There is an old joke in Stravaraland. It goes something like, “A Happy Cypriot is the one who has more people sucking up to him/her than people he/she is sucking up to.” Αν προτιμάτε, «Ευτυχισμένος Κυπραίος είναι εκείνος τον οποίον γλείφουν περισσότεροι απ’ότι εκείνος γλείφει».
I bet Stravaralanders right now smile in agreement, while reading the above simple point, a gem that holds so many Stravaraland truths.
Why should one have to suck up to anyone as part of their daily lives in a modern society? In a free society, developing this part of one’s skill set should not be essential for success. Yet, it is part of one’s modus operandi while trying to make it in the island, and this includes both sides, both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, and spans all governments throughout time (since 1960 if you prefer). If we were in America, we might even trace the problem back to our treatment in the hands of so many invaders in our rich historical past. The diagnosis would be pretty simple: to survive, we had to develop the necessary “sucking up” skill set. So relax, it is not really our fault.
By needing this skill, I argue that one is not free. One is not free when they have to suck up to any government official for anything simple they want to have done, one is not free when they cannot accuse the government of any incompetency due to the fear of not being appointable to the many government or semi-government positions that exist in the land, one is not free when one shuts up and lets things happen on the fear that their future career will suffer. (Ούσσου να περάσουμεν...)
Why is this a bigger problem in Stravaraland than in other economies and what can be done about it? First let me clarify that I do not have in mind the case of the person who won the position of Cyprus News Agency Chief that was eventually not ratified by the Cabinet. In that case, I think that was a political appointment eventually and, as much as my heart goes out to the guy, in the same way I would not imagine George Bush giving the Head of Public Relations at the White House to a Democrat with a good CV, I cannot imagine why the same should be expected of TeePee.
What I do have in mind, and where the problem really starts from, is that in Stravaraland such appointments are not
a small percentage of the economic activity that takes place. Such appointments still make a substantial part of economic activity. To put this another way, this is a bigger problem in the land because the state has so much power that it affects every single one of the people in the land, one way or another. The state controls a substantial part of the productive assets of the country (CYTA, Electricity Authority, Cyprus Airways), controls the huge public sector (that includes government employees, the military, the police, the University, the public hospitals, schools) and the President, as Head of State, can appoint around 130 members of different semi-government boards. If you add the Church as part of this “establishment” then, chances are, if you live in the land, at some point one member of your family will either be working in one of the above or want something done by one of the above. Or, at some point, you (or a member of your family) might even want to be appointed in one of the above for the lack of any other employment options.
But as many know, it is not necessarily what you know that matters, but who you know (if you don’t like to think in the “sucking up” terms). Moreover, it is in the interest of all politicians to keep the situation like that since this strategy maximizes the number of people sucking up to them. Which keeps the citizens of the land in a mad scramble for the political positions of power that will eventually put them in the position of dividing up the loot. But which also keeps Stravaralanders from being free to voice their true concerns about where things are going.
The Road to Freedom nowadays is different from the one that Evagoras Pallikarides had in mind in 1957. The Road to Freedom nowadays first comes from the more mundane task of limiting the power of the state. Complete privatizations of all that moves and limiting the role of the state to a pure regulatory role is what will lead to freedom. Private companies will hire who will do the job, and will not hire on the basis of who you know. Private companies will be better in minimizing corruption than the state, and will eventually be more efficiently run. Of course, almost no politicians in authority (whether G/C or T/C, whether in government or in opposition) will declare this as the road to freedom because at this stage they are in a position of authority controlling the fate of most people in the land. I think eventually limiting the power of the state as far as possible will have to take place in Stravaraland, in the same way it has happened in most successful economies of the modern world. But for that to happen, the first step will be for Stravaralanders to start demanding that this happens. Once Stravaralanders start demanding the reduction of the state role in their daily lives, then we will all be one step closer to getting on the Road to Freedom.