Speech by the General Secretary of the Central Committee of AKEL Stefanos Stefanou at the 20th Pancyprian Congress of EDON (United Democratic Youth Organisation)
9 January 2022, Nicosia
Throughout these years that I have been in the frontline of political struggle and engagement, I have usually avoided giving a personal tone to my speeches and interventions. Today, however, I feel that I don’t have any other alternative.
This is so because if I do not speak from this podium in a personal, emotionally-driven way, then I will not be honest with you.
EDON for me has never been just the youth organisation I joined at a very young age. EDON for me was literally my second home and indeed my second family.
I had the luck and the honor to get to know EDON fully from the grassroots upwards. From the position of an ordinary member of a Local Organisation, to the post of General Secretary of the Organisation.
That is why meeting you today, I can feel the pulse, the enthusiasm and passion about what inspires us all.
For all that continues to unite us, despite the years that separate us. For all that binds us together as one.
The emotion is such that it takes me way back years. To my school days, when I was active within the ranks of PEOM, the school pupils organisation of the Left. So I could start from there and remember the struggles for the recognition of the right to trade union organisation and struggle in schools at a time when the state was deaf to such demands.
I could say even more about my student years, when most of the Cypriot student movement was abroad and, more specifically, in the countries of the then existing socialism. These countries, with the scholarships they granted, gave a way out to thousands of poor and middle-class families who did not have the means for their children to study.
You see, Cyprus didn’t have any public university at that time, even though we are talking about the 1980’s. The Left played a decisive role in its establishment, while a significant part of the Right opposed it – if it is ever possible for someone to be against the establishment of a University!
I could go on for hours about the Congresses of the then POFNE, the Pancyprian Federation of Students and New Scientists. The World Youth Festivals and the countless solidarity events organised for Cyprus, but also the events to express solidarity with other struggling peoples.
I could mention the common meetings with the Turkish Cypriots when even the communication with them was extremely difficult and when various “super-patriots” nationalists were accusing us that with rapprochement we are supposedly legitimizing the Turkish occupation.
I could mention the World Festivals of Youth and Students and EDON’s corresponding Festivals.
Although it is very tempting to go back to the past, I will not give in to the temptation. What has more value today is to highlight the key thing that, in my view, someone can learn from participating in EDON.
I will put it in the words of the legendary Che Guevara: “Be realistic, demand the impossible”.
In other words, we are fighting and asserting for today, with an eye on the future, on the tomorrow we on the Left envision.
The tomorrow of a more just society that focuses on the many and not on the privileged few.
This perception characterises EDON’s entire presence and is the main characteristic of AKEL’s activity. With realism, striving for the impossible!
One of the most critical issues in the policy of the Left is the formulation of the dialectical relationship between its vision for socialism and its intervention in the conditions of the existing system.
International experience proves that the Left has achieved great achievements and has been at the forefront of history when it has taken the lead in addressing the major issues of the time, without of course abandoning its ultimate goals. This is precisely how it manages to win hearts and minds for its vision, its ideology, its ideals and its values.
This is the way the Cypriot Left has been fighting and acting throughout its ninety-five years of life and struggle and this is the reason why it has won achievements, grown and been embraced by the masses. That is why it became a great political force, respected by all, with a leading role and a leading voice.
Our vision of a humane and qualitatively superior society has never curbed our activity and struggle. It has never made us indifferent to the existing specific problems our people are facing. We have never got caught up in the notion that all the negative things that a system generates that we do not believe in does not concern us. We don’t exhaust our criticism by stating “that’s capitalism, it itself generated the deadlocks and nothing whatsoever can change”.
We want to change the world and we open up the perspective of change for today.
In EDON we have learned not to confine ourselves to making interpretations.
We have learned to be present in the front line of struggles that are being waged in defence of society and our homeland.
We have learned to be at the forefront for more new gains.
We have learnt not to be indifferent, but to stand in solidarity with the countries and peoples that are facing hardships, suffering, hungry and who are waging a struggle for survival.
