Interview with AKEL C.C. member and Spokesperson Giorgos Koukoumas in “Kathimerini” newspaper
Sunday 10 September 2023
K: Are there political responsibilities for the incidents in Chloraka and Limassol?
GK: There are glaring responsibilities, first and foremost they belong to Mr. Christodoulides and the government as a whole. Apart from the operational failures, the government’s willingness to confront the far-right violence and racism that is eroding society is judged here. For the Presidency to leak a video of an emergency meeting with the “angry President” is an underestimation of citizen’s intelligence. The country needs a President, not a public relations communicator.
There are also responsibilities for the fact that the police were ordered to sit idly by and watch right-wing hooded extremists looting the centre of Limassol, while two years ago they were ordered to break up a peaceful demonstration with an “anti-riot” truck two years ago.
K: Should the Chief of Police and the Minister of Justice resign? And if they don’t, should the President of the Republic suspend them?
GK: In these moments we are insisting on something else. We are now in the moment when we are trying to make everyone understand that we are not confronted with people with “concerns” about immigration. Neither do we have hooligans who are expressing society’s feelings in a “wrong way”. Immigration is the pretext. Tomorrow they will find other issues to invoke. Under the hoods and behind the organized fake news is the far right in an attack that seeks to impose itself on society and tomorrow on the state.
K: “No tolerance for the far-right” was the title of AKEL’s mobilisation in Limassol after these incidents. The President of DISY said that it was not the time for marches, nor to exacerbate the climate, and spoke about the far right and the far left, without making a specific reference to AKEL.
GK: DISY President Anita Demetriou does not understand – or pretends not to understand – that it is unthinkable to equate fascist violence with mass peaceful demonstrations defending democracy and solidarity. In essence, she is white-washing and exonerating the far right indirectly, employing the “two extremes” theory and constructing some “far-left” that we do not know who she means and what she accuses them of. If she thinks that by doing so she will balance the extremists in her party,
I consider that the opposite will happen. But if she really doesn’t understand where this logic leads to, there are many useful history books she can turn to.
K: However, the theory of “two extremes” is invoked by various people in the public debate, placing ELAM at one extreme and AKEL at the other, attempting this analogy.
GK: AKEL speaks and struggles for democracy, the unity of working people, solidarity, human rights. Are all these the “the other extreme”? No. These are the right side of history.
K: Who do you mean by extremists in the DISY party?
GK: When the Government Spokesperson Mr. Pelekanos and the former Interior Minister of Anastasiades Mr. Nouris talk about immigration, you don’t distinguish them from the official narrative of the extreme right.
K: The General Secretary of AKEL Stefanos Stefanou spoke about the flirtations of the Anastasiades-DISY government with the neo-Nazi ELAM and the extreme right in general. Is there anything concrete to substantiate this claim?
GK: To put it gracefully, the boundaries between DISY party and the far-right are not very distinct. The votes of ELAM put Mr. Anastasiades and Mr. Christodoulides in power. The most glaring deal made between them, of course, was for the Presidency of the Parliament in exchange for handing over to ELAM the chairmanship of the Parliamentary subcommittee on demography. In many European countries, even the right-wing parties do not even think of doing this. In Cyprus, however, as we say ‘one hand washes the other’.
K: AKEL has decided not to take part in discussions with representatives of ELAM.
GK: Everyone must understand that the far-right has now crossed the line. All parties must now realize that the line has been crossed.
K: It is as if you are letting ELAM do what it wants, saying its own thing and there is no counter-argument.
GK: But we hear their “arguments” from other political parties anyway. Copy-paste often. And we duly respond to them.
K: However, ELAM is a parliamentary party.
GK: “Golden Dawn” was too. And the Nazis in Germany too.
K: Do you think there is a base for a “Golden Dawn” type trial in Cyprus as well?
GK: Some people are obviously afraid of such an eventuality. And that says a lot. In 2017, on the initiative taken by AKEL, Parliament called on the authorities to monitor the trial of “Golden Dawn” in Greece and to examine whether its criminal offences were also committed in Cyprus. This was never done. Why?
K: You denounced an ELAM municipal councilor in Limassol. ELAM expelled him. Does this move mean anything?
GK: The question is whether this particular person, who wants to kill foreigners wherever he finds them, is the exception or the one who shouted loudly what others are saying?
K: You also raised the issue of the ELAM chairmanship of the Parliamentary subcommittee on demography. More generally, what message do these moves by AKEL send?
GK: That the ‘normalisation’ of the extreme right cannot continue. AKEL has always been clear on this – the rest of the parties however? DISY and the centre parties will now be judged as well.
K: You have, however, been accused that sometimes you vote the same as ELAM in Parliament, for example on the issue of foreclosures.
GK: When they have voted for the closure of the Cyprus Co-operative Bank and have elected the governments that introduced the unacceptable framework of foreclosures, back then their stance on the issue is obviously without credibility.
K: AKEL is criticised that its stance on the migration issue is not in line with the magnitude of the problem Cyprus is currently facing. That AKEL is more or less in favour of open borders.
