Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides has initiated a probe into whether lawful procedures were followed for last week’s staging of a performance at the ancient Salamis theatre in northern Cyprus.
The Audit Office is checking whether the Cyprus Theatre Organisation, which co-organised the event, had secured a permit from the antiquities department.
The ancient theatre in Salamis just outside Famagusta is a Class A monument, meaning it belongs to the state. Class B monuments, by contrast, comprise churches or private properties not appropriated by the state but which have been found to contain items of archaeological value.
Thousands crammed into the ancient Salamis theatre last Wednesday to watch a rendition of Sophocles’ tragedy ‘Antigone’.
The event in the north quickly turned political, with the majority of the opposition parties censuring it as an acknowledgment of the breakaway regime and even an act of treason by those Greek Cypriots attending.
The protestations were led by Diko leader Nicolas Papadopoulos. He subsequently asked the auditor-general to look into whether the performance had got the nod from the antiquities department, as the relevant law stipulates.
It is well known that a similar theatrical performance held last year at Salamis had not secured a permit from the antiquities department. Therefore, the response to the same question on this year’s event is almost a foregone conclusion.
However, this is the first time that a formal request has been made to investigate the legality of staging such events in the north.
Although in theory the antiquities departments has authority on these matters – granting permission or not for use of ancient monuments – in practice of course it has no control in the north of the island.
Speaking to the state broadcaster on Monday, the auditor-general said his office was merely interested in legal issues, not in the political aspect.
Asked to weigh in, government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides took the realist approach:
“We have to be honest. How could the antiquities department have given approval? The auditor-general has asked some questions, and I am certain that these will be answered and the matter will be resolved.
“But we mustn’t miss the big picture, the substance, which are the political messages conveyed through such events,” Christodoulides added, alluding to the fact that the performance was an initiative of the bi-communal committee for culture.
The event at Salamis was also attended by dozens of Turkish Cypriots.
Another reporter asked the spokesman whether the bicommunal technical committees are above the law.
“Above the parties, above us all, are the people of Cyprus who decide how and where they can travel in their own country,” Christodoulides offered.