That’s what we learnt in EDON. That’s what we shall continue to do in AKEL and the Left.
That’s what EDON should continue to convey to young people through its activity.
Militants and members of EDON,
I am sure that many times you will have heard us older comrades talking about our own times, accompanying our narrative with the well-known line: “in our time we did this or that”.
It is very appealing and nostalgic to hark on the past. But you should never forget that every era has its own characteristics, its own stakes, its own priorities, challenges and problems. You won’t effectively confront challenges by copying practices from different eras. Dogmatism and being trapped in the past leads to wrong assessments, erroneous decisions and policies. The past must be approached creatively in the light of contemporary facts and conditions.
It is a fact that we older comrades lived in periods that had specific characteristics, which pushed you to be politicised, to the young generation’s mass organisation and mobilisation.
Against the backdrop of the twin crime of the coup d’état and the invasion and all that preceded it, our own generation took to the streets en masse, demonstrating, filling the Local Clubs and their halls with our mass participation, demanding justice and the punishment of the culprits responsible for the Cyprus tragedy. We flocked to evening cultural clubs with a guitar and a bouzouki to sing the songs of Mikis Theodorakis and Manos Loizou against fascism, imperialism, against everything that demeans society and human civilisation.
All this, also bearing mind the radicalization of the masses in the 1960’s and 1970’s mobilising against nuclear armaments, against juntas and against the dirty US war in Vietnam.
Today the conditions are different, not because the situation has improved. Far from it! – Its worse. Inequalities are widening, wealth continues to be accumulated in the hands of a privileged few and more and more people are suffering in poverty. Predatory wars continue to rage and the world is being redistributed by the powerful of the planet. Capitalism continues with more intensity to destroy the two sources of wealth: people and the environment.
However, the ruling elites, with the modern means at their disposal, are even more effectively blunting and defusing people’s reaction by manipulating public opinion, promoting disillusionment, spreading fatalism and cultivating illusions about the system.
Fear is used to suspend logical thinking and reason. Populism to replace rational thought. Conspiracy theories for the abolition of political thought.
All of this makes it harder to identify the root cause of problems. They make the class and political opponent even more invisible. They reinforce despair, passivity and abstention from political engagement and participation in elections. However, abstention and alienation lead nowhere but to the deepening and reinforcement of the situation which is the source of the misery and problems modern societies face.
We are living in an era of incredible contradiction. At the same time as democracy and freedom appear to be strengthened by the digital age and revolution in communication technologies, fabricated information, censorship and the manipulation of public opinion threaten democracy as never before.
Interwoven interests/entanglement between the mass media, the establishment and politics is one of the biggest challenges of our times and has assumed very dangerous dimensions. So deep are interwoven interests/entanglement that this determines election results and legitimises criminal and anti-social policies, controlling thought, constructing virtual realities and shaping social and political behaviours that are harmless to the system. “Today only idiots make dictatorships with tanks since there is television”, the thinker Humberto Eco once aptly wrote, even before the revolution in communication technologies. Imagine to what extent this is happening today!
The narrative “They are all the same” and “nothing changes” are approaches that result from the manipulation of the thinking and behaviour of the masses in contemporary societies. These perceptions, which are very popular in our country too and are widely used by the government ruling forces, make the work of the Left, which is based on a class approach, rationality, belief in alternative policies and the possibility of change, collective assertion and struggle, more difficult.
These types of social perceptions and behaviours are particularly strong among the younger generation, which feels disillusioned and is angry at the deplorable reality it is experiencing. The establishment, however, manages to defuse their reaction by cultivating pessimism, frustration, the defamation and levelling of all political forces, passivity and abstention from political affairs.
This is an additional difficulty that EDON faces in organising and mobilising youth. Where there is no belief in change, there is hardly any motivation for action. Combatting this situation is difficult, but imperative.
