1 May I grew up in a fairly secular home that had limited dealings with the church and the clergy. It was not until Sunshine and I crossed paths that I realised how important Orthodox Easter is for believers. Every year since the day she was born, Sunshine and her family spend the Easter at their village, Omodos, where they observe service and follow local traditions, such as singing Easter songs in the village square around a bonfire and catching up with their neighbours. The pandemic robbed them of that experience for the second time in a row. Easter in the city is both foreign and deeply upsetting to them. I could not initially relate to the allure of the village, not in the first few years at least, but eventually I learned, first to tolerate it, and eventually to enjoy it. Of course, being a non-believer makes me a minority and limits the experience. There is, however, an evident attraction in their sense of community and belonging. I want my son to experience that. The border between religion and culture is often very narrow; altogether rejecting the former often robs one of the latter, missing out on integral parts of our cultural identities. Although an atheist, I have very fond memories of my godmothers taking me to various churches to see the flower decorations on Easter Friday, as well as ceremoniously throwing our woven bracelets in the bonfire. While many (most?) aspects of organised religions are problematic, the cultural dimension is sometimes fun and worth exploring.
2 May My break is going well. I exercise for three hours in the morning before Sunshine and Johnny are up, and then spend the whole day with them. They are part of who I am, yet none of this may have happened if many years ago I didn’t go out for a coffee with a buddy of mine who brought along his friend, with whom I chatted about books for hours.
The parliamentary elections are scheduled for the end of the month. Big billboards with candidates’ oversized heads are found in most avenues. This campaign tactic may have worked in the 80s and 90s; I very much doubt its effectiveness today. A waste of time and resources, with adverse environmental impact. It is comically tragic to read the slogans underneath the huge heads. Some clearly allude to the corrupt relationship between the candidate and his or her supporters, while candidates of the ruling party have slogans-promises as if they are part of the opposition rather than in power for nearly a decade.
3 May I was playing with 3.5year-old Johnny, switching roles, him being the dad and I the son. “Today I’ll take you to a playground that doesn’t have coronavirus,” he said, “you’ll be able to use the slide and the swings”. I sometimes forget that the situation also affects him.
This lockdown is turning into a farce. Initially the authorities weren’t willing to enter into a lockdown, despite a rising transmission rate and corresponding hospitalisations. Then, making a 180 degrees turn, they announced what amounted to a hard lockdown. Only a few hours later, the President, contravening his Minister of Health, announced relaxations for churchgoers, alongside pre-announced relaxations for the Easter celebrations. In practice, they closed the economy but enabled people to gather in and around churches, as well as in homes. There is an astonishing lack of monitoring and oversight, rendering even the half-measures taken absolutely ineffective. In the meantime, we are enduring a significant financial hit for nothing considering that people are out and about transmitting the virus. Shouldn’t someone be held accountable for this monumental failing? The above are commonsensical, it’s what people discuss between them. It can’t be that the authorities haven’t thought of them, which makes it all the more scandalous.
4 May Omonoia won the national football championship after 11 years. Omonoia is the most popular football club in Cyprus, with roots in the working class and a much criticised, long-time affiliation with the communist party. My parents never really fit the part, being middle-class social-democrats; yet they have always supported Omonoia. I am also a fan, mostly for sentimental and political reasons. A comeback for Omonoia will be beneficial for Cyprus. The more children end up supporting Omonoia the less children will support Omonoia’s rivals, which are affiliated with the far-right. Omonoia’s supporters tend to be in favour of reunification and always eager to support vulnerable persons. For instance, whenever there is a call for donations in support of refugees, Omonoia’s organised fans are typically the first to respond. These things matter. That said, this year’s celebrations have been really unfortunate; thousands violated the curfew and visited the training centre in the outskirts of Nicosia in order to celebrate the championship, participating in what must have been a “superspreading event.” I guess we’ll soon find out.
5 May And here comes the coronapass, another authoritarian novelty. Only whoever has been vaccinated, recently caught covid, or has a negative covid test of no more than 72hours old, shall be able to move in most public spaces, including restaurants, cafes and so on. I am getting vaccinated as soon as I can book an appointment, however I am opposed to authoritarian restrictions as the above, which force people to decide between getting vaccinated, or endure long queues in 40°C for a rapid test, or experience severe restrictions in accessing public places. All this, once more, via decrees and without the consent of the parliament.
