A wake-up call on the streets of Limassol

2 mins read

Ironically, the one time the police took right-wing extremist violence seriously, the protestors didn’t turn up, and those non-Cypriot-looking people told to stay indoors could come out of hiding.

Although the left and normal-thinking activists woke up to the fascist menace, it was already too late to save Limassol from being a target for mob rule.

They had an anti-pogrom rally – I wouldn’t go so far as to call it that, as the historical context is much starker – to show the public wouldn’t tolerate racist attacks on our streets.

The sporadic violence on the Limassol seafront proved that police are found wanting to keep order and protect the public.

Many complained that riot police backed by a water canon did nothing while hooded youths spread terror in the second city, setting rubbish bins alight, smashing foreign-owned shops and attacking tourists who looked different.

Cyprus is trying to sell itself as an investment location that respects diversity and welcomes visitors of all ethnic origins and cultural backgrounds.

The Police Chief had to concede before parliament that more could have been done to prevent the shocking scenes in Limassol and Chlorakas a few days before.

Police have about as much success in controlling football hooliganism as they do with race riots.

President Christodoulides ordered an investigation into what went wrong as he fumed at the embarrassment of people and businesses getting attacked by thugs that were the hallmark of the Nazis.

He should also review the tolerant nature of the establishment in placing blame on the migrants, painting a picture of chaos and allowing exploitation.

This eruption of violence didn’t just happen overnight; it’s been simmering for a while because the language used in public discourse is tinged with bigotry, prejudice and hate.

Cypriots feel they are being short-changed, but that is the fault of the politicians, not the migrants.

When people feel the pressure of the cost of living, inflation, a rent squeeze, a lack of opportunity and inadequate salaries, they want to vent their frustration.

Extremists exploit this frustration and point to the migrants who they argue don’t deserve to be here and are a strain on limited resources in welfare, education and health.

Cyprus has a migration problem because it doesn’t have the infrastructure to cope with large numbers seeking safety.

It is the EU state with the most first-time asylum applicants per population, and 30,000 claims have yet to be processed.

Political message

But, the political messaging around this issue painted a negative picture of an island under siege that would lose its identity.

Those seeking to change the conversation by giving a more contextualised argument that wasn’t simply a mantra of ‘kick ’em out and send them back’ – were notably few.

Media coverage of such issues is unfriendly, unsympathetic and insensitive, with nobody taken to task for the inaccurate nonsense that gets peddled for news.

With the start of the new school year, the Education Minister reassured that schools were centres of diversity where everyone was respected for who they were.

She came across as someone who needed to say it rather than ensure that the education system encouraged a spirit of belonging and equality.

Does the government see the migrant population as marginalised, exploited and disadvantaged due to institutionalised racism mixed with overt sexism and gender inequality?

If it hasn’t diagnosed the cause of the unrest or future spin-offs, then it cannot begin to tackle the problem.

Police culpability is a symptom of the wider malaise, but I don’t believe anybody wants to look under the hood and start poking around.

Understanding there needed to be a huge damage control operation, government ministers came out this week to declare they had a handle on the migration issue and that the Cyprus economy would sink without foreign labour.

It was not before the foreign minister had to make a grovelling apology to Kuwait after a group of tourists from the Gulf state were assaulted in Limassol and fled the island the next day.

That won’t be in the promotion brochure to lure tourists from the Middle East to spend big on a Cyprus holiday.

We might not live in a multicultural wonderland, but we got a jolt of the nastiness that awaits by going too far the other way.