In the past, I believed that the malaise of Cyprus was primarily caused by the incompetence and frivolousness of its leaders. Recently however, I have embarked on a process of revising my assessment, leading to the widening of the circle of responsibility for our plight to include the entire population of Cyprus.
First of all, I noticed that very few of our compatriots seek on a serious and diligent basis the resolution of any of our problems. Instead, most adopt the convenient stand that “national problems” are those that must be addressed by our leaders.
Even those who seek to give the impression that they are dealing with these issues, namely the politicians, do not mean business. In practice, their main concern is to demonstrate that the problem has been created by someone else and they themselves carry no responsibility. The solution they invariably adopt aims at giving them the opportunity to reap personal benefits, rather than to serve the real, long-term interests of society.
In the majority of cases, the involvement of ordinary citizens in understanding and confronting these problems is limited to their superficial and as a rule incorrect evaluation of them. These are heavily influenced by the institutionalised mechanisms of disinformation that guide public opinion, in a direction arbitrarily chosen by the “leaders of society” – whether they be politicians, trade unionists, ecclesiastical dignitaries or economic overlords, who seek to influence developments through the utilisation of their wealth.
These leaders push the public into fatalism and the conclusion that the problems cannot be solved, because theιr resolution is dependent on the disposition and the intentions of third parties, over whom we have no influence. Thus, our leaders shift their responsibilities.
A classic example of such behaviour is the Cyprus problem, for which “Turkey’s intransigence” and “foreign interests” are responsible. This is precisely where the responsibility of ordinary people – who accept easily the fatalistic role they are called upon to play – lies.
Have you ever heard a journalist, lawyer, accountant, doctor, engineer, teacher, etc. asking the following simple question: “Given that you are convinced that the game has been lost, why don’t you withdraw in an orderly fashion, thus saving what can be saved?” You will probably tell me that, if such a question were posed, the response that would be readily provided is “we will all fall fighting heroically”. As a rule, heroism has two kinds of devotees: those who proclaim with unrestrained vigour their patriotism but, when the crucial time comes to prove it, are the first to disappear, and the naïve few, who are ready to sacrifice their lives or their property, while they know or should have known that their sacrifice is in vain. The anti-colonial struggle of 1955-59 and the Turkish invasion that followed a few years later are cases in point.
The combination of this fatalism and the inability of civil society to get to the heart of things and to press politicians in one direction or another, is the source of Cyprus’ malaise. I want to cite two examples, in which I found myself personally involved to substantiate my conclusion.
The first example is the problem of corruption and collusion and the related issue of ‘pothen esches’ (where have you derived your wealth from)? Two professionally distinguished people – an accountant, Nikos Syrimis, and the Nobel prize-winning economist, Sir Christoforos Pissarides – worked with me to capture in detail the reasons why “pothen esches” has not worked since 2004, when it was first legislated in Cyprus, and what needs to be done to make the system work effectively.
Our findings and suggestions are reflected in a dedicated website, at https://www.pothen-esches-cyprus.com/. Two years on, absolutely nothing has been done and, of course, there has been no progress in addressing the problem of corruption and collusion. The comment I have often come across is “Come on, you know damn well that the nest of most politicians is soiled; don’t expect anything to happen.” A classic example of fatalism and defeatism!
The second, most recent, example is the case of the proposal of the Eastern Mediterranean Think Tank for the solution of the Cyprus problem. Eleven distinguished fellow citizens, including three Turkish Cypriots, and myself worked very hard to come up with this proposal, which is based on UN resolutions, the Guterres Framework and the agreed or substantially agreed convergences to the point of the collapse of the peace seeking process at Crans-Montana. The proposal drafted is probably the first complete, coherent, realistic proposal drafted by Cypriots in an effort to resolve the existential problem they face. This proposal is contained in 40 easily accessible pages (in a dedicated website, at <eastmed-thinktank.com>) and has been widely distributed to all Cypriot politicians and to many influential persons outside of Cyprus. The comment of many of our compatriots was: “Remarkable work. I would have no problem in accepting such a solution, but it will not work because of the Turkish intransigence and the decision of some of our leaders (including certain presidential candidates) to support the substantive partition of Cyprus.” Another classic example of fatalism and defeatism.
My message is simple. There is only one way out of the deadlock. Civil society must wake up from the lethargy in which it has fallen and in a thunderous voice transmit the following message: “We demand meaningful pre-election debates and not canapés served at soirée parties. We demand clear and well-founded positions. We demand to know not just your goals but – more importantly – how the goals you have set will be attained and when?”
The phenomenon of presidential candidates running away from election debates is unacceptable and deplorable. This kind of deception and escapism must stop. It is equally important to persuade civil society to liberate itself from fatalism and defeatism and to deal, at long last, with the existential problems it faces. Otherwise, we will all be worthy of our fate. Otherwise, we will be haunted by the Furies, both here and in the underworld of Hades.
Christos Panayiotides is a regular columnist for the Sunday Mail and Alithia