George Iordanou Politics, Philosophy and (not much) Real Life

How secular education in Cyprus is sacrificed to the crisis. Or, how to keep the Archbishop – a banker, large property owner and big employer – happy

A circular published by the Ministry of Education of Cyprus [pdf, Greek, pp. 48-9] yesterday marks a new low in the already problematic relationship between Church and State in Cyprus .

In this latest circular, the schools are encouraged to organise student groups that will assist the Greek Orthodox priest in the Sunday service. They are also encouraged to create Greek Orthodox church choirs. If a student is a non-Christian and requires exemption from the Christianocentric ‘Religious Studies’, his or her parents need to make a written demand that must be approved by the District Offices of the Ministry of Education. You see, it is not enough to get the approval of the principal of the school; the process must be as difficult and as inconvenient as possible.

This is not the first time that the current government has actively pursued the involvement of the Christian Orthodox Church into politics, thus diregarding the long-held separation between Church and State. What is different this time is that the motivations are not only political, they are economic as well.

The theocratic turn of the current government was firstly observed when the president of Cyprus, Mr Nicos Anastasiades, appointed as Minister of Education Mr Kyriakos Kenevezos, a person rumoured to have been the favourite of the church. In fact, as you can see from this Cyprus-Mail article, one of the first things that the then-newly-appointed Minister of Education did once in office, was to visit the Christian Orthodox Archbishop and the ‘Holy Synod’ (March 6th). During his visit, the Minister quietly stood by whilst the head of the Church said that he was opposed to making religious studies voluntary, that menstruating women should not attend church, that the church “cannot accept the cohabitation of people of the same sex” and that gay people should “fight against their urges as they would fight against any other passions”.

The ruling conservative DISY, lead by Mr Anastasiades, has always been a party with strong religious affiliations. Nonetheless, this latest hardcore theocratic turn is not just about them supporting the tripartite: country, religion, family. The motivations are financial as much as they are political.

The Christian Orthodox Church of Cyprus is one of the richest organisations of the island and currently runs (being the major shareholder) the only local Cypriot bank which is not under the mandate of the troika. In addition to being the major shareholder in Hellenic Bank, the Church is also one of the bigger (if not the biggest) property owners of the island, as well as one the bigger employers. It is therefore crucial for Mr Anastasiades to be in the good graces of the Archbishop.

Unfortunately, the social costs of this partnership are again disregarded. If the dominant religion, which has lately turned into a ‘state religion’, was Islam instead of Christianity, the reactions would be different and those morally outraged numerous.

The extract is taken from pp. 48-9 of the aformentioned circular, so that you can have a first-hand idea of the extremity of the situation.

Η Θρησκευτική Αγωγή συνεχίζει να αποτελεί έναν από τους βασικούς στόχους των σχολείων μας. Στο πλαίσιο της θρησκευτικής αγωγής των παιδιών εντάσσεται και η οργάνωση παιδικών ομάδων, για προσφορά βοήθειας κατά την τέλεση της Θείας Λειτουργίας, με τη συνεργασία και τη συγκατάθεση των γονέων/κηδεμόνων. Παράλληλα, γίνεται εισήγηση να προχωρήσετε, αν βέβαια υπάρχουν οι κατάλληλες προϋποθέσεις και δυνατότητες, στη δημιουργία παιδικής εκκλησιαστικής χορωδίας, σε συνεργασία με τις εκκλησιαστικές αρχές.

Με βάση τους περί Λειτουργίας των ∆ημόσιων Σχολείων ∆ημοτικής Εκπαίδευσης Κανονισμούς του 2008 έως 2012, οι μαθητές που δεν είναι Χριστιανοί Ορθόδοξοι, έχουν δικαίωμα, έπειτα από σχετικό γραπτό αίτημα του γονέα/κηδεμόνα προς τον ∆ιευθυντή του σχολείου, να απαλλαγούν από το μάθημα των Θρησκευτικών. Ο ∆ιευθυντής του σχολείου θα πρέπει να διαβιβάζει το σχετικό αίτημα στο οικείο Επαρχιακό Γραφείο Παιδείας, εκφράζοντας τις απόψεις του, αναφορικά με το αίτημα. Ο οικείος Π.Λ.Ε. δίνει απάντηση στον γονέα/κηδεμόνα, η οποία κοινοποιείται και στον ∆ιευθυντή του σχολείου. Σε περίπτωση έγκρισης της απαλλαγής, ο μαθητής θα πρέπει να πηγαίνει σε αδελφό τμήμα την ώρα των Θρησκευτικών, για να παρακολουθεί κάποιο άλλο μάθημα, και να επιστρέφει στην τάξη του, μόλις ολοκληρωθεί το μάθημα. Στην περίπτωση που δεν υπάρχει αδελφό τμήμα, θα πρέπει να πηγαίνει στην πλησιέστερη με την ηλικία του τάξη ή να γίνονται άλλες εύλογες προσαρμογές, οι οποίες να είναι χρήσιμες και ωφέλιμες για το παιδί, ώστε το δικαίωμα στην ελευθερία της θρησκείας να διασφαλίζεται πλήρως.

