Cyprus Mail
CM Regular Columnist

A referendum rerun

Men in a coffeeshop watching Tassos Papadopoulos' famous television address when he urged Greek Cypriots to vote No to the Annan plan

By Johan van den Kerkhof

Normally I’d steer the hell clear of the Cyprob – yawn – as I dislike adding to the literature and aggrandising the industry.

Don’t know what got into me, but hearing about the new ‘momentum’ in the peace process, after Akinci’s election – he seems a decent fellow, that Akinci – it grabbed me to re-watch Makarios Drousiotis’ aptly-named documentary ‘Poison’, tracing the run-up to the 2004 referenda on the UN peace plan.

It makes for some illuminating, if depressing, viewing: the obnoxious cast of characters belonging to the ‘No’ camp, the fear mongers, in short the haters. The feints, bluffs, the skulduggery and double-dealing of the politicians, with the late Tassos Papadopoulos in the role of grand maestro.

The journalists who laced their ‘reports’ from Lucerne, Switzerland with venom that would make a black mamba cower in shame.

Special mention goes to Mega channel’s perennially constipated correspondent Michalis Ignatiou and the miserable Michalis Pavlides, prefacing their reports with negative commentary, forgetting – or maybe they just didn’t care – the cardinal rule of journalism: stick to the facts.

Or Sigma’s ‘combative’ hack and freedom fighter Yiannos Charalambides, who rightfully deserves a Pulitzer Prize For Spreading Hatred & Disinformation if such existed.

Among his most ‘memorable’ quotes, his dire warning that the UN peace plan would leave Greek Cypriot refugees with next to nothing: “What is the problem here? If someone for example has one house…what would they get? The chicken coop, the toilet or the bedroom?” Legendary.

In his element, Charalambides was on a roll. So too the political-economic elites and miscreants. The Central Bank, under Christodoulos Christodoulou, produced a report (insert laughter here) billing reunification at 15 billion Cyprus pounds, to drive home the message that the cost of a solution would sink the new federal state.

International donors meanwhile estimated the cost at far less – two billion pounds.

On the evening of Papadopoulos’ tear-jerker address to the nation, when he urged his people to reject the plan, CyBC reported that passionate cheerleaders ‘broke through’ police lines to reach the steps of the Presidential Palace. Whatever. Normally security would never have allowed them within 1000 yards of the President. It was all stage-managed to show support for the ‘heroic’ Papadopoulos.

And who can forget The Lamest Political Stance Of All Time? That is, AKEL’s infamous “No, to cement the Yes”? Coupled with the Most Spectacular Back Flip In History, both recorded and otherwise, when overnight the communist party went from supporting the plan to opposing it because – and here’s the kicker – the climate among the public was unfavourable.

Want more? Archbishop Chrysostomos’ demented rant against Turkish Cypriots, whom he basically called bums, claiming they wouldn’t pull their weight in the new state. Way to go, Your Holiness.

Here’s one I’m really fond of: government spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides ‘authoritatively’ informing us that the status of civil servants was not guaranteed in the new federal state. Talk about manipulation. Wait, come to think of it, why was that so bad? Oh yeah, silly me, you don’t ever, ever mess with Da Civil Servant.

How about Papadopoulos going AWOL from the crunch talks to attend some podunk European summit in Brussels? Or him conspiring on the QT with Serdar Denktash to scuttle the process, and being outed by then Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul?

When it was all said and done, UN Under-Secretary General Kieran Prendergast summed it up brilliantly, in a briefing to the UN Security Council on April 28, 2004, after the referenda:

“Mr Papadopoulos’ rejection of the plan meant that he joined company with Mr Rauf Denktash, who also gave wide-ranging and far-reaching reasons to reject the plan. Paradoxically, Mr. President, each leader claimed that the plan as finalised threatened the security and safety of his people, and gave in to all the key demands of the other side.”

Painful just to remember. But expect the experience to be exponentially worse the next time, as social media and the trolls kick in full force.

That’s why, if it all goes down again, I’m switching off.

Once it starts, I’m enforcing a strict boycott on television. I’m gonna park my buttocks on the sofa, and binge-watch ‘Family Guy’. Emerging from my man-cave when it’s all over, and if there’s a plebiscite, I’ll go vote ‘yes’ for reunification and that’ll be that.

And if a new peace plan is defeated – which it will be – then I’m checking out for good. Hate to be pessimistic, but in any given nation, arguably only a minority of the population ‘get it’ and can think beyond their narrow self-interest and prejudices.

As for moi, I’ll have done my duty twice, voting ‘yes’ for peace. Peace of mind, that is. Enough already with the so-called Cyprob.


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