7 May Sometimes the mundane aspects of an important activity end up dominating our day, undermining our mental well-being. Such is the case for those who tried to book a covid vaccine these past few days. A masterclass in incompetency. The Deputy Minister in charge of this project is simply refusing to take responsibility and do the only decent thing left to do — resign.
I run a relatively fast 10k in the morning without any pain. Running is the most time-efficient way to get some exercise and also the sport I enjoy the most. Hopefully, I will soon resume running at Macheras mountain, which is the Saturday ritual of the team I train with. Yesterday, I also run 2.5km in barefoot-style sandals, and then another 2-3kms with Johnny. I also swam for 45 minutes in the morning. Not bad. Tomorrow I’ll wake up at 4:30 for an early morning ride, hopefully without violating the movement restrictions too much.
8 May I woke up early today in order to squeeze in a run before having to enter into the vaccination portal to book my appointment. I was logged in well in advance, yet the platform logged me out when they activated the queuing system. Basically, they did not manage to take measures to increase sufficiently the capacity of the platform and as a workaround they use a system that only allows a limited number of persons to access the platform at a time. In their wisdom, rather than have a first come first served method in the queuing system, they just assign random numbers. As a result, my iPad, which I used to join the queue much later than my laptop, got in first. Go figure. Friends who joined even earlier, had considerably longer waiting times. Both Sunshine and I booked vaccinations for Saturday, May 22nd. I also booked for a couple more people since I was in and had five minutes until I was thrown out.
10 May Standing under the burning sun for more than an hour, at the far end of a long queue waiting for a covid test, is a sobering experience. Any doubt as to one’s subservient relationship with the state quickly evaporates, like spilled water on the concrete floor of the unsheltered lines at the testing centres. While I was standing in the queue in office attire, sweating, I felt a very primitive sense of desperation, akin to that of children when they are denied something knowing that there is nothing to be done (bad parenting, by the way). I knew that I had no options and it sucked, seeing as I am an adult and all. My three non-options were, first, to leave the queue and be excluded from various places and social activities; not an attractive option for me, as I want to enjoy an outdoors beer and continue training at the pool. My second non-option was to buy a rapid test from the pharmacy, which however is not sustainable given that we would need €25-30 every three days. The third non-option was to just go on with my life, risk a €300 fine, knowing that the police will likely continue to fail at ensuring the implementation of the decrees. As I was gravitating between anger and desperation, time went by and I found myself in the middle of the line; I was already invested enough not to leave. The whole affair took more than an hour and a half. I left feeling a subject rather than a citizen.
11 May Around 20,000 people gathered at the training centre of Omonoia to celebrate winning the championship. Photographs showed thousands of people without masks, celebrating without adequate distancing. Not ideal given that we were in lockdown a couple of days ago. That said, all participants met the requirements of the safe pass, namely to be vaccinated more than 3 weeks ago, or have recently been infected, or have a negative rapid test conducted no more than 72 hours before the celebrations. Omonoia even arranged for mobile testing units to be stationed outside the training centre. Not that it makes this mass gathering substantially less problematic, but it’s likely that whatever transmission took place was minor. I am, however, positive that if there is a spike in infections in the next couple of weeks the finger will be pointed at Omonoia.
18 May The parliamentary elections are upon us. The options for socially progressive people of both the left the and right are limited. They face a dilemma: get rid of the ruling party or prevent ELAM becoming the fourth party. Let’s look at the various options before I argue why I’m not persuaded by this dilemma.
Many consider that the track record of the ruling party renders them an unattractive option, particularly for their handling of the Cyprus problem, the perceived authoritarianism with which they are managing the pandemic, and notably the various corruption scandals, not least the one revealed by Al Jazeera. The conservative parties occupying the so-called in-between space are also not an option as they do not align with a progressive political outlook. Needless to say that parties of the extreme far-right are also unattractive alternatives. Other small parties may be appealing as an expression of discontent, but given that they will not pass the electoral threshold, they are, tactically speaking, a wasted vote.
