Archbishop distances himself from far-right group

ARCHBISHOP Chrysostomos yesterday denied being a chauvinist, following comments earlier in the week that he identified a great deal with a nationalist extremist group.

In an interview with an online publication, published last weekend, the Prelate had said he was ‘against’ illegal immigrants and that he agreed with the nationalist outfit ELAM on many issues. His quote:

“Yes, I agree with ELAM with regard to the illegal immigrants. Our country and its people are facing many problems as it is, and we don’t need these people [illegal immigrants].

“They are interlopers, they have entered Cyprus illegally, and the laws must be enforced,” Chrysostomos had remarked.

Following the uproar from those comments, the Archbishop said yesterday:

“We are neither extremist nor chauvinist, nor are we against illegal immigrants. Every well-intentioned person understands that we do not turn against any of our fellow human beings who, at the end of the day, are God’s creations too.”

What he was criticising, Chrysostomos clarified, was the lax handling of the issue of illegal immigrants by successive governments.

Perhaps confusing the terms ‘illegal immigrant’ and ‘asylum seeker’, the Archbishop said the generous benefits paid to ‘these people’ encouraged more to seek out Cyprus as a haven:

“When someone can live comfortably here, of course they won’t want to leave. Not only that, but they will encourage others who also want to come and live in Cyprus, and in this way the illegal immigrants keep increasing.

“These are my opinions. And I don’t think Europe wants us to have them here. What Europe wants is…that we don’t throw these people out, we don’t keep them starved so that they die of hunger…no, rather we shall give them the means to survive, but not to the point of mollycoddling them and encouraging more to come here.”

Chrysostomos also sought to distance himself from the nationalist group ELAM (National People’s Front).

He said he has met with a delegation from ELAM, describing them as “educated, down-to-earth kids.”

But in an apparent non-sequitur, he added: “Of course the majority of them are extremists. And I don’t agree with extremists. Some people tried to brand me a chauvinist.  I don’t think I am,” he said.

The top cleric was busy yesterday meeting with the ambassadors of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council in Nicosia.

Chrysostomos briefed the ambassadors on the Turkish Cypriot side’s interruption and cancellation of services at a church in occupied Rizokarpasso on Christmas Day. He also handed a demarche to the five countries concerned.

“I made it clear to them that we shall not tolerate this sort of thing,” Chrysostomos told newsmen later.

The Church has also said it will report the matter to the World Council of Churches and the Pope.

Chrysostomos went on to reveal that, at the suggestion of the US Ambassador to Cyprus, he had planned to meet with Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu.

But now, following the Turkish Cypriot authorities’ action against the church services in the north, that tκte-a-tκte was off.

“I shall not meet with him unless he first allows our priests to conduct services unhindered in our occupied lands.

“If the Turks wish to have a European course, they must behave like Europeans, they must respect human rights and religious freedoms,” Chrysostomos noted.

Pressed for details, the Prelate said his scheduled meeting with Eroglu was postponed after the Turkish Cypriot leader was taken ill, but subsequently the church services affair broke out.

But he qualified: “Because there exists an occupation [in the north], and everything emanates from Ankara, it is not the Turkish Cypriots who prohibit Christian liturgies and trample on our human rights; it is Ankara.”