A Soviet cosmonaut on a Mediterranean island: Cyprus and its place in the world in the 1960’s

My friend Nikos, who is revising his PhD thesis for publication, asked me to look up a publication by the AKEL (Anorthotiko Komma Ergazomenou Laou, Cyprus’ main left-wing party), the AKEL News Letter (yes, “newsletter” is written as two words on its title), that can be found at the International Institute for Social History. I’ve been going through the first issues of this newsletter, those published in 1961 and 1962 (the very first issue appears in March 1961), and I have to say that even with a very superficial look they are very, very interesting, on more than one levels.

One can very clearly see AKEL’s enthusiasm for the development / “modernization” of Cyprus, a very young Republic at the time (the island only attained independence from the UK in 1960, as a result of the 1959 London – Zürich agreements). It is also very clear how AKEL sees Cyprus’ place in the world; one constantly comes across items that have something to do with other former colonies (or still ongoing anti-colonialist struggles), with the countries of the non-aligned movement, and from countries of the socialist bloc – in this last category, a special place is reserved for the U.S.S.R. These items concern news from / on these countries, declarations of solidarity from “the Cypriot people”, and announcements or accounts of cultural events.

Here is a list of relevant pieces from the 1961 and 1962 issues of the AKEL News Letter – all relevant pieces whose titles feature on the contents page of the newsletter, along with some short pieces that do not feature on the contents page:


“Cypriot-Soviet friendship association formed in Nicosia” (March 1961)

“Cyprus’ reaction on the Soviet cosmonaut” (April 1961)

“’Hands Off Cuba’ campaign in Cyprus” (May 1961)

“AKEL’s statement on Kuwait”; “Youth of Cyprus sends food-stuff to Algerian youth”; “Soviet Film Festival in Cyprus” (July 1961)

“A parliamentary delegation visit the U.S.S.R. and Rumania”; “Cyprus celebrates new Soviet achievement”; “AKEL’s statement on Tunisia”; “Peasants footbal and basketball teams and youth visit the Soviet Union” (August 1961)

“Cyprus at the Belgrade Conference” (September 1961)

“U.A.R.’s ambassador thanks AKEL for its solidarity to the Algerians.” (December 1961)

An excerpt from “Youth of Cyprus sends food-stuff to Algerian youth”:

A campaign of solidarity to the Algerian young people who are struggling bitterly against French imperialism for the liberation of their country, was organised recently by the progressive youth organisation of Cyprus, the “United Democratic Youth Organisation” (E.D.O.N.)

The November 1961 issue is exceptional, as it comprises all the following pieces:

“AKEL and the Congress of the C.P.S.U.”; “AKEL and Algeria”; “The 44th Anniversary of the Gt. October Revolution was brilliantly celebrated in Cyprus”; “AKEL salutes C.P.S.U.”; “Big reception of the Soviet Ambassador in Nicosia, on the occasion of the a great anniversary”; “Comrade Papaioannou on the 22nd congress of the C.P.S.U.”; “Exhibition of Soviet books, stamps and grammophone records in Nicosia”; “Solidarity of the workers and peasants of Cyprus for the Algerian people”; “A Soviet trade delegation arriving in Cyprus”


“Cypro-Soviet trade agreement signed in Nicosia”; “Cyprus and Yugoslavia sign trade agreement”; “Bulgaria will take part in the International Exhibition of Cyprus”; “Czechoslovak, Bulgarian and Rumania trade missions coming to Cyprus”; “A Rumanian football team in Cyprus.” (January 1962)

“Yuri Gagarin in Cyprus”; “Cypro-Bulgarian trade agreement”; “Cypro-Czechoslovak agreement on trade and scientific-technical agreement”; “Young members of P.E.O. granted scholarship by Bulgarian trade unions.” (February 1962)

“AKEL congratulates the Algerians”; “Pan-Cyprian peace council demands freedom for Gizenga”; “The Soviet Union buys almost the whole production of Cypriot raisin”; “The second Soviet film festival in Cyprus”; “Cypro-Polish trade act” (April 1962)

“The famous Bulgarian ballet group Mayiakofsky in Cyprus” (May 1962)

