The Rise Of Far-Right Educational Censorship And Corruption In Cyprus

The corruption-plagued Cyprus government is tearing up textbook pages and seeking to censor artist Giorgos Gavriel.

Dr. Miranda Christou is an Associate Professor in Sociology of Education at the University of Cyprus.

The far-right party of ELAM is growing in Cyprus, the government is mired in corruption scandals and the Ministry of Education is tearing up textbook pages because they mention Atatürk. The artist and teacher, Giorgos Gavriel, has been capturing the spirit of the times in his provocative art, only to face disciplinary action for “offending national figures.” His artwork is featured in this article

Christ at Pournara, an asylum-seeker holding facility in Cyprus, 2020, Giorgos Gavriel ©

Christ at Pournara, an asylum-seeker holding facility in Cyprus, 2020, Giorgos Gavriel ©

The National Popular Front in Cyprus (Ethniko Laiko Metopo) ELAM doubled its representation in the Cyprus Parliamentary elections in May 2021, with a share of 6,78% (4 MPs). ELAM, an offshoot of Golden Dawn in Greece, is an ultra-nationalist, nativist and anti-immigrant party that maintains a hardline opposition to the bizonal, bicommunal federation as a solution to the division of Cyprus despite this being the official, established framework since the 1970s. More importantly, it has kept itself under the radar by avoiding the brazen neo-Nazi symbolism and violent outbursts of Golden Dawn, focusing instead on building an image of the ‘good kids’ as the Cyprus Archbishop once called them.

This ‘serious’ Golden Dawn of Cyprus is now heading an ad hoc parliamentary group on the ‘demographic problem’ after tipping the scale to help the centre-right party of Democratic Rally (DISY), currently in power, win leadership in the Parliament. This move reflects a mainstreaming of ELAM’s alarmist rhetoric on the arrival of refugees and asylum seekers whom they refer to as ‘illegal migrants.’

In their “Fascism is…” website article, ELAM claims that: “Fascism is when your country is in danger because of low fertility rates, when citizens are deprived of basic things but you continue to accept illegal immigrants, and, on top of that, to give them money when you have clearly exhausted the limits of your ‘hospitality.’”

This twisting and upending of words by ELAM pushes further to the right the boundaries of public discourse on human suffering in a country that has constructed its ethnic identity around the pain and trauma of 1974 refugees. Recently, the Minister of Interior rushed to defend the government amidst reports that the authorities have been illegally pushing boats of asylum seekers back to the Lebanon shores or callously endangering children and minors by keeping them waiting at sea, under the harsh Cyprus sun. This same Minister had dabbled in apartheid politics and the Great Replacement language when he issued a decree that asylum seekers were not allowed to settle in a village area because their arrival caused “social problems” and “demographic change.”

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Censorship in Education

The hypocrisy of those who proclaim faith in Christian values but maintain racist postures—ELAM’s slogan is “country, religion, family”—is called out by one of Giorgos Gavriel’s paintings which shows Christ in a refugee holding facility. Much of his work is provocative: a painting of Christ naked or a dog urinating on the Archbishop.

In September 2021, the Ministry of Education and Culture announced that Gavriel had to appear before the Educational Service Committee to apologize for an array of disciplinary charges, including “insult to civil-religious institutions, religious symbols and historical-national figures of Cyprus.” Following intense public outcry, the President’s cabinet called off the investigation. The government was already exposed since the issue went all the way to the European Parliament and the Chair of the Committee on Culture and Education had raised concerns about violations of Gavriel’s freedom of expression.

Around the same time, officials at the Ministry of Education spotted a blurb in the English Language Textbooks (Oxford University Press) for Lyceum which read “Turkey’s greatest hero,” and included a photo of Atatürk. This apparently rattled some high-ranking officials who issued a memo to schools to tear off that particular page. As the Ministry scrambled to save face, they decided to withdraw the book and order an investigation into “decision-making procedures.” Throughout all of these, ELAM insisted on censuring Gavriel and ridiculed those who condemned tearing off the pages of the book.

“This is Cyprus”

In Al-Jazeera’s scathing video ‘The Cyprus Papers’, the (now former) head of the Cyprus Parliament was secretly recorded raising his wine glass and winking to seal the deal as a prominent lawyer explains in another scene: “This is Cyprus!” The context was the orchestration of a fake backroom deal where undercover journalists investigated whether Cypriot lawyers and officials would break the law in order to provide a passport to a shady billionaire character through the so-called Cyprus Investment Program. The answer was: absolutely.

After Al-Jazeera dropped the video, Anastasiades’ government scuttled to cancel the program and run an investigation. While the President distanced himself from the fiasco, his ‘Golden Passports’ connections through the family law firm have been called out by anti-corruption groups.

But Anastasiades remains fully exposed: a European Parliament draft resolution on the Pandora Papers “deplored” his specific naming in the papers which provide financial documents linking political leaders to fishy transactions. The depth of the corruption problem in Cyprus has been duly recorded in Makarios Drousiotis’ book The Gang. An investigative journalist, Drousiotis had a front seat at the 2013 Eurogroup deals and argues that Anastasiades prioritized the interests of his Russian oligarch clients instead of the well-being of his own people.

President of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, 2021, Giorgos Gavriel ©

President of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, 2021, Giorgos Gavriel ©

Drousiotis was scheduled to appear on a national TV program after the Pandora Papers revelations strengthened his argument in The Gang which is still curiously ignored by the local media—his appearance was canceled at the last minute due to ‘scheduling conflicts.’

Interestingly, in the summer of 2020, a few months before publication of The Gang, Drousiotis reported that he had been the victim of years-long surveillance into his documents and home security system. Drousiotis’ upcoming book Crime in Crans-Montana seals the deal: it argues that Anastasiades tanked the talks and that he was the one who proposed the two-state solution; an anathema to Greek Cypriots.

These revelations are not your average type of clientelism that has been battering Cypriot life and politics for centuries. They put Cyprus squarely on the level of a ‘transnational crime syndicate masquerading as a government’ the way Sarah Kendzior describes USA politics in Hiding in Plain Sight. Notably, ELAM voted with Anastasiades’ party against registering the issue of Pandora Papers for Parliamentary discussion.

There have been glimpses of hope: Os Dame, (meaning ‘enough!’) a loosely connected network of progressive youth groups, organized rallies condemning government corruption and racist politics. In February 2021, the police used a water cannon to disperse their peaceful protest causing severe injuries and the partial blindness of a singer. Gavriel captured the scene: the Minister of Justice and Public Order (until recently, a close friend of Anastasiades’ daughters) standing over the singer’s wounded body.

Anastasia at the Os Dame protest, 2021, Giorgos Gavriel ©

Anastasia at the Os Dame protest, 2021, Giorgos Gavriel ©

All of these find ELAM in prime position: their rhetoric infiltrates the highest levels of government while they maintain their opposition to Anastasiades’ handling of the Cyprus problem. In the meantime, they can continue feeding off of the nihilism and disillusionment that has been eroding Greek Cypriot society that comes with the realization that the ‘national interest’ is secondary to some politicians’ own self-interest.

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