EDON’s long experience in developing action is very useful in countering these negative phenomena. And as we have already said, we learn from the past, but do not remain dogmatically fixed on it. We should creatively make use of what is timely and useful, while we should reject what is now obsolete and seek new ways and methods of working that are relevant and correspond to today’s conditions.
What should guide us is how effectively we address, inspire and mobilise the young generation, instead of persisting in forms of work that might have been effective in the past, but have now outlived their usefulness.
Everyone is talking about progress in our country and of our people. Everyone attaches his/her own content to the concept of progress. But what does progress mean and how can we define it? In our view, the most decisive criterion for progress is whether our children live in better conditions than those of their parents.
The question subsequently inevitably arises: do young people live better than their parents in today’s Cypriot reality? Is there any prospect of things improving?
The answer to these two questions is no. Neither do young people live better, nor is there any prospect of the situation changing for the better on the horizon.
Our country and society are facing harsh and dangerous deadlocks which must be confronted. Unfortunately, however, the DISY government, which has governed the country for nine years, has proven that not only is it incapable of combating the deadlocks, but it itself is responsible for most of them. The DISY government is part of these problems and cannot solve them.
The situation can’t go on any longer! DISY must go. And it will go with our own work, with our own persistent efforts!
Interwoven interests/entanglement and corruption have reached unprecedented levels since DISY has been in power. And, unfortunately, Cyprus’ name is being shamed and has become synonymous with money laundering and a haven for fraudsters. It is no coincidence that journalists wait in the rain for N. Anastasiades to come outside EU Council meetings to ask him about the Pandora Papers. This is happening abroad of course, because in Cyprus the government ruling forces do not stand around waiting for journalist’s questions. They prefer monologues and creating their own agenda with the control they exercise over the overwhelming majority of the mass media. Anyone in Cyprus who dares ask the President a question is usually castigated by him.
Another characteristic of the DISY government is something that for many years did not exist in Cyprus. We are referring to the socio-economic insecurity that tens of thousands of our fellow citizens, especially many young people, are facing. For the majority of people in this country, nothing is certain, nothing is given. Overnight the government ruling forces imposed a haircut on bank deposits. In just one day they sold off the Cyprus Co-operative Bank. In a single vote procedure in Parliament they decided that a lifetime’s savings and work would be sold off. During their administration they drove a quarter of our population to the brink of poverty and social exclusion.
The government ruling forces are boasting about the low unemployment level. But they do not tell us what kind of jobs they are talking about. The young people of Cyprus, most of them graduates, are working for EUR 700 and EUR 800 a month when they need EUR 700 and EUR 800 to rent a two-bedroom apartment. Many jobs have few rights and offer no protection. Acquiring a home has become a distant dream. The prospect of starting a family is coming under unbearable pressure by a society that does not provide the necessary structures and support.
Of course, there are certain people who are much luckier than others. They are the cronies of the government ruling forces for whom other rules apply. Even when there are no jobs/posts, they create them to fit them in somewhere. They appointed relatives, friends and classmates to the Co-op Bank and other key positions. They took full-time officials of the ruling DISY party to the Presidential Palace as assistants and overnight gave them civil servant status. If we add the unprecedented scandal of Yiannis Giannakis, then we can understand how meritocracy has fallen to the lowest levels. During their administration qualifications were replaced with the only qualification a DISY membership card. That’s how they appoint “the excellent of the excellent” as the President said.
However, the government ruling forces aren’t worried. If a scandal escapes them and is revealed, the response is simple. They hide it and don’t reply until the noise dies down. And if the noise persists, the government and DISY simply arrogantly dismiss it and move on. That’s what they do with everything they don’t like, with everything they disagree with. They tear pages out from school books, they persecute people for their views. That’s precisely what they are! No matter how much glorification the heavily paid Presidential advisors may shower them with, that’s who who they are and they won’t change.
But the worst legacy left by their decade-long passage from the administration of this country is their handling of the Cyprus problem.
