A witch hunt over an imaginary play
THE ONSLAUGHT against the headmistress of the Rizokarpasso high school Lucie Lysandrou bears all the hallmarks of a mini “ambient atmosphere” campaign. Lysandrou came under attack because of a play that was deemed to be “treasonous” by Pontiki newspaper, DIKO deputy Zacharias Koulias, EDEK’s Giorgos Varnava, and Nikos Falas, the self-professed representative of Karpas refugees.
The headmistress and the school were abused over a play which the critics never even watched, for things that never happened, and for improper language which did not even feature in the script.
Let’s set the record straight. Rooftop Theatre is a theatrical group that has been actively involved in the arts over the past four years. In early 2007, the Intercultural Centre of Cyprus (ICC), in co-operation with Rooftop Theatre, applied to the UNDP-ACT for funding for the programme entitled Voicing and Staging the Experience. The application was approved, resulting in the play Performing the Experience.
The funding was approved by the government’s Planning Bureau in May 2007 during the administration of the late Tassos Papadopoulos.
The group then asked the Ministry of Education for permission to perform the play in schools. The ministry replied that they should get in touch with the management of the schools. The play was subsequently performed at eight schools without any problems.
But when the play was performed at the Rizokarpasso school, its headmistress Lucie Lysandrou bore the brunt of a campaign laden with outlandish name-calling and aphorisms.
Critics slammed the play as “treasonous” because allegedly it contained the phrase ‘I don’t give a shit about History’. Others said the script featured the words ‘I don’t give a shit about my country’, ‘I don’t give a shit about Education’, or ‘I don’t give a shit about my ancestors’.
Even if all the above words had been spoken, art cannot be subjected to censorship. However, the script contained none of these phrases. Rather, these are all dreamed-up fabrications which were spread by word of mouth to the point they assumed the veneer of credibility, and newsmen began pressing the Minister of Education for a comment. On a CyBC news show on February 6 the reporter said: “What is prevailing right now, and this may be slightly populist, is the expression used in the play ‘I don’t give a shit about my country, I don’t give a shit about my ancestors’.”
Even the head of secondary education affairs at the Education Ministry Zena Poulli weighed in, stating that the play is inappropriate for students since it contains expressions such as ‘I don’t give a shit about History’.
A statement released by Rooftop Theatre read: “The script contains no such sentence. The script is available at several offices at the Education Ministry, and anyone can obtain and read it.”
Two days after this very denial, DIKO deputy Zacharias Koulias, a protagonist of the “ambient atmosphere”, made the following comment about a play he had never seen:
“Is it rapprochement to tell them you don’t give a shit about your country or the children? And how on earth can the Ministry of Education second the view that this constitutes an education? Are we to understand that Hellenism, which gave rise to democracy, justice and freedom, needs UNOPS or various other do-gooders, who are handsomely paid I might add, to bring us scripts and plays and try to educate us?”
For his part, EDEK’s Giorgos Varnava claimed that the funding received by Rooftop Theatre, which by the way was approved by the Planning Bureau, was “illegal,” while Falas linked the funding to the CIA. In a joint news conference with Koulias, Falas declared that “the last bastion of Cypriot Hellenism is under siege”. He went on to drop obscene innuendo about Lysandrou, to the effect that the plays she rubberstamps are “an attempt to equate the aggressor with the victim, nurture subservience, tarnish national identity and encourage sexual relations with young settlers who are laying siege to our high school.”
These vulgarities were broadcast by the state news agency, while Falas’ ravings were afforded extensive coverage by the CyBC on both its noon and evening news bulletins. By contrast, the statement released by Rooftop Theatre was completely ignored. Among other things, that statement said: “In a society and an education system that are plagued by violence, racism and dogmatism, it is a sad fact that certain members of parliament and of the press have manifested such a level of passion on a mere play.” The group expressed wonderment at claims of CIA involvement and of illegal funding, pointing out that USAID has been funding projects in Cyprus since 1974 with the government’s approval.