By George Koumoullis
A MAJOR issue has developed following the government initiative to name Larnaca airport after Glafcos Clerides. The government’s proposal is supported by a broad spectrum of society and includes DISY (the party he founded) and some leading personalities.
A significant minority, however, (consisting of AKEL supporters and others) is clearly against this proposal. Consequently, it would not seem very democratic for the government to insist on changing the name of the airport. It is completely irrelevant that those opposed to the new name are right or wrong about the national image of Clerides.
Nobody doubts that Clerides was a great figure on the Cyprus political scene for many decades. At the same time, nobody doubts the fact that a very sizeable minority does not consider Clerides a historical leader of Cyprus. Once again, which side is right is subjective and irrelevant to the issue.
Common sense dictates that the name of an airport (hospital, stadium, city square) should enjoy universal – or almost universal – acceptance so as to rule out the possibility of a new name cropping up from time to time. For example, the Poles have named Warsaw airport Frederic Chopin in honour of the great composer and pianist, and the decision enjoyed universal acceptance. The same applies to other airports, such John Kennedy in New York, Ben Gurion in Tel Aviv and Charles de Gaulle in Paris.
Bearing this in mind, the government’s insistence on naming Larnaca airport after Clerides is incompatible with both democracy and common sense. If the proposal is implemented it would prove extremely divisive, with the danger that when AKEL comes to power it could change the name of the airport to ‘Demetris Christofias’, by resorting to the same arguments that DISY is using now.
It is a matter of utmost urgency for this potentially tragicomic development to be nipped in the bud so that the cost of division does not scale unmanageable heights. MEP Takis Hadjigeorgiou correctly pointed out that it would have been much wiser if the airport were named after Vasilis Michaelides as our national poet enjoyed universal acceptance.
Many would suggest we leave the name of the airport unchanged for three basic reasons: a) it would carry on promoting Larnaca as a tourist destination and consequently Cyprus; b) it would avoid the belittling, if not humiliation, of Larnacans; and c) nobody objects to the current name of Larnaca International Airport.
It is worth mentioning that London’s Heathrow airport, which is the biggest in Europe, took its name from the area in which it was built – the small village of Heathrow that had just 750 residents before the building of the airport. Yet the British did not pull any name from the huge reservoir of individuals of international renown they have to give to the airport. Perhaps to the Cypriots’ great surprise the airport was not named after William Shakespeare, Isaac Newton, Bertrand Russell or Winston Churchill.
AKEL’s stance regarding the names of streets and other public areas reveals a certain ambiguity. When avenues in Limassol and Nicosia were named after Spyros Kyprianou or when the Nicosia indoor stadium was given the name Tassos Papadopoulos it kept quiet. This silence could only be interpreted as consent. But were these two former presidents ‘historic leaders’? If the comments of Akelites about the policies of these two men are anything to go by the answer must be a resounding ‘no’.
What is more astonishing is that while AKEL was in power for five years it never raised the issue of renaming the Grivas Dighenis avenues that exist in all towns. Many foreign visitors to Cyprus, mainly academics, that knew Grivas had aligned himself with the security battalions of the Germans in occupied Greece and was the leader of the criminal Eoka B, are shocked when they see main roads bearing his name. Just think how a Cypriot would feel if he went to Athens and the main avenue was called Georgios Papadopoulos; what would he think if Rome had a Mussolini Square or if Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate had been renamed Hitler Gate?
The Cypriot citizen would have concluded that AKEL’s apportioning of responsibilities is not carried out in a fair and just way. The scales of AKEL justice are similar to the scales of the pre-war grocery store that used weights of dubious accuracy.
So what is the conclusion? Simply that decisions about the renaming of Larnaca airport should be taken in a “spirit of unity and national unanimity”. And I apologise to readers if I am using a well-worn cliché which in Cyprus we do not understand the meaning of.
George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist