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Tales from the Coffeeshop: Every president wants to meet the Pope

Christodoulides, Pope Francis
It was predictable that our showman prez, who adores the glare of publicity and has dreams of becoming a world celebrity, would want some time with the ultimate A-lister

IF THE JOB of President of the Republic was ever advertised as a vacancy, one of the perks of the job listed, apart from having dictatorial powers and being worshipped by the populace, would be a face-to face meeting with the Pope in his palace at the Vatican.

It is a perk of the job that most of our presidents since Glafcos Clerides have taken advantage of. George Vass and Spy Kyp may also have been granted an audience by the Pontiff, but I could not find out through my admittedly superficial, research.

Makarios never visited, respecting the centuries of hostility between the Orthodox and Catholic churches. In fact, the first Orthodox Archbishop, in history, to visit the Vatican was our very own Chrysostomos II in 2007 meeting Benedict XVI. He also hosted two Popes on visits to Kyproulla, while Archbishop Georgios III is in the process of arranging a visit to the Holy See to meet Pope Francis.

This is a big departure for the Orthodox Church, considering that Chrysostomos I had blocked government efforts to arrange a visit to Kyproulla by Pope John Paul II, because he considered the Vatican the biggest foe of the Orthodox Church. The politicians were too frightened to go against his wishes.

 

THINGS have changed since those days. Church and State are united in their stance towards the Vatican, neither seeing it as the sworn enemy of Orthodoxy, and their representatives betray their religion to have an audience with the Pope, who is a world celebrity everyone wants to be photographed with.

Comrade Tof, despite being an atheist commie, visited the Pope, while Nik I, who could never be accused of being a fanatical Christian, visited twice during his presidency, rumours being that on the second visit he wanted to offer Francis, who is from Argentina, a Cyprus passport so he could travel freely in the EU.

It was predictable that our showman prez, who adores the glare of publicity and has dreams of becoming a world celebrity, would want some time with the ultimate A-lister, and he got it, with his Missus in tow, before he had even completed a year in office. Being Orthodox fundamentalist and regular churchgoers, I had not expected them to be so keen to meet the Pontiff. The Missus has been known to attend lectures by the most fanatic Orthodox bishop.

This was a big disappointment for the atheist Greek Orthodox community, who cannot forgive the Catholic Church for filioque which led to the Schism of the Church.

 

BEHIND the visits of our presidents and their wives to the Pope, there is a scandal. We have had the same ambassador to the Holy See since July 2003 when George Poullides presented his credentials to Pope John Paul II. The guy was not even part of the diplomatic service before being made an ambassador, and remains in the post despite now being in his seventies, well past retirement age. There is no retirement age for a sinecure.

Poullides was the son of wealthy shipowner, who was Kyproulla’s honorary consul in Rome. When the father died and his business collapsed, George took the role of honorary consul, but having no money demanded he was paid a salary. This was unprecedented, but the government’s justification was that the poor guy had no income.

The government not only paid him a salary for being honorary consul, it also put him up in a luxurious house in Rome (Poullides had expensive tastes), for which it is still picking up the bill. When he was made ambassador, he was also provided with a car at the expense of the taxpayer.

Before 2003, the Cyprus ambassador to France or Germany also served as ambassador to the Holy See, but now we are paying to have an ambassador to the smallest state in the world.

 

EVEN WHEN our state was on the verge of bankruptcy requiring a bailout, it could not possibly scrap Poullides’ sinecure. The reason is that Poullides has good relations with the Vatican and through his contacts can arrange for the president of the Republic to meet the Pope.

He cannot be criticised for failing to deliver. He has arranged visits to the Vatican to meet the Pope for every single president from the time of Clerides to this day. This is the only thing he has to do, to justify an ambassador’s salary, a paid for luxury house and car.

And the taxpayer can feel happy that he is helping a formerly wealthy man, who had fallen on hard times, maintain the lifestyle he was accustomed to. What a shame that such jobs are never advertised.

 

BEFORE his much-publicised visit to the Holy See, Prez Nik II was in Serbia, where he met the Patriarch of Serbia Porfyrios, to show the Orthodox flock back home that he remained true to his faith.

An announcement after the meeting, ensured that the word Kosovo was not mentioned, even though the prez reportedly told the patriarch, that “the Cyprus Republic strongly supports the positions of Serbia and I am here so we can send a message, but it is not only the symbolic significance, it is also substantive, to see how we work to strengthen even further our relations.”

What was the symbolic significance of a prez of a midget country visiting Serbia? There was no symbolic significance to getting rid of some Russian-made assault helicopters that were not working in exchange for some Serbian artillery guns – it was just substantive wheeler-dealing.

 

THE GOVERNMENT often comes up with ideas that sound good but when it comes to putting them into practice it is at a loss. This has been the experience of the e-kalathi, the app that would provide people with the prices of a basket of essential goods being charged at different supermarkets.

It was great idea and the commerce minister, who announced the plan months ago, said it would be available by autumn. We are now close to the end of autumn (if it ever began) and there has been no sign of the app, the government not even talking about it. Had the big supermarkets, which opposed it, told the government to drop the idea?

No, technocrats are still working on it, but they have no clue how to collect the prices. They have approached market survey companies for help but were told that they cannot force supermarkets to provide prices on a daily basis. The government could force them to do so by law, but it is unwilling to go down this path, especially as one supermarket chain made a big contribution to the Prez’s e(lection)-kalathi.

 

FORMER Prez Nik I, being a great thespian, showed great confidence on hearing that the anti-corruption authority will investigate the long list of allegations made against him in Makarios Drousiotis’ book Mafia State – how the mob scrapped rule of law in Cyprus.

The authority met the writer on Thursday to decide the terms of reference of the investigation, which will be assigned to foreign professionals. Meanwhile, old Nik said he felt vindicated by the news as he had been calling for an investigation since last year, so that his name will be cleared.

It is a good move to bring in foreign investigators, but in the end, it is the authority that will decide whether the findings would be worth referring to the attorney-general. All the members of the authority were appointed to their well-paid jobs by Nik I, as was the AG.

 

THE ISOTITA union, although relatively small, gets a lot of attention through the demands it makes. Its latest demand is for cops to stop wearing the traditional uniform which includes a tie and lace-up shoes.

The head of the Isotita police branch, Nicos Loizides, in a letter to the chief of police, suggests cops should be able to wear the operations uniform, which is less formal and more comfortable. He used an inspired argument against the wearing of ties. If an officer is involved in a physical tussle with someone there is a danger he would be strangled with the tie he is wearing.

It does not matter that in the 60-plus years of wearing the traditional winter uniform not a single cop has ever been strangled with his tie; or with the laces of his shoes for that matter.

 

PREZ NIK, was briefly visiting Kyproulla this weekend (he probably had some book launch to attend), after his Serbia and Italy visits, but on Monday he is off to Qatar, where he will be the guest of the Emir and sign a memorandum of understanding for cooperation on higher education. Our Prez is developing into quite a jetsetter.

Travelling and meeting the world’s big-shots must beat dealing with the problems of halloumi producers, potato-farmers, debt defaulters, forest wardens and union bosses.

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