This leaves two parties to chose from: the communist (but really social democratic) AKEL, and the Greens. AKEL is still plagued by their bad tenure in office (2008-2013) and has been affected by the recent Al Jazeera documentary on the golden passports, which featured a party MP. The Greens, which had the chance to really become a main player and capitalise on the prevailing discontent towards the two mainstream parties, are criticised for their selection of candidates, which range from socially progressive, pro-solution public figures, to anti-federalists who propagate conspiracy theories. Not to mention that the party does not have a clear pro-solution stance.
The dilemma between AKEL and the Greens seemingly boils down to personal priorities. If one prioritises the need to weaken the ruling party, then AKEL is the obvious choice. If one, on the other hand, really does not want to see ELAM becoming the fourth largest party, then Greens is the way to go.
I don’t think that the decision to vote for a party irrespective of ideological convergence just to halt the rise of ELAM is correct. The previous time this dilemma determined political preferences was during the 2019 parlimentary elections. At the time the dilemma was to vote for EDEK so that ELAM does not get elected into the European Parliament. This is very similar to the current dilemma of voting for the Greens so that ELAM does not become the fourth largest parliamentary party. It worked well in 2019 as a fairly decent guy, Demetris Papadakis, was elected as MEP. But, it could just have gone the other way. The vote for EDEK could have elected Papadakis’ conservative party opponent into office, who got a mere 1,034 votes less than Papadakis’ 11,789. Essentially, the decision to vote for a party just so that ELAM does not get into office, would result in a far-right candidate getting the position using many progressive people’s votes. Would that really count as a success?
I’m not one principally opposed to tactical voting, which is when one supports someone other than their preferred candidate just to “prevent an undesirable outcome”. But there must be clarity as to what exactly is the undesirable outcome, as well as a balancing between the merits of the tactical selection vis-a-vis the voter’s preferred option. It’s not just a matter of preventing the undesirable outcome.
Personally, my political instinct and conscience are most satisfied when I am able to support people with whom I agree. Tactical voting is not something I would consider lightly and would certainly keep me awake at night. It would also make me angry later on upon witnessing how those who get more powerful due to tactical votes use their newly-found position of authority to promote policies I disagree with, yet pursued “in my name”.
19 May In discussing this dilemma with a friend, I came to wonder: who votes for ELAM? It can’t be that so many thousands of people are sharing their toxic ideology. My totally unscientific guess is that ELAM appeals to working class people of low education, which have been failed by the current system, seeing as they have no prospects for economic prosperity. This translates into discontent for the mainstream political parties and creation of imaginary enemies as a justification for having being failed by the capitalist system.
27 May Anger. PhD holders are battling over an A8 position in the civil service or a badly paid position in the private sector, while the selected few attached to the ruling party are appointed left and right in an expedited manner, without credentials, and as we saw with the case of the Commissioner for Volunteerism, sometimes with fake degrees. Let me tell you a story. I spent nearly a decade in the UK studying and teaching at the University. I was quite involved in student politics and interacted with the young aspiring politicians involved at the time. Many of those rising youth politicians are now appointed as advisors to the government. These are people who prioritised their involvement in politics over their studies, hoping one day to become prominent members of their respective parties. Hearing their names today, I wonder what sort of advice can they give given their lack of credentials? The prevailing corruption is offensive to every one of us trying to secure a dignified standard of living for their families without political backing. I cannot recall corruption ever being so prevalent , so unmasked, so offensive. Enough!
29 May The reasons I will vote on Sunday (after cycling): Crans Montana, two state solution, new strategy; prohibition of political demonstrations even in outdoors spaces, closed schools, open malls, never ending queues for a rapid test, lack of transparency on the contracts with the testing companies; appointment of Yiannaki and other advisors; the saga of the union referendum that signified the beginning of the end of the Cyprus problem; Coop and the findings of the investigation; bail-in and the publication of Drousiotis’ book “the Gang” («Συμμορία»); Al Jazeera and the golden passports scheme, including the findings of the investigation; political prosecution of the artist-teacher Giorgos Gavriel; holidays with the Saudis; construction of Akamas; construction of the cathedral in the old town and the demolition of listed buildings without any consequences; vaccination portal and shifting of the blame on us; Aeantas and police brutality; no consequences on the lack of investigation for the victims of the mass murderer Metaxas; parody account; Zygi, Aglantzia; desks and tablets for students; arrogance.
