Every visit to Cyprus is like a punch to the gut to me, because it reminds me of what Greece could be like if it was free of its hang-ups.
Take education, for example. With the consensus of the left, Cyprus established private universities, some of which are quite exemplary, resembling good European and American institutions, and making significant strides. Today, thousands of Greeks are studying in Cyprus, along with young people from China, the Middle East and Russia. Cyprus’s private universities generate hundreds of jobs and boost the economy.
Over the past 20 years, many major foreign universities have wanted to do something similar in Greece, but to no avail. A golden opportunity was lost when Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis was prevented from amending Article 16 of the Constitution and now Greece is littered with dozens of colleges of negligible quality, with just a few shining exceptions. As a result, Greeks pay thousands of euros a year to send their children abroad, even though we have the talent, manpower and geographical position to become a major private education hub in the broader region. Instead, we are consumed by our petty ways, continuing to support vested interests at universities.
Another area of interest is attracting wealthy foreigners who want a residence permit for a European Union country and are ready to invest, mainly in real estate. Cyprus chose an easy and practical model by which to achieve this and is now constructing buildings that will sell at more than 10,000 euros a square meter.
Greece’s effort to this end has been lackluster and requires a ton of paperwork from the brave potential investors. If Cyprus can fetch such prices, then how much could a flat on Athens’s beautiful southern coast fetch? Or the berths at the country’s marinas? And how many thousands of jobs would be created?
No, we prefer to consign the capital’s coast to a camp/hellhole for refugees and migrants. As for our marinas, we just let municipalities, ministries and port authority funds bicker over them so that various opportunists can swoop in.
So why has Cyprus succeeded where Greece continues to fail? Because Cypriots are practical-minded and their politicians can agree on the basics. Because it has a working state and every investor knows what lies ahead. And because Cypriots wake up every morning to the Turkish flag across the Green Line, spurring their self-preservation instinct.