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Society is getting angrier

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Cyprus society is simmering at melting point under the pressure of the cost of living while corruption scandals spread disillusionment, say psychologists.

An increase in violent incidents at football matches, municipalities reporting an increase in vandalism at parks, and bullying at schools, could be early signs of a society boiling in anger and despair.

Police have recently reported they arrested 19 people for football violence in less than two months since the season started, the most in the past five seasons.

Although Cyprus may not be among the top EU countries at risk of poverty and social exclusion, it still has 17.3% of its population at risk of falling below the poverty line.

In comments to the Financial Mirror, Dr Charis Psaltis, the head of the Psychology Department of the University of Cyprus, said that observers have tied growing pressure from the excessive cost of living to violent behaviour and social outbursts.

Although it may be too soon to make the leap, observers are taking note of recent violence.

Frequent violent clashes at football matches, for the first time in years, with Cypriots witnessing killings between family members over arguments over household finances.

In Cyprus, households whose disposable income was below the €10,011 threshold, severely materially and socially deprived, or with very low work intensity is 17.3% from 17.6% in 2020.

The poverty threshold is €10,011 per person and €21,024 per household with two children.

This means that, in 2021, some 2,000 people climbed out of the pool of 156,000 at risk of falling into poverty 2020.

“We should be careful before making a direct link between growing economic fallout and recent violent outbursts; a large part of Cyprus society is certainly under immense pressure having to make do, sometimes even less than the minimum guaranteed income,” said Psaltis.

He said surveys also record that Cypriots are losing their faith in institutions due to the involvement of high-ranking officials in corruption.

“The golden passports scandals are an excellent example of how the involvement of high-ranking officials has led the public to lose faith in institutions and political parties”.

He noted that the disillusionment with politics spreads across the board, with the public not willing to lay their trust in any politician so easily.

Acting as the national coordinator for the European Social Survey, it showed a rapid decline in Cypriots’ trust towards institutions and democracy.

The European Social Survey has been an academically driven cross-national poll since 2001.

According to the findings of the ninth round, the latest one to be completed in 2020, Cypriot institutions do not make the grade.

The legal system scored 4.6 on a scoreboard from one to ten.

Politicians came in even lower with a 2.99, and trust in political parties was at 2.89.

“Cypriots’ trust in institutions has hit its lowest, after a downward ten-year trend.”

The psychologist said disillusionment with institutions inflates feelings of anger and despair.

“It affects every aspect of people’s lives.

“From how they behave to directions and instructions given by police or governments, for example, when it came to restrictions during the COVID pandemic.

“Trust in each other, our public institutions and our leaders are all essential ingredients for social and economic progress, allowing people to cooperate and express solidarity for one another.

“On an interpersonal level, people are becoming more cynical and do not trust each other easily.

“At the extreme, we could see bottled-up feelings of anger and despair explode at football games or other social gatherings“.

Mental fallout

Former MP and economist Anna Theologou, now acting as a financial advisor to companies at a financial dead end, gives her account of how economic fallout can affect people.

“Through my work, I am in daily contact with people of all ages who cannot pay off their loans and are on the brink of losing their homes.

“A lot of these people are in despair with no way out.

“I have clients that have thought of taking their own lives to rid themselves and their family of the financial burden of their mortgage,” said Theologou.

She said most people seeking her services are desperate, fearing what will happen tomorrow and whether they will be able to provide for their children every day.

“Many are possessed by feelings of fear, insecurity, anger but also shame.

“Many of these people are clearly depressed, and it’s not because of something they’ve done. Rather the result of political decisions”.

Theologou noted that despair is greater among women, quoting a 2019 study revealing that 44.6% of single mothers in Cyprus experience psychological distress due to financial hardship, reduced social support and low incomes.

“But do we need studies to prove the obvious?

“Let’s ask ourselves – if we are not already living it – how would we feel if we woke up tomorrow without the necessary income to cover our primary needs?

“We would be unhappy and prone to a mental breakdown.”