Demetris Christofias was a good man. He always wanted to do the right thing.
Those who knew him recognized that what drove his actions was the need to defend labour rights and ensure that workers earned a decent salary. He lived for social justice and his behaviour in advocating this goal was no political trick. He fought against nationalist authoritarianism and worked tirelessly to reverse the forcible suppression of opposition in Cyprus.
Demetris was caught between protest politics and policy making
In his mind the enemy was poverty. His allegiance, the euphoric promise of social change, the socialist and morally humanist left.
That promise however involved great expectations and few victories.
By resisting nationalism Demetris became President on a promise of peace. He could talk with Turkish Cypriots without anger and they knew he beard them no ill will. But the Christofias -Talat negotiations dragged on for two years and talks were eventually derailed by the election of Eroglu. Demetris was warned in advance of this eventuality but choose to seek a consensus with the islands’ political parties.
Consensus politics led to inaction.
As his presidency moved from one difficult choice to the next it became apparent to observers at the time that he could not resolve the ideologically controversial dilemmas he was faced with.
How could a socialist president implement fiscal consolidation measures? How can a trade unionist declare that state salaries are not economically viable? How can a Moscow educated Marxist take decisions against Russian interests?
It was an insurmountable task for Demetris to reconcile the attributes of a policy maker with his leftist -fight the system- identity.
His decision to deny offers by EU countries to dispose of the Syria bound ammunition shipment defined unfolding events that led to the Mari blast. President Christofias had told Assad that the Iranian ammunitions would not be destroyed. History, as it turns out, does not write verses by itself.
The communist president of an international tax planning jurisdiction did not heed to the advice of successive finance ministers who called for drastic measures and cooperation with Western partners in order to cope with the global financial crisis following the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The Banks in Cyprus had invested heavily in Greek bonds and allowed lending to expand uncontrollably owing it in part to the tightly woven interests between political parties, government and banks. President Christofias and his government were unable to take the decision to shut down Laiki Bank and instead poured in more public money to stabilize the bank, in defiance of EU warnings and advice.
Demetris was caught between protest politics and policy making.
His politics proved unsuitable for addressing existential political and economic problems that require unpopular but necessary decisions.
Demetris was a proud man. He repeatedly refused to accept international assistance to refinance Cyprus’s sovereign debt. This course of action led to the gradual collapse of the economy, saw the emergence of the lost decade with a dramatic rise in unemployment, unprecedented reduction in wages, a downturn that is very much with us today as Cyprus remains indebted at 100% of its GDP, at just over 21 billion euros.
During his presidency, the decisions were always his to make.
Demetris taught us that there is a need for the left to reinvent itself from a reactionary force with little policy experience to a political party that has the knowledge and expertise to engage confidently with markets and reform government so that it can continue to provide flexible and targeted social welfare that can break the cycle of poverty.
As he rests in peace may others learn from his mistakes.
After his presidency Demetris declared, ‘’power was a cancer for me not an aphrodisiac, I never expected this’’.