30 May A lot of discussion is taking place on the appropriateness of tactical voting as a way to curb the rise the far-right ELAM. I appreciate the thought, but I think it’s not going to solve the problem. We first need to consider who are these people who make up the 7-8-9% of the party. I don’t think they are all far-right ideologues with nazi sympathies. Many are people of low educational background, working class, who can’t visualise a fruitful future for them and their families. People who are essentially the losers of the capitalist system in Cyprus as they cannot access equal opportunities. If we want to curb the rise of far-right parties, we need to reconsider our financial model. Equality of opportunity is key. Tactical voting will merely shift the problem down the road, all the while the far-right parties get stronger. There are decent people on all democratic ballots. Voting for this election is of utmost importance.
31 May The election result caught us all by surprise. ELAM got the fourth place, which was more-or-less expected, but everything else was all over the place. Ruling DISY, despite the scandals, performed reasonably well with only one seat lost; EDEK got the fifth spot and increased its candidates by one; DIKO held well at third place despite the recent split; DIPA (spin-off from DIKO) managed to elect four MPs; and the Greens who massively underperformed their expectations still got an additional one MP. AKEL were the big losers of the night, scoring an astonishing 5% less than DISY.
AKEL most certainly did not manage to win the protest vote. To be fair, neither did the other parties, with the exception of ELAM. DISY held its ground, despite the prevailing discontent. On first reading, three things may explain this. Firstly, while corruption was the main issue, it appears that people associated it with all the mainstream parties and not specifically with the ruling one, hence why all the top three lost supporters. Secondly, those who blame the ruling party, still do not trust the opposition to manage the difficult times ahead, notably the adverse economic impact of the pandemic. Thirdly, people realise that they live in a corrupt country and thus continue maintaining a toxic relationship of clientelism with those in power.
Notwithstanding the above, AKEL should have scored better. The chatter started immediately upon the release of the results, calling for a change in leadership. Subsequent reactions targeted AKEL’s politics. It boiled down to an oft-repeated call to turn it into a social democratic party. The first is insufficient and the latter is wrong. A change in leadership, while necessary, will not, in itself, solve the problems that AKEL is facing. It’s not an enlightened leader that AKEL is missing, though one could help. Also, AKEL’s problem is not its ideology or the way that it articulates its ideologically-driven positions; after all, the party has long abandoned the hardcore rhetoric in favour of a more social democratic approach, most evident during its tenure in office.
AKEL’s main challenge, which explains why it is shrinking one election after the other, has to do with the old-school functioning of the party, and particularly its exclusionary approach. Let me explain. AKEL relies on a core group of supporters who engage in internal democratic deliberations and decide the way ahead for the party. In a way, AKEL is the most grassroots of the parties in Cyprus. That said, it is not accessible to those coming from non-traditionally AKEL-supporting families. Given that inevitably some of the newer members of these AKEL-supporting families will opt for other parties, the pool of core supporters is bound to deminish. This is why new sources from where to attract supporters are need. However, as it stands, the majority of left-leaning, progressive people, who could potentially support the party but do not come from traditional AKEL-supporting familieis, are prima-facie excluded, except if someone already on the inside vouches for the outsider. This is not the way to mobilise a society around one’s ideals, not how social movements are built, and certainly not how a political organisation should function in the age of information. There is a need for inclusiveness, transparency, and use of modern technologies. These are all areas where AKEL is lacking, and where it should invest in order to have a future, and I really hope it does.
Let’s not lose perspective. Many of us who share a different vision for Cyprus woke up numb this Monday morning. It still hasn’t sink in. We need to acknowledge the situation. We need to critically self-reflect in order to identify the reasons why our message is not getting across to the majority. The most counterproductive thing to do is blame the voters. Let’s take a moment and continue the fight for a better future.