GC: Many people do not understand that the right to asylum is not the opinion of a party or a government. It is an international obligation of the Republic of Cyprus. There is no doubt that Cyprus receives a large number of asylum applications because of its location. The solution is not to violate international law. But to demand the abolition of the Dublin Regulation which traps all refugees in the countries of first entry into the EU, i.e. the Mediterranean south.
So unless this is replaced by a system of accommodation for refugees in all EU member states according to the population and capacities of each one, the situation will not change.
The great hypocrisy, however, is that even though DISY and its governments supported the continuation of the Dublin Regulation, they are enraged about asylum seekers being trapped in Cyprus.
K: “Send them all back” is the main “argument” of those who oppose the defence of migrants’ rights. How can it be answered?
GK: We have to admit that the explanations offered by racism are more edible for a section of society – but that does not make them valid.
For example, does anyone dispute that sectors of the Cyprus economy rely on migrant workers?
That the Social Insurance Fund is based 1/3 on their contributions?
If we “Send them all back” then who will work in the fields, on the construction sites, in hotels and petrol stations?
Who will be on the streets day and night for deliveries?
Who will take care of the elderly?
The problem lies elsewhere. It lies in the fact that a section of the employers are comfortable with undeclared work and the illegal status of foreign workers because it makes them more vulnerable and they are forced to work for starvation wages. At the same time, we have the employers’ associations officially calling for even more foreign labour, in terms of greater exploitation, of course. Here the issue is not just a humanitarian one. It is also in the interests of Cypriot workers not to permit the exploitation of migrants who work alongside them as this pushes down the wages and rights of all working people.
K: You called on the broader progressive spectrum to join forces with AKEL with the aim of forming a strong social alliance. Where is this effort at?
GK: It is going well. After the recent events it has been confirmed how important it is for the progressive forces to stand united and reverse the course the country has taken.
K: Are people coming together?
GK: I wouldn’t like to refer to only some people. Over a hundred personalities attended the first rally that was organised. Other people from the broader left and beyond are looking at the project with genuine expectations.
K: Mr. Stefanou had also referred to changes being promoted in AKEL to make it more effective. What are these changes and at what stage are the processes?
GK: This autumn will be a period of lively, collective processes and changes for AKEL. Three committees have been set up to work on ideas for our party’s internal functioning and organisational structure, for deepening inter-party democracy and for a more structured cooperation with people beyond the party.
Currently this work is being completed. Subsequently, the ideas will be put before the Central Committee, which will finalise an overall proposal that will then be discussed by the members of AKEL. The final decisions will be taken at the Party Statutory Congress in November.
K: When will the party’s ballot for the European and local elections be ready?
GK: At the moment our members are submitting nominations for candidates. Before the end of the year we will be ready for both election battles.
K: Will you seek cooperation with DIKO and EDEK which both spoke disparagingly of AKEL in the presidential elections?
GK: AKEL seeks to forge cooperation form the base, provincial and local level, which express the needs of local communities. But today we are not discussing central political cooperation with these parties, as was the case before their leaderships made the big turn to the right.
K: There are scenarios that AKEL is considering the possible candidacy of Armeftis in Limassol and Achilleas Demetriades in Nicosia…
GK: And these and many other names are being discussed within society and naturally proposed to AKEL. Decision time will be in the coming months.
K: There is an impression that frontline leading members are not interested, unlike, for example, what is happening in DISY. And that AKEL cannot contest the big municipalities and so is content with the periphery.
GK: It can and will contest in both the big and small municipalities. But for us party candidacies are not an end in themselves. The goal is progressive and victorious candidacies that are broadly embraced by local communities.
K: Will there be a Turkish Cypriot on the ballot for the European elections?
GK: The step taken in 2019 was a historic breakthrough in political affairs both with substance and symbolism. We certainly want it to continue. AKEL is a party of all the people of Cyprus.
K: Will it be Kizilyurek? Was your cooperation such that it enables for continuity?
GK: The work done by our two MEPs is very noteworthy. We will discuss the nominations later.
K: The name of AKEL Parliamentary Representative Giorgos Loukaides was also mentioned for the European elections. What is the case?
GK: What is valid is that we have not entered into the discussion of names.
K: Are you interested [to be a candidate] in the European elections? You were a candidate last time.
GK: My priority is the tasks I have recently taken on as a Party Spokesperson and MP.
K: AKEL is calling for the reintroduction of measures on electricity and fuel and the implementation of an interest rate subsidy scheme for mortgage loans. It is often criticised for his positions on the economy. Are these measures costed? Where will the funds come from?
GK: While the pockets of households and small businesses are being emptied, some other pockets are being filled and are overflowing. In the first half of 2023, the surplus in the state coffers quadrupled, due to people paying twice as much as they do. We also pointed out something that other European countries are doing – taxing the banks and energy companies on their exorbitant profits. This is where the resources will come from. If the government doesn’t want to do so, that’s another matter.
K: And that’s why you were accused of introducing measures adopted by far-right governments in Europe.
GK: Let’s see what else they’re going to suggest so as not to hurt the banks, which, by the way, are preparing for their tenth increase in interest rates in a year.
Interview with AKEL C.C. member and Spokesperson Giorgos Koukoumas in “Kathimerini” newspaper