted than ours. Recently, former vice president of the country Reza Rahimi was sentenced to five years in prison for an assortment of briberies backhanders. In May 2014, the billionaire businessman Mahafarid Amir Khosravi was executed for banking fraud of €2.6 billion. State companies (semi-governmental organisations) in both countries are vehicles for corruption and nepotism which are used to provide employment for the cousins, son-in-laws, nieces, mistresses of deputies, ministers and clerics.

Conclusion: the regimes of the two countries share a great many common features, the main one being theocracy, kleptocracy, corruption, religious fanaticism, intolerance and hypocrisy.

George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist

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