A few decades ago, Greek Nobel Laureate George Seferis had written:
“Wherever I travel Greece hurts me…
Mountain curtains, open seas, naked granites…
Poet and diplomat Seferis was touching upon the sensitive chords of Modern Greece, which had already started to have very little in common with the teachings of Classical Greece. Athens was not the “glorious city” any longer, as it was known to those who had studied in depth the Ancient Greek texts. To those who had traveled into the magic of Ancient Greece.
Greece of today has not only failed to recover the glory of her distant past, but she has furthermore transgressed the limits of the wounded touch of Seferis. She has reached something totally incompatible with the legacy of Plato, Pericles, and Aeschylus. It is incomprehensible and impermissible to set up fund raisings in many parts of the world for the basic needs of the descendants of Socrates and Euripides!
Unfortunately in modern Greece, just a few people have ruined the fate of the society at large. As a Cypriot minister, I followed up for many years, from my own angle, the extravagant ways of operation of the Greek governmental machine: Delegations consisting of many persons attended conferences in which Cyprus and other countries participated with one or two officials. There has been inclusion of bodyguards and many “advisers” in delegations. I had heard about a waste of public funds and about dozens of allowances and perks which were paid not only to those who were supposedly entitled to them but to many others as well. There were rumors about a huge corruption all over the public sector. About tax evasion. About a colossal civil service – nobody knew the number of its officials. And then, all of a sudden we all heard the news about the €350 billion of sovereign debt. We heard about the €350 billion, which according to vice-president of the Greek government Theodoros Pangalos “went into the pockets of all the people.” The truth however was that the money went into some, not all the pockets. So, we have reached the unbelievable, the degrading: “alms for Greece.”
In addition to all the above, the critical question becomes: what about the protection of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country (and by projection of the Cypriot Hellenism, if the need arises), when the defense budget of the country has been dramatically curtailed by hundreds of millions of euros, as already announced? At a time when the necessary defense technology requires billions of dollars, how will Greece, with empty coffers and with her budget monitored and under scrutiny by foreign centers, manage?
The recent financial agreements were undoubtedly a bitter “must” for the survival of the country. One wonders, however, whether the average man in the street, who is and will be paying a heavy price for the sins of others, will endure this situation for a long time.
In parallel to Greece I followed for many years the course of Cyprus into history. It is a course that should rather be avoided than imitated. During the 30 years of my involvement in public affairs, I did my best to instill some sense of rationalism in decision making. I disagreed and resigned from the post of Foreign Minister in 1983. I indicated on a number of occasions that what each side perceives as right and correct does not necessarily coincide always with objective justice. I reminded that, even if the Turkish side has been wrong on many occasions as well, we should not write off our own sins of the past, because by so doing we render the solution of our problem very difficult, if not impossible. I underscored that by letting time pass, the occupied territories will be gone forever.
But almost nobody listens. The national problem tends to resemble a fairytale which is monotonously repeated like a lullaby. There is no political thought: “no timeframes, no arbitration, no international conference,” is the typical refrain. This is the quintessence of our political philosophy. What a shame!
Back in 1955 we commenced a struggle for “union” with Greece, which was really heroic. At the same time though, there was no planning at all. Greece, the country with which we aspired to unite, had not consented to such a struggle! So, we changed course halfway – the new target was independence. In the process the Turkish Cypriot element woke up and the Turkish minority of Cyprus was converted into an almost equal community.
We ended up with an independent country of some sort and we proudly declared that “we had won.” Soon after, we changed mind and we tried to amend the Constitution (in 1963). For 10 years we did not really know what we were after: union with Greece, independence, a feasible solution, a desirable solution, the non-aligned, Moscow, Washington, the conversion of Cyprus into a superpower? Everything was in the basket, with the exception of rational thinking. We were of the arrogant impression that the Turks were “boiling in their own juice.” At the end of the day we had the Greek coup d’ etat, which was in the wings for some time, but we had failed to get the message. And the tragedy was eventually sealed with the Turkish invasion of 1974.
Thirty eight years have elapsed since then, during which we have been characterized by lack of political acumen, as was the case before the invasion. Lost territories remained lost. Our lives have been squeezed into an area representing 63% of the total land of the Republic. The dangers from Turkey are still there. Our political objectives are in the realm of the unfeasible, as ever. Whenever we had an opportunity for progress, we raised our expectations and our demands to a point that rendered the solution impossible. Now it appears that it is too late…
We are at present left with three positive elements:
1. Our sovereignty, which is in principle respected, but which is gradually corroded in European, Islamic and international fora by the “status” which “Northern Cyprus” is gradually accorded.
2. Our European identity, which was acquired when Glafcos Clerides was at the helm, with the assistance of Greece.
3. Natural gas * oil, which we started when I was at the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism 14 years ago, by delineating our Exclusive Economic Zone and signing the relevant Agreement. It is a very important issue, in connection with which I have put forward suggestions addressing the Turkish threats.
The new decade of 2010 will be one of the most difficult and dangerous for Greece and Cyprus because:
• Greece is already on her knees in the economic, political, social, and defense fields. She will not get out of this labyrinth soon and she will be unable to extend a helping hand to Cyprus, if needed, despite the pompous announcements of Greek leaders when they visit Cyprus.
• Cyprus faces herself a severe financial crisis and a lack of security. She must enshrine and protect the three positive elements to which I refer above. It is not easy at all in the present circumstances.
Six weeks ago I made a proposal which might constitute a win-win situation for all concerned (Greece, Turkey, Cyprus). Interest was expressed by a number of leading figures and institutions, including some important embassies. I made available to them some additional data. Our own politicians have neither seen nor heard anything. They are hovering in the absolute happiness of the “no timeframes, no arbitration, no international conference” lullaby.
I do not know what Seferis would have done if he were alive today. He had written in a poem of his that the songs of the nightingales did not let him sleep at night at the Platres village (of Cyprus). Probably he would have secluded himself over there, with the harmony of the sounds. So that he would neither see nor hear the predicament of Hellenism today.
Mr. Rolandis was the Cypriot Government’s Foreign Minister (1978-83) and Minister of Commerce, Industry * Tourism (1998-2003). He was also a member of the Cyprus House of Representatives (1991-96) and chairman of the Liberal Party (1986-98).