Who could have thought that in 2022, almost 50 years after his passing, General Georgios Grivas would be dominating the news headlines and sparking angry exchanges between parties. Even more astonishing is that there were people, most of them born after Grivas’ death, prepared to demonstrate outside the legislature chanting slogans in support of him. They fired flares, threw stones at the building and shouted abuse at deputies they considered hostile. Part of this mob also went to the Edek offices, at which they hurled stones, smashing windows and fired flares which started a small fire.

The thugs were protesting because a week earlier, Akel had drafted a resolution about December 7, the day marking democratic resistance against the 1974 coup, which referred to Grivas as being “unworthy of any honour”. The resolution, which was approved with the votes of Diko, Edek, Dipa and the Greens, also called for the end of state funding of all activities honouring Grivas, such as the publication of books, memorial services, erection of statues etc. During the debate on the state budget Akel had submitted two amendments – the first to cut all spending allocated to honouring Grivas and the second to cut funds the junior ministry of culture would give for the Grivas Memorial Foundation – both of which were rejected. In the end, a Diko, Edek, Dipa amendment, blocking the budget of the ministry of culture without reference to Grivas, was approved.

Inevitably the budget debate became a squabble over whether €376,236 should be spent on honouring the memory of Grivas. It also led to a gathering of some 300 nationalist thugs, who would normally have shown complete indifference to such a debate, outside the legislature brandishing flags with Grivas’ face and putting up offensive banners. Banner slogans included ‘Worthless traitor politicians, Cyprus is Greek’, ‘You are the descendants of the traitors of Eoka’. They also chanted slogans such as ‘Anarchists and Bolsheviks this land is not yours’ and ‘Eoka B strike again.’ The demonstration was organised by the Georgios Grivas Dighenis Foundation, which demands that the state pays for its existence.

All parties, except Elam, the leader of which engaged in conversation with the demonstrators, condemned the behaviour of the mob even though Disy blamed Akel for causing division for electoral reasons. It drafted the Grivas resolution 10 days ago and tried to block the spending in order to rally its supporters ahead of the presidential elections, concluded Disy. It had a point, but on the other hand, Akel had raised a legitimate issue in objecting to the state funding events to honour a man who, after leading the original Eoka struggle, in the 70s shamefully headed the terrorist Eoka B, responsible for violent acts of subversion against the state. If organisations want to honour him and keep alive his memory for his leadership of the Eoka struggle, it is their right to do so, but they could raise funds for this privately.

Akel has always used Grivas as the bogeyman to rally its supporters and to reinforce its narrative that the right-wing nationalists are to blame for the Turkish invasion and occupation. And it was given the opportunity to make an issue of him again by the government’s decision to allocate state funds to organisations honouring him, both moves dictated by the presidential elections. With the government largesse, Disy could lure the far-right nationalist voters while Akel could rally the moderate, anti-nationalist voters of the so-called centre. It is depressing that the biggest parties can still resort to using Grivas, who has zero relevance to Cyprus of 2022 and the problems it faces, for votes. Will we be voting on whether Grivas was a national hero or a national traitor in February?

The way the politicised football hooligans behaved on Thursday, would suggest there is no choice. They would use their intimidation tactics to impose their view on the ‘worthless traitor politicians’ if they could, but the truth is there were not that many of them, and no matter how objectionable their behaviour was, they were exercising their democratic right to protest, although they overstepped the boundaries of the law with their stone-throwing, firing of flares and hate-filled chants. In fairness, they are a tiny fringe group, who seized the opportunity given by the parties pursuing their own agendas to bring their football ground antics to the House of Representatives.

All democratic societies have extremists, but for the parties to suggest that a mob of 300 fanatics engaged in crude attention-seeking were a threat to society and would shatter unity, which does not really exist, seems a bit far-fetched. Grivas’ standing is not an issue for the overwhelming majority of the Cyprus population, which has much more pressing daily issues to worry about.

It is time the parties understood that honouring or dishonouring Grivas is simply not on the list of the electorate’s priorities.