By George Koumoullis
The term ‘internal enemy’ used by the teacher in her celebratory speech to mark the October 28 anniversary of ‘Ochi Day’ has its roots in Nazi Germany of the 1930s. The Nazi ideology of race considered Jews as the main ‘internal enemy’ and its tragic result was the Holocaust.
The theory about the existence of ‘internal enemies’ was subsequently adopted by all totalitarian regimes. Greece’s dictator Ioannis Metaxas regarded his opponents, mainly the communists, ‘nationally dangerous’ which was why he decided to dissolve the Communist Party of Greece and – following Hitler’s example – suspended basic articles of the constitution, suppressed freedom of the press and political activity. By citing the danger posed by the ‘internal enemy’ he imprisoned or exiled all his opponents. The Junta of George Papadopoulos did the same after the military coup of 1967. All those that failed to support him were labelled ‘internal enemies’ and became eligible for exile to the notorious Yiaros.
In view of these experiences, we would have expected that an educationalist in Cyprus in the 21st century would strictly adhere to human rights and democratic values instead of being guided by fascist ideology and repeating the tune of totalitarian regimes about ‘internal enemies’. The October 28 anniversary is a chance to explain to students the barbarity of Nazism and not – what irony – to extol it. How much better it would have been if instead of talking about ‘internal enemies’, we turned our attention to the enemies of democracy that do exist.
In such a case, our suspicions should be directed at, among others, teachers who exploiting their position cultivate nationalism and racism at schools. There is little doubt that the rise of the extreme right in Cyprus can be attributed to a large extent to an education system that is influenced by the personalities of our teachers. How can a student not be a nationalist when the teacher talks disparagingly about supporters of a settlement, accusing them of “partying at checkpoints with tambourines, whistles and drums”? Or how can students link the sexual orientation of an adult to their human rights when the teacher that gave the celebratory speech had no qualms about referring to homosexuality as “perversion”?
And how can students defend themselves against religiosity, Puritanism, fundamentalism, proselytisation, intolerance, theocracy and superstition when religion classes are nothing more than indoctrination – propaganda in support of Orthodoxy – even though the constitution of the Cyprus Republic supposedly safeguards religious tolerance? The sad realisation is that the democratic conscience of students, which would make them capable of standing their own ground against deniers of democracy, is not cultivated in schools. Instead, students are subjected to brain washing with the result that they grow up into fanatical supporters of nationalist parties.
The idea of the ‘internal enemy’ is also cultivated by the extreme right parties with the support (unintentionally, but sometimes intentionally) of football clubs. We should not hide our heads in the sand – Elam controls the organised supporters of the so-called nationalist clubs and has turned them into breeding grounds for fascists. It is an investment that will yield results in the medium term, when the ‘organised supporters’ become adults.
Nobody should be surprised if Elam elects a MEP in the 2019 elections and its share of the vote reaches double figures. To achieve this aim, the Greek flags must dominate among the fans of the ‘nationalist clubs’, giving the impression that the opponents are not true Greeks but anti-Hellenes and ‘internal enemies’.
The teacher in her speech said that the ‘internal enemies’ look at the blue and white flag dismissively. In this respect she is right, but a clarification is needed. A person that loves his country is moved by pride when he sees the Greek flag waving at the Parthenon or in the parade of the Olympic Games, but is appalled when he sees it next to the swastika, the Celtic cross and other Nazi symbols or at memorial services for arch-fascists. The tragedy is that the Greek flag divides rather than unites Hellenism in Cyprus.
What should concern all those that care about democracy and its values are that neo-fascist and racist views are gaining popularity among the students of gymnasiums and lyceums. A significant majority of the young denigrates democracy and is repelled by politics. Admittedly, the phenomenon is complex but I believe that the two basic causes are the inadequacy of our education system (particularly the teaching of history) and football.
In order not to confuse nationalism with patriotism, we should recall the meanings given to these by Charles de Gaulle who said: “Patriotism is when you place love of your country above everything else. Nationalism is when you place above everything your hatred for other countries.” President Emanuel Macron, in his speech at the ceremony to mark 100 years since the end of World War I last Sunday, said: “Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is the betrayal of patriotism.”
Nationalism will be weakened by the public exposure of its aims. It can be likened to the iris in the eye. It keeps contracting the more light is directed at it.
George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist