ORGANISED groups have often used the right of free speech to intimidate and bully people in order to impose their views or interests on the rest of society. Such is the scale of the intimidation, which could often be likened to political terror, a form of totalitarianism, the targets are often afraid to stand up to the bullies.
This has always happened with the Cyprus problem, a vociferous and aggressive minority claiming the patriotic high ground and imposing their views on our society through verbal intimidation and public abuse of those that disagree with them. Those that want a settlement are routinely dismissed as weak, unpatriotic accomplices of Turkey that want to sacrifice the Cyprus Republic and put the future of Cypriot Hellenism at risk. The only way to avoid these labels is to agree with the bullies or keep quiet.
What is astonishing is that President Anastasiades is also intimidated, his spokesman constantly pandering to his boss’ critics and trying to persuade them that his positions are very similar to theirs. This has become a daily feature of public life, indicating that political bullying works on all levels. If the president, who has a mandate from the majority of the people, feels obliged to appease his detractors and avoid confrontation why would people in a weaker position stand up to the bullies?
While the nationalists impose the political correctness on the Cyprus problem, on domestic issues AKEL and the unions dictate the agenda and, again, almost everyone falls into line. Privatisation is bad because it would lead to the sell-off of public wealth to foreign capital; calls for less union militancy are an attempt to impoverish the workers by greedy neo-liberals; attempts to regulate strikes at essential services are an attack on the sacred right to strike. This intimidation is no different from that practised by the nationalists, in this case the communists and union bosses acting as the arbiters of what it is supposedly morally correct and socially just.
And to give this dogmatism a democratic veneer they serve up the alleged need of ‘consensus’ which effectively means every decision on public issues requires the approval of unions. On Tuesday when the education minister announced the proposal for a new admissions system at public universities that would allow them to offer places to students from private schools all the teaching unions joined forces to express their disapproval and announced they would meet the parties to ask them to reject it.
In an announcement they said the “state school must be protected and the right of access of all students to public universities safeguarded.” But how would these bullies be safeguarding the access of all students when they were supporting the preservation of a system that excluded 20 per cent of students because they studied at private schools? And the main criticism of the ministry’s “unilateral and unacceptable decision” by the leader of the secondary school teachers’ union (OELMEK) was that it was taken without any dialogue with the unions – the consensus ruse again. AKEL made exactly the same criticism.
At least this time the union bullies were confronted by the Rector of Cyprus University, Constantinos Christofides, who refused to be intimidated. Speaking on CyBC radio on Wednesday morning Christofides said: “I want you to tell me in what country in the world do unions have a say about who will be admitted into the universities of their country. What is happening here is unknown and unheard of. There is no country in the world in which unions take part in a dialogue about which students would be admitted to university.”
In Cyprus not only do they demand a say but if they are not consulted they claim our democracy was deficient and step up the intimidation. OELMEK has recruited other teaching unions as well as parents’ associations and secondary student groups to its political lynch mob in order to make its intimidation more effective. These are many people (votes) and the union believes it would bully the parties to vote against the new admissions policy on which neither parents, nor students, nor teachers, nor deputies, should have a say.
We are certain Christofides will not be intimidated and not give in to the aggressive mob rule that destroys rather than serves democracy. Responding to claims that the new admissions policy endangered the future of Cypriot Hellenism, Christofides pointed out: “Cyprus society is more in danger from the narrow-minded.” It always has been.