The President of Cyprus – the nation that is seeking a multi-billion euro bailout from the European Union to shore up its fragile banking system – is a Communist, making him the only sitting Marxist leader in the EU.
Demetris Christofias is the leader of AKEL, or the Progressive Party of Working People Party, the Communist Party of the tiny island nation.
Historically, AKEL has endorsed Cyprus’ entry into the EU, with some reservations. Indeed, just before Nicosia requested the bailout from its paymasters on the continent, Christofias criticized the EU, the ECB and IMF for behaving like a “colonial force” with respect to its fiscal demands on Greece.
The New York Times reported that Christofias is so concerned about the EU imposing similarly draconian austerity terms on Cyprus, that he has been seeking out loans from Communist giants China and Russia. (Christofias is a die-hard supporter of Russian present Vladimir Putin and such an admirer of Vladimir Lenin that he keeps a bust of the iconic Communist at party headquarters).
“Christofias has always had an ambivalent attitude toward the EU,” Fiona Mullen, an analyst, told the Times. “He comes from a party that has often looked east instead of west.”
AKEL, which traces its ancestry to 1926, was originally founded as a vehicle designed to force British occupation out of Cyprus. It remains one of the few vibrant Communist parties left in Europe. Since 1985, AKEL has consistently won about one-third of the votes cast for seats in the nation's House of Representatives.
In contrast, the Greek Communist party (KKE) usually tallies less than 10 percent of parliamentary votes.
Christofias became president of Cyprus in February 2008 (four years after the country’s entry into the EU), beating the incumbent Tassos Papadopoulos of the centrist Democratic Party, with more than 53 percent of the popular vote.
His principal campaign theme lay with a desire to re-start reunification talks with the Turkish northern portion of Cyprus.
Moreover, while boasting about his Communist credentials, he vowed to leave Cyprus’ free market economy alone.
In fact, the chief economist of AKEL, Stavros Evagorou told reporters at the time: “We have not abandoned Marxism-Leninism as a philosophy, but we’re not dogmatic. We’re selective about the elements that we put into practice.”
To allay the fears of those who grew alarmed by a Communist leader in an EU state, Christofias declared: “What is this [concern], that I'm a Mediterranean Fidel Castro? I'm not. I'm the leader of a party that is peculiar, that's what it is. It's a party that cares for social justice, and the people of Cyprus know that.
However, since then, Christofias has taken a number of stances that are in stark opposition to the Western European consensus -- according to leaked diplomatic cables unearthed by Wikileaks, the Cypriot president has praised Cuba’s Fidel Castro, spoken in support of the regime in Iran, condemned NATO, welcomed the presence of Venezuelan embassy, and has called for the closing of British military bases on the island
Christofias remains close to Putin and even accepted a €2.5 billion bilateral loan from Moscow last year. The Russians are also heavily invested in Cyprus offshore banks, and thousands of Russians vacation on the sunny isle every year.
Thus, in the event Brussels imposes harsh terms on any bailout for Cyprus, Christofias has made it clear he would seek out money from Moscow or Beijing.
Interestingly, Cyprus – which represents 0.16 percent of the total population of the EU and roughly the same portion of the continent’s GDP -- will also take over the EU’s rotating presidency this Sunday.
It would indeed be more than embarrassing if the presidency of the EU was occupied by a country that preferred dealing with Moscow than Brussels.