Knee-jerk bully-boy politics are back

WE MAY have thought that the dogmatism, irrationality and intolerance that had blighted Cyprus politics belonged to the past, but events in the last few days would seem to suggest otherwise. The knee-jerk reactions provoked by the release of a study looking at the cost and consequences for the economy of implementing the Annan plan defied belief. The government, together with the leaders of all the pro-government parties, lambasted the findings and conclusions of the study, which was prepared by a team of Greek and Turkish Cypriot economists, questioning even the timing and manner of its release.

As for the man who had headed the team – former president George Vassiliou – he was publicly pilloried by the representatives of the moral majority for taking such an initiative without consulting anyone. His motives and integrity were openly questioned, while some of his detractors went as far as to suggest that he was serving the interests of the enemies of the Greek Cypriots. What was astonishing was that none of these arbiters of the national interest had even bothered to look at the study before lambasting it. It was enough for them that the findings and conclusions did not reinforce their pre-conceived ideas and prejudices. And as these did not support their political objectives, the study was declared a sham.

But what had caused this cacophonous chorus of disapproval and justified the heaping of abuse on Vassiliou? First, the estimated cost of re-unification – £4 billion – was deemed extremely low by the government and its supporters, while the report=s forecast of rapid growth and prosperity, after a solution was deemed as “excessively optimistic”, by its more restrained critics. Finance Minister Marcos Kyprianou slammed the report, on returning from abroad, without even giving it a glance. He said it undermined the president’s efforts to secure improvements to the Annan plan as well as financial support for its implementation.
But even if this were case, Kyprianou had acted very amateurishly in saying so publicly in order to get at Vassiliou. The implication was that the government would over-estimate the cost of implementation in order to secure more financial aid from abroad and to justify its demand for changes. It is such a simplistic argument – based on the assumption that financial aid would be given unquestioningly without the donors checking our forecasts and figures first – that it strengthens the suspicion that the row has nothing to do with economics.
For months now, the government and its party backers have been engaged in a campaign to discredit the plan among the public, claiming that drastic changes were needed to make it workable. Unable to reject it outright, they have been concentrating on its negative aspects that need improvement and subtly leaving hints about the prohibitive costs for its implementation. On Friday, the government spokesman claimed these were expected to be £13 billion. What better way to turn Greek Cypriots against the plan (not that great effort is required) than telling them it would lead the new state to bankruptcy!

Vassiliou’s report was saying the exact opposite, thus undermining the government’s economic scare-stories, which were not aimed at foreign mediators but at the Greek Cypriot public. This was why he was declared a pariah overnight. The pro-government politicians would rather resort to intellectual intimidation than engage in a rational debate, as is the practice in all democracies, because they cannot risk losing the argument. Logically, the next step would be to ban the uttering of any positive remarks in relation to the Annan plan.