OBITUARY: Vassos Lyssarides the orator, undying socialist

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Cyprus socialist party leader Vassos Lyssarides and self-appointed champion of human rights in the Middle East, died on Monday, two weeks shy of his 101st birthday.

The centenarian politician was a veteran MP, a close associate of Archbishop Makarios and House President from 1985 to 1991.

He established the socialist party EDEK in 1969, which he led for 32 years. The party tried to realign itself with modern trends and renamed itself the Social Democrats, unable to cut ‘EDEK’ from its name long as the founder was still alive.

Dr Lyssarides was born in Lefkara, Larnaca, on May 13, 1920, and studied medicine in Athens.

As a general physician, Makarios trusted him and ended his practice soon after surviving an assassination attempt in August 1974, when his associate and poet Doros Loizou was killed in Nicosia while driving their car.

It is believed the assassins were remnants of the EOKA B underground movement who had also tried to kill Makarios several times and instigate the coup d’état that led to the Turkish invasion on July 20, 1974.

Lyssarides was known for his great oratory skills, often likened to fellow socialist figures, Andreas Papandreou and Francois Mitterrand.

His brand of socialist and rebellious politics aligned him with PLO leader Yasser Arafat, Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Syrian President Hafez Assad, and former Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi.

He was an ardent supporter of the non-aligned movement (NAM).

He was recruited by Makarios and subsequent presidents of the Republic to mediate on behalf of Cyprus with progressive regional leaders or to intervene in conflicts in neighbouring countries.

‘The Doctor’ took part in the EOKA struggle for independence (1955-1959) and met his wife, Barbara Cornwall, an American journalist, who stopped on the island on her way to India but stayed, landing a job the Times of Cyprus.

They married in 1963, and Barbara stopped writing professionally when Vassos got more involved in politics.

Throughout his turbulent political career, she remained at his side and died two years ago, aged 85, in March 2019.

The National Council, meeting in Geneva on the sidelines of the UN-sponsored efforts to revive the Cyprus talks, held a minute’s silence on Monday afternoon.

President Nicos Anastasiades said Vassos Lyssarides’ death “is a great loss for the country”.

“The doctor, the fighter, the politician who linked his name with the biggest events in the history of Cyprus has gone.

“We owe him a lot. Above all, however, we must fight for a free country. Sincere condolences to his family and his political family, EDEK,” Anastasiades said.

EDEK is a member of the European Socialist Party and Socialist International.

It supported an independent and united Cyprus within a federal system with a strong central government and a settlement based on UN resolutions and the EU Acquis Communautaire that safeguards human rights for all its citizens.

Lyssarides opposed reunification under a bizonal, bicommunal federation between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots as envisaged in the ‘Annan Plan’, which Greek Cypriots rejected in a 2004 referendum.