Cyprus Mail
CM Regular Columnist Opinion

Biting the bullet too late

Defence Minister Christoforos Fokaides inspecting the army he has pledged to modernise

Rather than just talk about it like his predecessors, Minister of Defence Christoforos Fokaides has bitten the bullet and reduced military service for conscripts by ten months.

His response to whining opposition parties in the House last week was redolent of that memorable scene in Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, when Ugly – sat in a foam filled tub – was surprised by a killer pointing a colt 45, the killer mumbling something like, ‘So I’ve finally caught yer with yer pants down…’ But two shots were fired by Ugly from his colt hidden beneath the foam and the killer fell to the floor as Ugly said, ‘If you’re gonna’ shoot, shoot, don’t talk about it!’

Ah, if only government was that simple!

Fokaides might be reducing the time served by conscripts, but he is adding an extra 3,000 full-time professionals to the ranks, thus temporarily increasing overall numbers and the wage bill – 3,000 x 1100 euros a month (double that with overheads) at a cost to the state (taxpayer) of 6.5 million euros a month, when the number of conscripts on 150 euros a month remains the same for the first six months, and is thereafter halved.

And just where are the jobs or further education opportunities for that liberated half? Did Fokaides think of that – he didn’t say!

But the minister’s intention is not to reduce cost or think about jobs for the boys. It is to modernise our armed forces into a small but effective response to any aggressor – well trained men, better equipped with the latest hardware, and housed in fewer, but more efficiently run army camps at a cost of a further 26 million euros.

Then one is bound to ask, ‘What sort of a ragtag military have we been living with since 1975?’

Fokaides and this government should be praised for their action, but all political parties can be blamed for dragging their heels this past 40 years at the expense of sacrificing the academic future of our youth.
Conscription inflicted an attitude of submission on the majority of our young and caused a sudden increase in the number of pseudo mentally and physically handicapped, those who refused to submit, leading to the brain drain.

By the time a conscript is demobbed, he’s forgotten everything he learnt at school. Bored to death on the Green Line, his aptitude to follow any serious academic career is dulled all too often into taking a ubiquitous course in economics and business management.

What should have been put into place in 1975 is only now on the cards – a professional, cost manageable, military force, not this ‘joke’ we’ve called an army; a Kafkaesque prison for the academically ambitious.

Take the case of the 27-year-old returning at the outset of the recession armed with an MSc from Sheffield University who decided this year – after four years of looking for a job – to open a take-away to support his wife and child. And to top that, he must report for weekend guard duty every three, or is it six months until he’s fifty (the minister has yet to say which).

Poorly educated and impoverished refugees fled to Britain immediately after 1974 to do just that – open a take away – but no guard duties! And many of the well-educated, who went to UK universities after 1974, remained in the UK to live and work.

Unfortunately, what we didn’t realise in 1975 was that a similar joke was played on our civil service – employees chosen by who they knew and what they didn’t, bowing their heads like submissive sheep to (ex-EOKA) department heads – all eyes wide shut in a manner emulating our conscripts.

Cyprus’ needs in areas of competence are now dire.

Fokaides has shown us the light of a blighted army, administration and House of Reps – no go, no do areas, besotted by a never solve disease that has plagued Cyprus since 1960.

It took a worldwide economic crisis (which the village idiot claimed would never touch Cyprus as he borrowed two and a half billion euros in ‘aid’ from Russia) for us to see just how hopelessly bankrupt we were in expertise – public healthcare, transport, education, agriculture, banks, and to top it all, at his Holiness’ brewery, Keo.

But now we have the Fokaides Example – the way radical change must be brought about.

Like it or not, professionalism must come to this administration lest we are lost in an ever descending spiral of indecision and irresolution. And it must come most importantly with this year’s resolution of the Cyprob – that persistent thorn in the island’s side, which first cultivated then sustained this no go, no do submissive attitude by successive generations in response to all challenges.

Fighting for independence from a colonial power only to be re-enslaved by our own incompetence is ironic indeed…

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