“The U.S.S.R. in the 9th international trade fair of Cyprus”; “AKEL congratulates Algerian people”; “Armenians in Cyprus return to Soviet Union”; “’Czechoslovac offer to help Cyprus still stands’”; “Cyprus peace delegation left for Moscow”; “Prominent Soviet scientists lecture in Cyprus”; “Soviet turists in Cyprus”; “Soviet cinema workers prepare a film on Cyprus”; “Cypriot peasants visit Bulgaria and Rumania” (July 1962)

“Situation in Cyprus analysed in Pravda by Cde Papaioannou”; “Cypriot people congratulate new Soviet heroes”; “Cypriot children holidaying in socialist countries”; “Permanent exhibition of Soviet products in Cyprus” (August 1962)

“Famagusta’s new harbour to be built by ‘Pol-Service’ of Poland”; “Ten new Bulgarian scholarships for Cypriot students” (September 1962)

“The cry ‘Hands off Cuba’ echoed all over Cyprus.” (October 1962)

“AKEL greets the C.P.S.U.”; “Brilliant celebrations for the 45th anniversary of the great October revolution”; “A Bulgarian evening in Cyprus” (December 1962)

Special mention should be made to the item featured with the title “Yuri Gagarin in Cyprus” (February 1962). It comprises the following sub-titles:

“A terrific welcome by the whole people”; “In Nicosia”; “With President Makarios”; “With the Foreign minister”; “With the President of Parliament”; “With the Vice-President”; “Official dinner at the Presidential Palace”; “A hero’s welcome at the stadium”; “Yuri receives freedom of Cypriot cities”; “Yuri with the Turkish Cypriots”; “Reception by the Soviet Ambassador”; “Press conference”; “’Good bye’ to Yuri”

This is the first part of the 7-page special, which draws a very vivid image of Gagarin’s arrival in Cyprus:

Yuri Gagarin in Cyprus

A terrific welcome by the whole people

Never before in the history of Cyprus has a man been so heartedly and enthusiastically welcomed by the whole people of Cyprus, Greeks and Turks, as Yuri Gagarin, the Soviet Cosmonaut.

The first Soviet spaceman, arrived at Nicosia airport on Wednesday February 14, at 7 p.m. for a three day visit, as a guest of the Cypro-Soviet Association. Unlike any other day of the previous few days which were sunshined, Wednesday was a wet day, raining all day long.

But despite the bad weather, and despite the fact that the time of his arrival to Cyprus was changed the last minute from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., over 800 busses, cars, lorries etc., and many thousands of people from all parts of Cyprus were at Nicosia airport giving Yuri Gagarin a hero’s welcome as he deserves.

Representatives of the Cyprus Government, the Soviet Ambassador, all the members of the Secretariat of the Party with Comrade Papaioannou, Mayors and M.P.s, were all there to greet the Soviet spaceman.

Young Cypriot girls dressed in national costumes, as well as children were embracing and kissing Yuri presenting him dozens of bouguets with roses and other flowers.

The huge crowds greeted Gagarin with the words “Yuri – Friendship – Peace”, and words were repeated all the time, while Yuri was at the airport.

As the guest of the Cypro-Soviet Friendship Society Yuri Gagarin was greeted by the Secretary of the Organisation advocate Mr. Ph. Clerides, who expressed on behalf of the whole Cypriot people his admiration for the great achievement of Yuri and the Soviet science, and also his joy, and gratitude to Gagarin for accepting the invitation to visit Cyprus.

Replying to Mr. Clerides, Yuri Gagarin said that he was glad for the oportunity to visit Cyprus. Referring to this flight in to space, Yuri said that “space must be conquered for peaceful purposes” and that his flight to the space as well as the flight of his friend Titof serve the interests of peace and progress”.

In Nicosia

Nicosia is only about four miles from the airport, but it took Yuri about one hour to reach it. He drove in an open car, and he drew tremendous applause wherever he passed.

Big crowds stormed his car time and again from the airport to Metaxes Square, where a solid mass of many many thousands of people of all classes and ages, were waiting to greet him.

Cyprus has been part of the Ottoman Empire, part of the British colonial empire, a bi-communal independent republic established after an anti-colonial movement that demanded union with Greece and deepened ethnic and political divisions in Cypriot society, and a divided island. It should gain the place that it deserves in comparative historical studies of important international phenomena of the 20th century.


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