When a blind man cries

“When a blind man cries”, an amazing song by Deep Purple, is a metaphor of someone who is shut off from the rest of the world but also shut off by others for being blind.

Cyprus has been hiding its weaknesses and deficiencies from others, including from its own people, for a long time, hoping that these would magically go away. Examples abound from the stock market crash of the late nineties, the explosion at Mari that took out the main power station, the financial system going bust in 2013, the various scandals involving government officials including the Deputy Attorney General, the Governor of the Central Bank, etc. The only commonality across all of these is that for each of them the government at the time decided to set up a committee to investigate, that committee took ages to come up with its findings, the findings were either inconclusive or non-actionable, and no one got punished for anything. As the saying goes “A committee is a group of people who individually can do nothing, but who, as a group, can meet and decide that nothing can be done.”

Of concern is the unfolding situation relating to the occupied part of the island. The stakes are high as it would be logical to expect that on 20 July, the anniversary of the Turkish invasion, when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be visiting the occupied part of Cyprus, he may announce plans to settle the ghost city of Famagusta. At a time when the Turkish economy has been weakened, this would likely be seen as a sign of strong leadership and appeal to the masses who support him. It should also be expected that the Cypriot government will respond by sending out a series of letters to various heads of state and that the Minister of Foreign Affairs will attend various meetings to express his frustration and dismay. And then life will continue, as if nothing has happened.

In 2012 I had the honour of being a member of a bicommunal team which, under the auspices of the UN, met in London to discuss about compensation and restitution of refugees. After two days of exchanging views, we realised that 42 years on, the two sides hadn’t exchanged information on the number of properties or buildings that they had been discussing how the compensation should be estimated for. The response by both communities’ representatives was that they didn’t trust the other sides’ numbers, which they didn’t know what they were, and that they weren’t willing to have a third-party review or verify them. This reminded me of a PhD student when I was doing my undergrad, who took so long to deliver his thesis on a particular type of mobile technology that by the time he did so that technology had been surpassed.

There is a fundamental need for a new direction and vision, for the people to rally around and get behind a specific goal. In its absence, things are likely to continue being as they are, continuing to fail to address some of the key problems that the country faces such as low fertility, lack of transparency, delays in enforcement of law, and finding a working comprise to resolve the separation of the island.

At a time when the EU and other countries are struggling to tackle the impact of the pandemic, without Cyprus taking meaningful steps to address its own shortcomings, much like the blind man, the rest of the world will shut off Cyprus for being blind.

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