Thursday, March 19, 2009

Cypriot heroes who fought for Spain

by Theo Russell

ALMOST 70 years since the end of the Spanish Civil War, around 60 people gathered last Sunday in London for the launch of an important new book on the conflict, Spanish ThermopylaeCypriot Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-39 by Paul Philippou Strogos, a second generation British Cypriot whose father, a lifelong AKEL ( Progressive Party of the Working People of Cyprus) militant, fought in Spain.
Photos Kouzoupis, who chaired the meeting, recalled that at that time “Cyprus was a colony of the British Empire, under the military law and dictatorship of Sir Herbert Richmond Palmer the colonial governor”.
The Cypriot people faced acute social and economic hardship and the Communist Party of Cyprus, founded in 1926, had been banned by the British authorities following the “October uprising” in 1931.
Against this background, with a population of only 350,000, the Cypriot contingent in the International Brigades ranks among the highest percentage of volunteers for Spain of any country.
Introducing the book, Paul said that “although the Republic was eventually defeated… the contribution made by the Cypriot volunteers amongst all the estimated 35-40,000 volunteers from 63 countries who served in Spain, has never been forgotten by the people of Spain.”
Those volunteers traveled from Cyprus, Britain, the United States and many other countries. In Britain most were active members of the Communist Party of Great Britain and the League against Imperialism, as well as organising within their own community. “It was a natural progression for them to join the more that two thousand men and women who heard the cry for help that came from Spain,” Paul said.
“Today,” Photos said, “we ask ourselves, why did these young men and women of Cyprus participate in the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War?” In answer he quoted Ezekias Papaioannou, a volunteer in Spain and General Secretary of AKEL from 1948 to 1989:
“True to the best traditions of their Greek forefathers, the heroes of the Greek War of Independence (1821), the Cypriots rallied to the support of Spanish democracy and independence, realising that a defeat for the Spanish people would have meant world war. On the Spanish battlefields was being decided the fate of Europe, and with it that of Cyprus. They recognised fascism as the greatest enemy of humanity and volunteered to help crush it”.
Photos also recalled the words of volunteer Michalakis Economides: “Every generation has its challenges. The cry of the thirties ‘Peace is indivisible’ is as true today as it was then. Indivisible also is the rule of law, democracy and above all the territorial integrity of nations. Partition is the filthiest crime of the age. Countries are cut in two to serve the requirements of imperialism”.
Some of the Cypriot volunteers lived to receive honorary Spanish citizenship in 1996, the 60th anniversary of the civil war, but the Republic of Cyprus has yet to recognise this heroic episode in Cypriot history.
“Today with this modest ceremony for the book launching our presence is a minimum respect and tribute to the heroic Cypriot volunteers of the International Brigades of the Democratic Army,” Photos said. Those present remembered those comrades by standing for a minute’s silence.

Spanish Thermopylae, published by Warren & Pell, can be obtained from Bibliagora , price £14.99.
photo:Paul Philippou (centre), Photos Kouzoupis (speaking), and Dr Niki Katsiaouni, Cultural Counsellor of the Cyprus High Commission.

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