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Vanishing Cyprus: Tears for Democracy

Diogenes the Cynic (412-323 BCE) often walked out in broad daylight carrying a lit lamp claiming that he was looking for an Honest Man (Anthropo) but all he could find was nothing but scoundrels; his philosophic cynicism then, is also clearly true today – honesty has become a rare commodity indeed!
There exists a public perception that government standards have eroded worldwide and even more so in Cyprus. Imprudent leadership and bad politics have opened up the floodgates to a slippery slope of social apathy. Voter abstention (or rebellion in this case) is a prime example of peoples’ mistrust of governments, institutions and flawed democratic systems. Their failure has become so obvious, citizens take to the streets in mass protest against unfairness and the status quo.
A small island, Cyprus, perhaps had the opportunity of becoming a fine example of a true democracy others would aspire to, but it was never meant to be. Today, there is little prospect of it ever becoming one. It failed because it was never endowed with a strong leadership whose main agenda was to serve the people fairly. Instead, citizens have consecutively inherited incompetent petty-politicians to run the country.
The genuine principle of Rule of Law – noble as it may be – has never really been put into practice as envisioned by our predecessors. Instead, Cyprus has adopted “Rule by Law” where those that hold the reigns of power, apply a pseudo-democratic system that often conflicts with true democratic ideals. This means that by practising “rule by law,” not only those in power continue to prosper, but they have also placed themselves above the law as untouchables. It is not surprising that political leaders proclaim their support for the Rule of Law, yet they repeatedly fail to practice it. Selfishly, they continue to ignore the possibility that in the absence of Rule of Law, a civilized society does not exist.
History has shown that in Cyprus, it’s a rare occurrence to see a politician, a minister or a high-profile personality ever being successfully prosecuted for wrongdoing – god forbid ending up behind bars! Court cases are conveniently dropped or withdrawn by the attorney general’s office for “lack of evidence” or even through “presidential pardon.” This type of behavior has certainly paved the way to establishing a semi-autocratic political system without accountability or transparency.
Like Diogenes, citizens are in constant search for a genuine Anthropo to lead the nation but no such free-minded person has ever come forth; the almighty political parties ensure they are always in control. In reality, Cyprus has never been blessed with such a freethinking leader. Meanwhile, the bitter tears for democracy continue…
But what is this “Rule of Law” that civilized nations aspire to? Throughout the ages, many legal brains and law experts such as AV Dicey, John Lock and others dealt with this perplexing subject extensively. Independently, they have all strived to formulate a common understanding and philosophy of the noble ideal of “rule of law” introduced by Aristotle 2300 years ago; not an easy task by any account. In the end, the conclusion has become apparent; without the rule of law, there is no democracy.
In its simplest form, the Rule of Law is a political philosophy where people are governed by the principle of equality and respect of human values and where nobody is above the law and everybody – however weak or vulnerable – may enforce the law before the court of law, knowing that the Rule of Law will act as a protective shield and safeguard their human rights but equally serve as a check against the abuse of power by those in authority. It is more proper that the law should govern than any one citizen or group of citizens (such as political parties) but if necessary, supreme power should be appointed by a transparent voting system based on merit to some person(s) to act as only guardians and servants of the laws. Ultimately, it is the judges who are the guardians and sentinels of the Rule of Law and not governments or presidents. As Cicero said, “we are all servants of the laws in order to be free.”
All considered, the Rule of Law is an elusive ideology that everyone aspires to, but has contrasting convictions about what it is. The danger arises when it is over-used and ideologically abused by those in power, often rendering its effectiveness on society meaningless; yet, it is fundamentally crucial to the success and failure of nations.
However, declarations, treaties and domestic laws do not protect citizens’ rights unless those in position of authority actively work to uphold them – and, are themselves subject to them. In Cyprus, many of those rights are frequently being violated as in the case of the Marie tragedy inquiry, the Stock Exchange fiasco, and other cases where the law was used to serve ulterior motives other than to provide true justice. This indicates that the Judicial System is not as independent as it’s claimed to be but instead politicized.
Nothing is more important to the rule of law than establishing a strong, independent, and corrupt-free judiciary together with a transparent and merit-based judicial selection – something that is seriously lacking within the present chambers of power. Selective prosecution of the political elite protected by political immunity sends out a message of double standards. This has a horrible effect on the willingness of society to respect the law.
To reverse the general perception that no justice prevails in Cyprus, prosecutors and the police must finally follow the law explicitly and professionally. In order for this to happen it demands proper training, dedication, understanding, the respect of the law and the rights of others – something that is so commonly missing and rarely practised.
If any meaningful changes are to take place, judges, being the guardians of the law, should be allowed to enforce the law without hindrance by outside political forces. When that is achieved, only then there may be a chance to establish a corrupt-free society, with the law of the land being enforced as provided in the statute books. While the rule of law cannot guarantee there will be no corruption – it can ensure there will be severe consequences for those who violate the law.
The importance of the rule of law for economic development cannot be overstated. Legitimate foreign businesses will think twice before investing in a country that has a questionable justice and law enforcement system. Nothing scares foreign businesses faster than threats to profits, over-regulation, inefficiency and cumbersome bureaucracy. Lack of transparency sends chills down investors’ spines and they will not hesitate to invest elsewhere.
When the Rule of Law is effectively applied and enforcement agencies execute their duties with proficiency, companies and individuals would then be more inclined to make wise investments knowing the law will protect them and their investment. However, without a reliable and reassuring judicial system offering protection, economic development will take a nosedive and be severely restricted. Law is the barometer of a nation’s status and it can propel the nation into new economic horizons or reduce it to a pauper state.
Cyprus has a long way to go before it can truly claim that Justice, Transparency, Meritocracy and Equality based on Rule of Law is held in high esteem. When fully adopted, it will then uplift the nation into an enviable status where citizens will enjoy the full benefits and protection of the state and the judicial system.
The question should also arise: What will happen to society if there is no Rule of Law? The answer to that can only mean: elected-dictatorship and social chaos.
Andreas C Chrysafis is author of WHO SHALL GOVERN CYPRUS – Brussels or Nicosia? -Political analysis, ANDARTES – a revolutionary riveting novel, PORPHYRA in PURPLE – a metaphysical spellbinding novel. Other published articles can be found on Google under “Vanishing Cyprus” or under “Andreas C Chrysafis.”

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