"No matter who the president may be, the Presidential Palace should never be in the crosshairs during incidents reminiscent of open wounds from the military coup or the Turkish invasion and occupation that followed,” said former president Demetris Christofias in a historic address after the Mari explosion.
This public address was the swansong of a president who started off with the best conditions and closed his political chapter in an unceremonious fashion. Not only because he did not offer an apology to the relatives of the victims as it had been expected but also because of his cunning choice to throw in that military coup reference. A move that in the past had worked just fine but in that particular moment it was seen as an attempt to pull one over. In other words, his goal was to throw people off and avoid taking responsibility.
The whole handling of the Mari explosion and the financial crisis that followed was such a media flop from a communications standpoint that Nicos Anastasiades went from lame duck to the rightful leader who could step in and handle the mess left behind by others.
And so this is how we fast forwarded to March 2013, when Cypriot society held back and did not get mad at President Anastasiades as he was on his way back from Eurogroup in Brussels with a gun to his head and a haircut in his pocket. He was reassuring people that it was the fault of his predecessors. In fact, citizens were going wild in the streets of Limassol during Mardis Gras celebrations and did not think anything of the president’s daughters going wild on the dance floor at a Remos concert or his son-in-law’s jokes about lines forming at ATM locations. Either they did not comprehend at the time what was to come after the haircut or they put the blame squarely on the handlings of the previous administration.
This was a narrative that they managed to pull through for an entire five-year term in office. Because each time people were losing their calm or reacting towards new measures, the response was a well thought-out slogan: “The Anastasiades government is bringing order to the chaos that it had inherited”!
But the success story was no longer holding water and the blame game targeting their predecessors started to become irritating at an alarming level
And truth be told, the storylinein this narrative helped Nicos Anastasiades get elected for a second term. But the success story was no longer holding water and the blame game targeting their predecessors started to become irritating at an alarming level. And this is how someone else to be the scapegoat for the Cooperative institution, the one they had been promising they would “never sell” and that it was “making strides of progress” and it was “winning the bet” but finally ended up being bought by Hellenic Bank.
And so they came up with “trim the fat” for union teachers and leaked to the mass media how exempted hours for educators was costing the state millions. In other words, while the credit unions were being sliced up and the president was choosing to advertise his exotic vacation to the Seychelles, they were certain that the big problem was the educators whose benefits were provoking an entire society. And when teachers thousands-strong just stormed outside the Presidential Palace, they made sure to fall back and rethink strategy.
But today, following the publication of the probe finding, who should get the blame? Today the blame is on the political parties who were milking the cow as well as on the predecessors. “If they bring to you a dead body - because this is what the cooperative institution had been prior to 2013 – is the one who took over to blame?” Nicos Anastasiades wondered out loud, essentially disregarding the probe findings while opening the floodgates to a selective series of leaks over non-performing loans linked to political figures.
Of course milking the cow had been an unending bash with apparent faults in all corners of the political spectrum. Each party has to assume responsibility for this. But this doesn’t absolve the government administration of its responsibilities. These are responsibilities clearly recorded in the probe finding. And this is the point where they ought to explain their own role in all of this. As an example, they could explain why they were “feeding” a dead body and reassuring people that it was in good health.
But first and foremost, they have to assume political responsibility. Because the narrative offered by Christofias was starting to provoke so much that it is now pointing to Nicos Anastasiades who appears to be following in the footsteps of his predecessor.
And something tells me we couldn’t care less if it wasn’t for the fact that these footsteps are taking all of us down along with them.
The article was first published by Kathimerini Cyprus on 17 March 2019