Cyprus Mail
Opinion

Lessons from the parrot with one word

School children laying flowers on the graves of EOKA heroes

THIS YEAR, as on every anniversary of April 1, we heard the familiar refrain from the politicians: that we owe our independence to the EOKA struggle. This year it was recited by vice-president of EDEK Costis Efstathiou who said: “If today there are presidential and ministerial thrones, if there is a parliament, deputies, state officials, we owe this to the Cyprus Republic and to those who sacrificed their life, the martyrs, our heroes, the fighters of EOKA.”

The politicians, who repeat every national day something that even they do not really understand the substance of, are nothing more than parrots. They remind us of the popular poem ‘O papagalos’ (the parrot) by Zacharias Papantoniou that we so dearly loved in primary school. When the parrot learned to say the word ‘kalispera’ (good evening) he impressed all the birds with his human talk and convinced them he had a deep knowledge of the Greek language. They invited him to a gathering to speak to them and show off his unrivalled wisdom.

The parrot put on his best clothes, including a bow-tie, shone his feathers and took an authoritative, professorial pose as he readied himself for his speech. Bowing to the assortment of feathered presidents he said ‘kalispera’. Then, bowing to the rest of the audience, he said ‘kalispera’. The participants tell him in verse: “Mr Parrot, will we have the fortune, to hear you talk further? The parrot coughs and coughs again… but what could he say? Again he said ‘kalispera’.”

If we replace the parrot with party representatives and their memorised announcements, the feathered gatherings with national anniversaries and the birds with the naive of Cypriot society we can derive even greater enjoyment from Papantoniou’s poem.

On no account was EOKA’s objective the establishment of an independent state to give us presidential and ministerial thrones, deputies and state officials as our politicians like to boast. The EOKA struggle could be summarised by the slogan ‘enosis and only enosis’. In other words, EOKA aimed at transforming Cyprus from a British colony into a region or a district of Greece. If it achieved its objective we would not have a president but a district chief and instead of a council of ministers we would have a district council.

Logically – I hope a modicum of logic still exists in this country – if we have to express our gratitude to anyone for the fact that today many of us are enjoying presidential and ministerial thrones and parliamentary seats with high pay and prestige, it has to be to the English because they rejected our demand for enosis, and it is because of this rejection that the Cyprus Republic exists today, even in its truncated form. This may sound paradoxical but it is very true.

The Ethnarchy (the Church) and the ‘nationalist faction’ (one of the two political camps before independence) which hatched and nurtured EOKA never had a vision of establishing a Cyprus republic. This is proved by the rejection of the golden and never repeated opportunity, to secure a genuine independence without a drop of blood being shed that was presented in 1948. Then colonial Governor Lord Winster came up with a constitution that ensured the participation of the people in the running of domestic affairs, taking into account the interests of the minority.

The legislature would have 22 members – 18 Greek Cypriots and four Turkish Cypriots. The latter would comprise the 18 per cent (four out of 22) of deputies (the exact percentage of the Turkish Cypriot population) and did not stipulate separate majorities or a veto. The Turkish Cypriots were just recognised as a minority. Admittedly, it was a constitution with restricted self-government as executive powers would remain in the hands of the British governor. But if we take into account that the British Empire was being rocked at its foundations, the trend was that in a short period of time the constitution would have take the shape of that of a fully independent state as eventually happened in Malta, Bahrain and other British colonies.

The constitution was accepted by the Turkish Cypriots but rejected by the Ethnarchy and the ‘nationalist faction’ which demanded ‘enosis and only enosis’. The other political force, ‘Faction of National Co-operation’, which consisted of AKEL and the intellectuals, while initially indicating they would accept the plan, in the end rejected it for the sake of enosis, despite the strong disagreement of leading communist Ploutis Servas.

The celebratory culture of national anniversaries causes great damage because it rules out any form of self-criticism by making the public uncritical, spineless, fanatical, silent and servile – a beast of burden.

I am the first to bow to the heroes of EOKA; through their self-sacrifice they taught us that there is nothing more important than freedom. But at the same time we cannot ignore all the ills caused by EOKA’s actions. It destroyed the long friendship between Greek and Turkish Cypriots and contributed to the elimination of Hellenism from Istanbul. And, through dire necessity because of the impasse of the struggle, we signed the London-Zurich agreements that allowed the presence of the Turkish army in Cyprus, gave Turkey a say on changes to the Cyprus constitution and even worse the right to intervene militarily if and when she considered it necessary.

In this light, we should all be asking ourselves whether all the fanfare of April 1 is justified.

George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist


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