The youth wing of the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) in Cyprus – the United Democratic Youth Organisation (EDON) – which was officially formed on April 12, 1959, recently commemorated its 61st founding anniversary. Peoples Dispatch talks to Iakovos Tofari, head of the International Bureau of the Central Council of EDON, regarding the current challenges faced by the people of the country, including the COVID-19 crisis, increased militarism in the region and the impediments to the reunification of Cyprus, along with the interventions made by the organization in the political sphere.
Peoples Dispatch (PD): Could you talk about the impact of COVID-19 on Cyprus? What has been the response of the government?
Iakovos Tofari (IT): As EDON, we believe that the outbreak of this virus has made obvious to the whole planet the lack of protective policies in all the bourgeois states for their peoples. Viruses and pandemics have always existed and will always exist. What is really important is to have states, governments and societies that are ready to confront this and any other challenge we face. In order to do so, we need to be focused on policies for the people and for our planet. Within the current socio-economic system – capitalism – the machine that pushes the world forward is the thirst of the capitalists for profit. Given this, all the planning and organizing of production is directed to make the rich, richer and the poor, poorer.
This pandemic has made it obvious that there are some fundamental rights that we cannot live without. Despite the dominance of neoliberalism in the past decades and the adoption of its dogma that education, health and culture are merely fields of investment, in a post-COVID-19 scenario, not a single person can deny that a state that wants to be called “developed” cannot exist without a public health care system. But also, health is only the first sector that is affected by this pandemic. Some of the most important academics and economists explain that the economic crisis that will follow is expected to be as serious as the health crisis, if not more.
Cyprus is not, of course, an exception to this situation. When the disease broke out in Cyprus, most of our public hospitals had to shut down because many of the hospital workers got infected. This was a result of bad planning and the absence of protective measures for those people. It is also the result of the huge cuts that the current neoliberal government of the right-wing party Democratic Rally (DISY) imposed on the health sector. Since they first got elected in 2013, they have cut 500 million euros from the public health budget.
Our party, AKEL, immediately proposed numerous measures for the health sector and the economy. Something positive is that the government, under pressure given the situation, has accepted almost all the proposals of our party. Among these measures is financial aid for university students who study abroad and couldn’t return to Cyprus, financial aid for small businesses whose incomes have decreased, aid for people who belong to the most vulnerable groups of society, protections for workers in many sectors, restrictions on banks, and many others. Of course, there are many more things that we need to press for. We know very well that if we don’t stay alert and ready to fight, another economic crisis will be put on the shoulders of the workers.
PD: What is your view on the policies of the current government and their impact on the working class and the youth in the country?
IT: As I mentioned before, the current government of the right-wing party DISY under president Nicos Anastasiadis has a clear neoliberal-antipopular approach. Since the election of president Anastasiadis in 2013, we have witnessed a huge attack on workers’ rights and social rights. We have witnessed cuts in many sectors such as public health, education, sports, culture, and also an attempt to turn the educational system backward through the implementation of a conservative program. During the time of the AKEL government (2008-2013) under the presidency of comrade Demetris Christofias, we had achieved many victories in all the above fields. Unfortunately, as soon as this government was elected, they started to attack all the gains made by the AKEL.
One of the main goals of this government is the total destruction of the public sector. They have been trying to privatize or shut down all the semi-public and public companies. The working class has seen its income decrease drastically during the last years and instead of receiving support from the state, they have been watching the government support the banks and the big companies. In general, we can say that it is a government for the employers and not a government for the employees.
For the youth, things have been even worse because now they not only have fewer opportunities to find a decent job with rights, but they also have fewer opportunities to study at college or university. The pupils in high schools also find themselves in a bad situation as they are the generation who are experiencing the conservatization of education, together with the reinforcement of school as a “workers production mechanism”.
PD: What is the current status of the Cyprus peace process? What are EDON’s proposals and activities towards this end?
IT: Unfortunately, the process for the reunification of Cyprus was also affected by the election of this government. Anastasiadis, in order to get elected in 2013, attacked all the progress made by comrade Demetris Christofias during his presidency. He came to delete the Christofias-Talat convergences, which were probably the most progress ever made. These actions led us to a long period without any developments, giving Turkey the opportunity to blame the Greek Cypriots for not being willing to negotiate. After Anastasiadis realized that the Christofias-Talat convergences were our only way to continue the negotiations, he was obliged to accept them and move forward based on them. That was not easy because these convergences were a serious compromise for Turkey.
A period of negotiations for a few months led us to the meetings of Crans Montana in Switzerland in 2017. With the presence of the UN General Secretary, the ministers of foreign affairs of Greece and Turkey, Anastasiadis and Mustafa Akinci – the Turkish Cypriot leader, attempts were made to proceed with the negotiations. During those meetings, the hypocrisy of Anastasiadis created new problems for us. While we are under occupation and it is broadly recognized internationally that the part which acts illegally in our case is Turkey, Anastasiadis made it possible for Turkey to blame the Greek Cypriots once again, as not being willing to negotiate.
After Crans Montana, we have not had any major developments in the negotiations. We have, of course, had serious developments like the continued violations by Turkey of our Exclusive Economic Zone, but not many at the level of the negotiations. This is why it is of high importance for AKEL and EDON to have a change in the executive power in the elections of 2023. We know that Anastasiadis is not someone we can trust and we also know that we are running out of time with regard to the occupation. We need a president who will be committed and will do everything in his power to achieve a solution in accordance with the UN Charter, international law principles, and the High- Level Agreements of 1977 and 1979. A solution of a bicommunal, bizonal, federal state with a single sovereignty, a single international personality and a single citizenship with political equality – as described in the UN resolutions. A solution that will free Cyprus from the occupation, colonization, foreign armies and foreign dependencies, and far from NATO guarantees. A solution that will safeguard the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all the Cypriot people. A solution with which we hope to get rid of the imperialists and have the chance to build a future of peace and prosperity.
More than the struggle at this – the political level, we live the struggle every single day to bring the youth of the two communities closer, to make it clear that we have nothing to separate us, that we are one people and that our strength lies in our unity. Following the rapprochement policy, we have been trying for many decades to not allow the nationalist and the fascist elements on the island to divide us. For this purpose, we organize several activities every year – from everyday meetings and exchanges to big events such as the yearly excursion with the Greek and Turkish Cypriots together to Troodos, the “two weeks of rapprochement” annually in April with numerous activities (sports, cultural, manifestations), the visits of Turkish Cypriots comrades every year to our camps, and many others. We can say, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration, that we are the force that has kept the flame of reunification alive for many decades.
PD: Can you briefly talk about the origin of EDON and the major events in its history? Can you also shed light on the major campaigns initiated by the organization in Cyprus?
IT: While we are celebrating the 61st anniversary of EDON, we are actually much older than that. The first organization of the progressive, anti-imperialist youth in Cyprus at the Pancyprian level was the Communist Youth of Cyprus (CYC) that was founded in 1926. Because of the hardships that followed the international economic crisis of 1929 and the ban on the organization by the British colonialists a few years later, the CYC took a decision to support and work from within the Communist Party of Cyprus and not independently. In 1944, after the Communist Party was also transformed to AKEL, the need for a massive organization of the youth, to work under the party’s wing, arose. This was when AON was founded – the precursor of EDON. In 1959, because once again, AON was made illegal, we had the founding of EDON.
Since then, EDON has been at the epicenter of all the struggles of the youth of Cyprus. It is a historical fact that all the victories of the Cypriotic youth have the mark of AON and EDON on them. We honor every year our martyrs who gave their lives during colonialism in the fight against the extreme right from both communities, and against the colonialists as well. We honor those who made sacrifices to maintain peace and friendship between the two communities. We honor our heroes who gave their lives defending the Republic in 1974 against the fascist military coup and the Turkish invasion.
It is also a fact that even during our most recent history, we never stepped back despite the circumstances. In the modern struggle for a different school, for a better chance of higher education, for the rights of young workers and children, we have always been there. Of course, an organization like ours, with our principles and our history, couldn’t be absent from the struggles of the youth across the planet. Therefore, since 1945 when we participated as a founding member of the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY), we have been serving the international anti-imperialist youth movement uninterrupted. We also served the WFDY in the honorary position of the president from 2011 till December 2019. EDON cannot exist without the principles of internationalism, international friendship and solidarity.
It would be an omission if we don’t mention the Pancyprian Festivals of Youth and Students. These festivals have been organized by EDON since 1959 and thousands of Cypriot youths attend them. Since 2010, the festivals of EDON have been taking place yearly, where we offer our youth the chance to access an alternative kind of entertainment, and to become acquainted with our political approach through the many thematic centers of the festival. Since the beginning of the festivals, several hundreds of thousands of Cypriots have had the chance to join their voices and send messages for peace and coexistence across the world. The 32nd Festival of EDON, which took place in July of 2019, was of special significance. On the one hand, only a few days before, we had lost our comrade Demetris Christofias, to whom the festival was dedicated, and on the other, because it was the largest festival of the past many decades – proof that EDON has a lot to be proud of, a glorious history behind us, and a bright future ahead.