Content creator in search of political content

Content creator in search of political content

“How wonderful would it be to have a job where I could do nonsense and get paid,” thought Cypriot Fidias Panayiotou five years ago. And that’s how his YouTube channel was born.

A week ago, this channel secured him a seat in the European Parliament, and an unexpectedly great performance with 20% and third place, just a breath away from Cyprus’ two traditional major ruling parties. Not bad for a person who decided to vote for the first time in his life.

One month was enough for the 24-year-old – who admits to being politically illiterate – running as an independent, to humiliate the decades-long mainstream parties’ mechanisms.

Fidias did not take a position on any political issue during his campaign, saying that if and when he would be elected, he would learn everything.

“Personally, I was tired of the [political cliches], tired of listening to political promises that are not kept, tired of all this pretentious seriousness,” he said, among other things, when he officially submitted his candidacy at the end of April, dressed in a jacket and bow tie, with his priest father at his side.

“I heard somewhere that if you are not satisfied with the things around you and you want them to change, you have to be the change,” he noted, adding that he chose to be independent because he could not fit into molds.

These days, he is doing special “tutoring” preparation sessions with former Cypriot MEPs (always with his camera), packing his bags for Brussels, and says he might even try to form his own group in the European Parliament.

Cyprus is now stunned, trying to explain the political phenomenon in terms of post-politics and de-ideologization, but also the deep aversion to the traditional parties. What is certain is that it is now almost impossible to hear any politician, journalist or analyst speaking offensively of Fidias.

‘I’m going to be a YouTuber’

Born and raised in the village of Meniko, the child of a large family, son of a priest, Fidias started his “revolution” when he decided to pursue a career as a YouTuber. Without any studies, after being discharged from the National Guard in 2019, he began to travel the world at zero cost, asking strangers for money. In 2021, after the pandemic, he went to America to meet other famous YouTubers and get the necessary know-how. In 2021, he participated in a challenge by the American millionaire YouTuber Mr Beast and managed to win a Lamborghini worth $300,000. Beast gathered 50 people and told them to touch the luxury car. Those who got tired and stopped touching it were disqualified. Some 70 hours later, the Cypriot YouTuber won, after using imaginative ways to meet his basic needs.

His big virality, however, which has sent his career skyrocketing, was the mission to hug his idol, Elon Musk, the billionaire owner of social media platform X. He finally succeeded, after camping for months outside the X headquarters and bombarding Musk’s mother and other company officials with messages. He has repeatedly stated that Musk is his favorite person and role model, and he used Musk’s quotes in his campaign.

He now has about 2.6 million subscribers to his channel, which he says earns him about 50,000 euros a month.

He has set himself various challenges: to be buried in a coffin for 10 days with a snake for company (and his camera), to survive in an airport for a week without a single euro, to marry a stranger in 24 hours, to try the most dangerous extreme sports.

Last year, however, he caused negative reactions when he tried to travel to India and Japan without paying while begging for money, especially when he posted videos of traveling on public transportation in Japan without paying for tickets. Many related videos were later removed from YouTube.

‘They are mocking us’

Suddenly, just before the presidential elections in Cyprus, Fidias started a second YouTube channel with Cypriot content, and reappeared as a journalist interviewing presidential candidates (a model also used in national elections in Greece). He managed to interview 12 of the 14 candidates, except from the two main ones, Nikos Christodoulides and Andreas Mavroyiannis.

Fidias did not take a position on any political issue during his campaign, saying that if and when he would be elected, he would learn everything

In January, he took on another challenge: running for the European Parliament. His main goal, he said, was not so much to get elected, but to get as many people as possible registered to vote in Cyprus. “Let’s mess them up,” he told his audience, because “they are mocking us.” “One night I said, ‘Stupid Fidias, if you don’t vote and don’t get involved, the same dummies will always come out,’ and I said, ‘Enough.’”

On a TV show, wearing three ties, a suit and shorts, he presented his candidacy, admitting he had no idea about politics or the European Union, but claiming he was ready to learn. “I have decided to make my small contribution with the influence I have,” he said. “We will all go on a journey together and learn about Europe and politics together in the coming months.”

Crumbling party system

As Vasiliki Triga, associate professor in the Department of Communication and Internet Studies at the Cyprus University of Technology, explains, Fidias has some special characteristics that make him particularly lovable: his humble background, his disarming honesty, and the fact that he seemed to have made huge strides in the last six months.

“He repeated with disarming honesty his main argument, something the parties did not understand, that he was tired, the voters were tired of seeing exactly the same things and nothing changing: the Cyprus problem, high prices, housing crisis.

“While Cyprus also went through a crisis, the dismantling of the party system is coming at a delay. In Greece, but also in other countries that went through an economic crisis, the party crisis followed much more immediately,” says Triga. The power of the traditional parties has been gradually eroded and is now half of what it was a decade ago. Cyprus does not have a culture of protest, as was evident during the deposit haircut in 2013.

“It was a country that had learned to obey authority, and suddenly, during the coronavirus, we had protests where garbage cans were burned, Molotov cocktails were thrown,” she notes. “That means something is changing, people are angry, and this was a way to vent. I don’t know if this will act therapeutically, calming them down.” At the same time, analysts point out, there is a transitional period of de-ideologization, and even in the election of President Nikos Christodoulides, who ran as an independent, his rhetoric was quite communicative and less ideological, with a creative ambiguity about political hue.

“The parties continued with ‘business as usual’ in these elections and did not have a substantial message or proposals for Europe. Fidias is an apolitical person and he himself said, ‘I have no positions,’ but the parties that should have had positions did not have them either,” says political analyst Christophoros Christophorou.

Fiona Mullen, director of Sapienta Economics, a Nicosia-based consultancy, notes that the message that political parties ought to take from this is that they need to use modern democratic techniques to engage voters and make voters feel heard.

“However, I suspect that they will not. So, my fear is that they will treat the risks to the future of established parties in the same way that they treat the risks to the future of Cyprus if there is no solution to the Cyprus problem,” she says.

As she points out, the parties know deep down that if they don’t change, their future is bleak, but at the same time they are too afraid to do things differently.

“It will be like a slow train crash. Eventually they will hit the wall and complain that they did not know that the disaster was coming.”

Fidias’ slogan during his campaign was “Enough with the parties,” emphasizing his independence, and he has also referred to Turkish Cypriots as “our brothers” – language that is certainly different from ELAM’s. In the end, he was voted for by everyone: young and old, from all parties.

“The best mission that can be assigned to him is to be used in something he knows, to attract young people,” says Triga, describing how these days on Cypriot TikTok, how cool it is to be an MEP is trending.

“I can’t predict anything for Fidias, he may get bored, turn mainstream, he may become something else,” she adds. “I don’t think I see a future for him in politics, but you never know.”

The far-right factor

Political analyst Christophorou points out that Fidias’ election “is a political earthquake for Cyprus, but it does not overturn the political and party system.”

“What is overturned is the order of the parties. Fidias’ success is that he managed to completely overshadow the rise of ELAM, the offspring of Golden Dawn, which to some extent even lost support because of Fidias. There are many who vote for ELAM, not because of ideological affinity, but as a reaction, and they eventually turned to Fidias.”

Fidias’ campaign had no partisan characteristics. He had said that he comes from a nationalist family and had served in the special forces unit. He had mentioned that as a student, six or seven years ago, he had participated in ELAM rallies, more due to family influence. However, he never got politically involved there.

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