The Cyprus problem is in a quagmire. Worse still, the permanent partition of Cyprus is imminent. Turkey, exonerated and relieved of any responsibility for the stalemate by the international community, is breaching every notion of law and violating the relevant resolutions of the UN. It is exploiting the unproductive barren passage of time by creating new occupation fait accompli both on the ground and at sea. When all this was happening, the government ruling forces were expressing their certainty that Turkey’s impositions of fait accompli are mere “communication tricks” by the occupying power. They were cultivating illusions about having supposedly ensured the “shielding” of the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Republic of Cyprus through the multilateral meetings (with Greece, Israel, Egypt) and about the imposition of sanctions by the EU that will “hurt Turkey”.
Faced with this dangerous scenario, the DISY government isn’t worried. With its contradictory and erroneous actions, it creates vital space for Turkey to provoke and engage in illegal actions without suffering any substantial political cost whatsoever. The President and the DISY government have lost their credibility among the international community and do not convince that they have the political will to reach a solution. That is precisely why the Secretary General of the UN in his latest Report continues to hold our side equally responsible for the deadlock and the negotiating vacuum. And even worse, at the same time as Turkey is raising the issue of a two state solution, the Secretary General of the UN makes no reference to the agreed basis for the solution, namely bicommunal, bizonal federation.
But instead of worrying about the negative content of the Report, all the government ruling forces found to say was about the equal distance stand adopted by Mr. Guterres. He assigns equal responsibility on both sides. But the government ruling forces obviously do not care about the adverse erroneous state of affairs have reached. All they care about once again is the communication handling of this situation through the control they exercise over the information transmitted on the domestic front. They are indifferent to the dangers that are looming, and keep silent about the negative consequences.
The impasse in which our country and society find themselves generates the need for change. Real, meaningful, progressive change.
However, we who are not comfortable with partition and who are fully aware of the dangers stemming from a non-solution of the Cyprus problem, are not going to give in and permit time to consolidate the illegal presence of occupying power Turkey in Cyprus. We want permanent security and lasting peace in Cyprus, especially for you young people who represent the future of this country. We will continue to fight for a solution that will liberate and reunite our land and people within the framework of the UN resolutions and the agreed basis.
The dead-end situation in which our country and society finds itself in generates the need for change, rea progressive change.
It is not logical for anyone to expect from the DISY President Averof Neophytou, who has been governing for nine years, that he will now assume the presidency and save us all, that he will change things. The country needs real change based on a progressive, pro-people’s political programme to realise what the young generation aspires to:
- Quality public health and education system.
- Work with rights, dignity and prospects.
- A state that can effectively provide support to those in need.
- A society without exclusions and discriminations.
- Policies that protect the environment and invest in research and innovation, in the future.
In short, Cyprus needs a government and a President that gives its people a perspective for tomorrow and that won’t trap its creative forces in socially dead end policies.
I often ask myself: what would I be like if I had not spent my youth in the ranks of EDON?
How would I have developed as a human being if I had not graduated from EDON’s great “university” of struggle, assertion, collectivity, selfless work as a volunteer, self-education, and knowledge?
I am sure that all those who have gone through and formed their character within the ranks EDON will ask the same question.
In truth, we had had many unique experiences. How many new worlds we have known. How many dreams we made and how many horizons we opened up. How much our horizons were broadened by discovering world literature and poetry. How much our thinking deepened by discussing about the world, interpreting the world, aspiring to change the world. How much our lives were shaped by gaining knowledge that schools unfortunately do not provide when they should.
EDON is therefore a broad horizon. A great chapter in the book of everyone’s life, that taught us about life, what life is, teaching us to struggle for life. A great university of social, humanistic, cultural and political education and activity.
Where the essence and substance are People themselves, the Future, Tomorrow.
EDON has been and will remain the vein.
- That gives the beat and rhythm to our heart
- That gives colour to our dreams
- That gives momentum to our struggles
Long live EDON!
Long live the young generation of Cyprus!