By George Koumoullis
“Tell me your teachers and I’ll tell you who you are,” goes the Greek saying which should reverberate in Cyprus after the unprovoked and unjustified attacks on Turkish Cypriots by students during the recent demonstrations condemning the establishment of the pseudo-state.
Most of the students detained for these attacks were from one school, the headmaster of which is widely known as a right wing extremist. In his memorial speech about George Grivas two years ago, this headmaster said that Grivas “constitutes one of the leading personalities produced by Cyprus, but also wider Hellenism during the 20th century”.
I will not comment on the amusement caused by such unhistorical claims to the overwhelming majority of Greek Cypriots who know that Grivas proved a collaborator during the German occupation of Greece and was the founder and leader of criminal EOKA B. A school headmaster knows very well that when a student messes up two out of three topics in a final exam he will not pass let alone be declared pompously a top student.
Generally speaking, if a headmaster is racist and in the thrall of fascism we should not expect the students of the school he runs to be governed by democratic ideals. Such a secondary school cannot mould spiritual or intellectual people that deal with social, political, cultural and moral problems through the search for truth. Such a secondary school cannot produce citizens with a democratic outlook who respect diversity. Such a school cannot respect human rights and cultural diversity within a multi-cultural society.
On the contrary, such a school fosters intolerance, xenophobia and, in our case, would exhaustively cultivate hatred and hostility towards our Turkish Cypriot compatriots. Therefore the assortment of slogans uttered by students during the recent protests, such as “a good Turk is a dead Turk” or “Turks, Mongols, murderers” should not leave us stunned, flabbergasted and dazed because it is the natural consequence of the education given to students at many schools.
The problem cannot be solved by President Anastasiades taking on the role of Moses, descending from a governmental Sinai with his own tablets of 110 commandments aimed at tackling the symptoms, while completely ignoring the causes; not to mention that he confuses hooliganism with fascism. The problem could be solved – and to achieve a solution a long-term effort is necessary – with the radical restructuring of education about which no mention is made in the government’s commandments.
The problems in education dictate long-term and co-ordinated creative solutions. The cancer of education in Cyprus is political party control which should not be confused with political awareness. It is our obligation towards our country, our students and future generations not to allow teachers to be involved in party politics because the damage caused to education by party influence is incalculable for three basic reasons:
In conclusion, if our education were literally a live organism, it would have sent out an SOS signal a long time ago. And if we ran to its rescue, it would whisper to us: “I suffer greatly from party control and neo-fascism. Please help me.” The issue raised now is: will we show the compassion and care needed to cure it, bearing in mind the very painful side-effects if it is left to die?
George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist