A troubled history with the UK saw a distinct lack of reaction to the news this week compared to other countries around the world
Justifiably or not, the reaction in Cyprus to Queen Elizabeth’s death was muted, verging on the non-existent – notwithstanding the dredging up of old colonial-era grudges, mixed in with some schadenfreude from bloggers and social media posters. It marked a stark contrast to the tributes and paeans in other countries.
Other than what felt like a forced Tweet on Friday from President Nicos Anastasiades two hours after the queen’s passing, offering generic condolences, the political world fell silent. Not a single political party issued a statement, and no formal acts of government took place.
Meantime on the Twitter-sphere, Cypriot sentiments towards the late Queen went something like this: ‘May she rot in hell.’
Another person posted: “The heroes of Eoka await you in the afterlife”, clearly alluding to the nine Eoka fighters executed in 1956-1957. More on that later.
Turn to neighbouring Israel, where the front of city hall in Tel Aviv and the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem were both illuminated with the Union Jack flag in honour of the Queen.
In Lebanon, the government on Friday announced three immediate days of mourning and an additional day on the day of the queen’s burial. Their cabinet also ordered the national flag to be lowered at all public buildings.
And Jordanian King Abdullah II, whose mother is British born, expressed “great sadness, sorrow and deep affection” at the death of the monarch, declaring a seven-day period of mourning by the royal court.
Even Ireland, which endured 800 years of harsh British rule, and the Northern Ireland troubles in the sixties and seventies, apart from some negative social media chatter and an ugly public chant from Shamrock Rovers fans during a game in Dublin on Thursday night, officials of all stripes paid tribute to the queen who was the first-ever British monarch to visit Ireland in May 2011.
Long regarded as the political wing of the IRA, the Sinn Féin party said that relationships between the two countries were for so long marked by conflict and suffering but had been recast and reimagined through the Good Friday Agreement for which the queen “proved a powerful advocate and ally of those who believe in peace and reconciliation”.
Perhaps the ill-feeling in Cyprus towards Elizabeth was none too surprising, given the narrative – which is contested – that she was responsible for letting nine Eoka fighters hang in the late 1950s by refusing to grant them pardon or reprieve.
Commentators will debate the point forever, but there’s no doubt those events continue to evoke strong feelings among at least a segment of the population and especially those living at the time.
In particular, the case of 18-year-old Evagoras Pallikaridis, whom British colonial authorities charged with possession of a firearm – despite it being in a non-functional state – and sentenced to death. Many would describe that as an excessive punishment – even considering the emergency criminal law that applied then.
Some argue that, as head of state, Queen Elizabeth had the power to pardon, but chose not to. Others counter that such matters were the purview of the civilian government in London, and that at no time was the Queen involved with the affair, nor could she have been.
A political analyst, who preferred not to be named, said he recalls how at the time the pending execution of the young Pallikaridis drew international outcry.
“Celebrities and, I believe, even US Senators called for a reprieve… the fact it didn’t happen left a bad taste among Cypriots.”
The reverberations were felt decades later, when in 1993 Elizabeth paid her first and only official visit to the island. Earlier, in 1961 she and her husband had made a brief stopover at Akrotiri en route to India.
In October of 1993, while here attending a Commonwealth heads of state meeting, the Queen was greeted by an angry group of demonstrators and cries of “Go home.”
The jeers came at an event in Nicosia as the Queen received the golden key to the city.
At the event held at the capital’s Famagusta Gate, students and adults brandishing Greek flags gathered around Nicosia’s mediaeval walls hours before the British monarch arrived.
The chilly reception was probably the worst the Queen had received since a Maori bared his posterior to her when she visited New Zealand years earlier.
A Greek Cypriot doctor by the name of Harris Aristidou did his utmost to make the monarch feel unwanted, by smashing the windshield of the Queen’s limo while it was parked at a Limassol police station. Aristidou never regretted his actions.
Fast-forward to May this year, when a charity concert to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s platinum jubilee was relocated to within the defence sector of the British bases following a hostile response by some Greek Cypriots.
The concert had been scheduled to take place two-and-a-half weeks after the start of the implementation of the new deal on the bases – 80 per cent of land in the bases would be freed up for development – and was also supposed to mark the friendship between Britain and Cyprus.
Originally set to take place on June 2 at the ancient site of Curium, the concert was instead moved to Happy Valley within the defence estate at Episkopi.
So it’s no stretch to say that British royals are none too popular among Cypriots. But it was not always so.
According to historian and researcher Petros Papapolyviou, writing on his blog, here in Cyprus a short-lived sense of optimism greeted Elizabeth’s wedding in 1947 to Prince Philip, duke of Edinburgh.
This had to do with the mental association that Philip was the son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark (1882–1944).
“What has been forgotten with the passage of time,” writes Papapolyviou, “is that Greek Cypriots had welcomed her [Elizabeth’s] ascendancy to the throne with great hopes for enosis [union] with Greece, which stemmed from her marriage to Philip…”
The researcher reports that on the occasion of the royal nuptials, the then prelate of the church of Cyprus, Makarios Myriantheus, Bishop of Kyrenia, wrote the following in a congratulatory telegram: “We trust that this joyous event will further strengthen the traditional ties of friendship between England and Greece, firstly manifesting in the ceding of Cyprus to Mother Greece.”
A prominent newspaper at the time echoed this sentiment.
Whereas Papapolyviou acknowledges this amounted to wishful thinking and a simplistic take on world politics, he observes that the subsequent dashing of these hopes may have played a part in Cypriots’ dislike for the Queen. Perhaps a self-imposed and therefore unwarranted dislike, but still.
For political analyst Christoforos Christoforou, the general takeaway regarding attitudes toward the late Queen speaks to Cypriots’ “poor relationship with our past… we’re notorious for holding grudges, never admitting our mistakes or engaging in self-critique.”
The commentator speculates that the dislike for Queen Elizabeth may be a case of ill-founded projection: “You might say that all the anger and bitterness over British colonial got dumped on her, a soft target. She was the scapegoat, if you will.”