NEPOMAK, UK, the youth section of the overseas Cypriots association, caught up with Marina Yannakoudakis, London’s first MEP of Cypriot origin, about her interests and passion for politics
Tell us a bit about yourself?
My father came to the UK in the 1940s, and later met my mother, who came over in the early 1950s. Like most Greek Cypriots of the time, I grew up in a home where parents played traditional roles.
Every Saturday I would attend the Greek school, and I went to Sunday church. My father came from Rizokarpasso and my mother from Nicosia, and we would spend the summers with my mother's family. My grandfather was the headmaster of the high school in Nicosia where there was a large boarding school for the students. The boarding school was empty in the summer so the whole family would stay there each year and we always had a wonderful time. In those days they had coca cola in bottles and I remember the van coming to the house and depositing boxes of coke! It was a real treat as we were not allowed to have coca cola when we were in the UK.
When I was 11 things changed, my grandfather died and the trips to Cyprus stopped and were replaced by trips to Greece. My mother found it too painful to go to Cyprus after she lost her father. My love of the Island, and the happy memories I have of the time I've spent there remain very much a part of my life. Like many children of immigrant families I remember watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding and thinking it brought back many memories of our big family.
What first sparked your interest in politics?
I believe politics is based around community needs and I have always been involved with my community. From my school days, through university, to motherhood I have always worked to improve the communities I have been a part of. At university I was chairman of the Hellenic Society when it was first founded, I was also chair of the Federation of Conservative Students and a member of the students Executive. Later on I became a local councillor, and when my family life allowed it I stood for the European parliament. In life much of what we do depends on timing, and your circumstances at that particular time. Whilst I love the political work I do, particularly as I deal mainly with human rights, my family is my top priority so my political "career" has always been bound by my family commitments
Why are May's European Parliamentary elections so important?
These elections are important for the reasons I have already mentioned, but it's also important for the Cypriot community because we only have one candidate of Greek Cypriot origin standing. So if we, as a diaspora, want our voice heard I would ask you to turn out and vote on May 22. The European elections rely on a system which ranks candidates within each political party. Therefore to vote for me, you vote Conservative rather than directly for my name, however the issues I deal with in Europe are often not so much party lines as points of fact. I would encourage young Cypriots to get involved as we need to have our community's voice heard in all parties and all political arenas. The wonderful thing about my constituency of London is its diversity, and what the richness of this diversity adds to a debate must not be underestimated.