THE video featuring Greek Cypriot women directing grossly offensive comments at a Russian woman in a Larnaca car park went viral a few hours after it was posted on You Tube. By Monday morning there were very few people in Cyprus who had not seen it and expressed outrage at the crudeness and nastiness of the remarks which almost everyone labelled racist.
Many Cypriots expressed a sense of shame and shock over the abusive words of their compatriots, saying they were not representative of Cypriot society, a view repeated by the press, which saw a positive in the public reaction. One paper wrote: “The positive thing in this woeful story was the reaction of Cypriot society. It proved to a large extent that the majority of society does not tolerate such behaviour.”
As a general point this may be correct, but it does not address another side of the story – how big is the minority that engages in such behaviour? On Wednesday, Politis reported that a woman from Greece, living in Cyprus for the last 45 years, had given a statement to police that she had been the target of a racist and obscene verbal attack, after she had told someone not to park in a space reserved for the disabled. She felt so offended that she decided to surrender her Cyprus ID and passport.
Instead of sounding pleased that most of our society does not tolerate racist behaviour, perhaps we should be asking why there are still people resorting to racist abuse against foreigners as soon as there is a small disagreement. Why do people become aggressive and racist when they have a minor dispute with someone who is not Cypriot? This is what should concern us.
The majority might not tolerate racism when it is displayed on You Tube, but the fact that people openly resort to it would suggest that this disapproval or intolerance has not had much effect on certain members of society. Displays of racist behaviour are not unique to Cyprus of course. The real challenge for each country is how it deals with outbreaks of racism. Education is of vital importance; the education ministry could introduce programmes for promoting tolerance and acceptance of foreigners at schools.
There is also the law which regards incitement to racial hatred an offence. Perhaps taking a few cases of racial abuse to the courts, something not very common, would act as a deterrent at least for some. All means of fighting this ugly phenomenon should be used.