Cyprus gets ready for a communist 'takeover'

Fears of a Soviet-educated communist emerging as the next leader of Cyprus—and the first in the European Union—has eclipsed the closest election in the island’s post-colonial history as voters cast their ballots on Sunday.

The prospect of Demetris Christofias, the silver-haired chief of the Marxist-Leninist Akel, becoming Cyprus’s sixth president last week turned what had been a campaign dominated by the struggle to reunify the war-torn island into a bitter fight between communism and Christendom.

With conservatives lined up behind Christofias’s opponent, former foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides, SMSs and emails carrying the stark warning that the island was about to be consumed by the Red Army were flying.
The rotund 61-year-old, they said, secretly aimed to transform Cyprus into another Cuba.

Christofias rejected the charges, angrily sidestepping the suggestion that he was even a communist at all. Asked whether Castro was a hero, he dismissed the question as “highly provocative” and lashed out at the scaremongering. “What is this, that I’m a Mediterranean Fidel Castro? I’m not. I’m the leader of a party that is peculiar, that’s what it is. It’s a party that cares for social justice, and the people of Cyprus know that.”

This is the first time that Akel, which was founded in 1927 and is Cyprus’s oldest party, has fielded a candidate in presidential elections. Previously it had supported candidates for the top post, including the nationalist president Tassos Papadopoulos, who was unexpectedly ousted in the first round a week ago.

Last year, however, Akel managed to clinch the mayoralty of Nicosia through Eleni Mavrou, the first woman to hold the post. And while Kasoulides (59) last week won the support of the powerful Orthodox Church, the communist is believed to have a slight edge following the decision of Papadopoulos’s Diko party to back him.

“On Monday, I believe I will be president,” said Christofias, the son of a construction worker who was “blessed with a party scholarship” to the Soviet Union, where he gained a PhD in history at Moscow’s Academy of Social Sciences.

Declared illegal by the British colonial authorities, the Communist party saw its property confiscated and its members imprisoned soon after its establishment. It was reinvented as Akel in 1946, proclaiming itself a communist party that adhered to the principles of Marx, Engels and Lenin.

Supporters today range from cocktail-sipping salon socialists to headscarved old women in the island’s mountain villages. Members don’t flinch from educating their children privately, wearing Armani or driving a BMW. Perhaps because of this, the party faithful have been stunned at their portrayal as “Stalinist monsters”.

“Sensible people are calling me asking whether, as atheist communists, we’ll close down churches, abolish religious education classes and even stop Greek language and culture being taught in schools,” said Pola Kyprianides, a chartered accountant and long-time Akel member. “It’s unbelievable.”

But Akel also has supporters in high places. George Vassiliou, Cyprus’s moderate former president, said the belief that Christofias was either unreconstructed or Eurosceptic was wrong. “You can’t even use the word communist to describe them,” he said in an interview. “They are a pragmatic bunch, and neither Europe nor the world has anything really to worry about.”— Â

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