About the author

George Iordanou

I'm mostly interested in politics and philosophy, which makes up for the majority of this blog. As this is an archive of what I have written over the years, it also provides a glimpse into my personal life. I'm currently working in the humanitarian sector. In my past life I was in academia where I completed a Ph.D. in political theory with focus on multicultural citizenship. I'm one of the few people lucky enough to be given the opportunity to actually practice their research interests. Needless to say, whatever I write here is strictly my personal opinion and does not represent anyone else.

You can also find me on twitter @iordanou.


  • “Υπενθυμίζεται ο Κανονισμός 33 των περί Λειτουργίας των ∆ημόσιων Σχολείων ∆ημοτικής Εκπαίδευσης Κανονισμών, όπου αναγράφεται ότι: «Σε κάθε δημόσιο σχολείο αναρτώνται καθημερινά η ευρωπαϊκή, η κυπριακή και η ελληνική σημαία σε διαφορετικούς ιστούς. Μια φορά την εβδομάδα, γίνεται επίσημα η έπαρση των σημαιών και ψάλλεται ο Εθνικός Ύμνος σε κοινή συγκέντρωση των παιδιών και με την παρουσία όλου του διδακτικού προσωπικού».

    Σε ό,τι αφορά, ειδικά, την ανάρτηση των σημαιών, υπάρχει σχετική ενημέρωση από το Υπουργείο Εξωτερικών, σύμφωνα με την οποία ο ορθός τρόπος ανάρτησής τους είναι ο ακόλουθος: ευρωπαϊκή-κυπριακή-ελληνική. Κοιτάζοντας, δηλαδή, κανείς την πρόσοψη του σχολείου, η σειρά των σημαιών από αριστερά προς τα δεξιά είναι: ευρωπαϊκή-κυπριακή-ελληνική. Κάθε σημαία τοποθετείται σε διαφορετικό ιστό”

    Και προ πάντως την σημαία και τα μάτια σας! Ελληνικές σημαίες το 2013 στην δήθεν ανεξάρτητη Κυπριακή Δημοκρατία. Επίσης γουστάρω εθνικούς ύμνους και άλλες εθνικοσοσιαλιστικές παπαριές.

    Έτσι πατρίδα, θρησκεία, οικογένεια, αυτή είναι η κριτική σκέψη που καλλιεργούμε και μετά ορισμένοι απορούν για τις επιτυχίες μας.

    • In any case was education in Cyprus ever secular? With only one exception every single Minister of Education had to go to the Archbishop to receive his blessing. So it is not like we are sliding back to a religious-based education. It has always been like this. Having said this it is time to roll back the church from the state. If people want to be religious they can join monasteries and covenants or the Church can found religious schools where they can sing Church hymns to their hearts’ content.

      Finally the Archbishop might be running out of money as well, which could explain his verbiage on tv on a daily basis and his mad schemes on saving the bank of Cyprus with him as a representative of all Cypriot shareholders.

  • In Cyprus secular education has never been the goal. This is natural for a country that has been constantly invaded. While Orthodoxy is an immence domain and the cypriot people’s only “unconquered land”, the time allocated to it in school is miniscule. There is plenty of room for increasing orthodox activity at school, without offending anyone.

  • Education in Cyprus creates one dimensional, self absorbed individuals that cannot think for themselves. Bombarding kids with the “value” of staying true to their beliefs and ideals via religion and history classes of heroic Greeks, you end up with stubborn and closed minded adults. This is so deeply rooted that most adults behave like teenagers stubbornly sticking to their guns for every issue, unable to see the big picture, isolated in their microcosm.

    Although it is scary to see the power and effect of the church on something as basic to society as education, I feel that in general they are ignored by the majority and will hopefully some day come to an end.

George Iordanou Politics, Philosophy and (not much) Real Life


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