By Karolina Tagaris and Michele Kambas
NICOSIA, March 29 In the end it was hardly even
a stroll, let alone the widely predicted run on the banks of
Commentators had been confident that as soon as the banks
reopened on Thursday at noon after Cyprus signed a rescue deal
with the European Union to stave off national bankruptcy, there
would be scenes of chaos.
The experts were right, but it wasn't the Cypriots causing
the pandemonium. Television crews from around the world crowded
into tiny Eleftheria Square in central Nicosia, the convenient
location of two of the capital's main banks.
If there were a dozen Cypriots waiting patiently to make a
withdrawal, there were probably twice as many cameramen, each
one as frenzied as the local people were calm.
Reasons for this fortitude are not hard to find in
conversations with residents of Nicosia, a sunny and welcoming
city with a vibrant cafe culture.
The Greek Cypriots describe themselves as more laid back
than their cousins in Greece, where the reaction to the
austerity decreed in their own EU rescue deal was mayhem on the
streets of Athens.
While a bomb did explode on the day the Cyprus banks ended
their two-week closure, the explosion actually happened in
Cypriots say that they have endured worse, harking back to
the war in 1974, when the island was divided after a Turkish
Jean Kelly-Christou, Editor-in-Chief of the Cyprus Mail, the
island's oldest newspaper, said people were drawing on the
lessons of the economic crisis that followed the war.
"I think most people are being pragmatic about it and
understand that demonstrations and anger might make things
worse," said Kelly-Christou, who is Irish.
A strict regime of restrictions on bank transactions,
including a daily limit of 300 euros on withdrawals, has been
imposed this week, in what is commonly described as an
Unprecedented in the short history of euro zone bailouts
perhaps - but Cypriots recall they had to endure years of
currency controls after the 1974 war.
In any case, much of the anger in Cyprus was probably
expended before the deal was done in Brussels on Monday.
An initial version envisaged levying a tax on all bank
deposits, large and small, and that infuriated small savers on
the island. The final agreement, which only hit those with more
than 100,000 euros in the bank, was better received.
The restrictions on bank transactions may also have helped
calm the mood. After all, if people can't withdraw more than 300
euros a day, it is difficult to have a full-scale bank run.
Most people do not have 100,000 euros in the bank in any
case and were taking comfort from the fact that deposits below
that level are protected by insurance.
Many of those waiting in line for the banks to reopen were
in fact elderly people who had run short of ready cash. They
said they were uncomfortable with bank cards and so unable to
use the ATMs that had remained in operation throughout.
Others probably realised that they had just as much chance
of getting their money later rather than on day one.
"We were planning to take our money out but we're going to
wait ... it's going to be chaos today," Constantina Economidou,
a civil servant, said on Thursday.
Others were equally resigned, or perhaps numbed by the
sensation that there were matters of high finance under way
which they could not do much about.
"The government hasn't told us exactly what's happening so
people don't know how to react. We're at a loss. Should I be
hopeful or worried?" said Patra Michaelides, 45, a teacher.
Theodora Kyprianou 72, who owns a souvenir shop stacked high
with unsold t-shirts, hats and souvenirs of Cyprus, said the
general calm when the banks reopened did not surprise her.
"We're civilised here - what did people expect?" she said.
"The problem isn't big - it's very big. But what can we do
about it?" she asked with a shrug.
There is also national pride at work. The president, Nicos
Anastasiades praised his compatriots for their maturity and
responsibility, while ordinary people said they had posted
messages on Facebook urging Cypriots not to give the foreign
media the satisfaction of seeing the country unravel.
"You may have the euros, but we have the culture," said the
front page headline in the daily Politis, above photos of people
queuing outside banks.
There have been street protests, but they have been limited
in scope and certainly not violent.
"Cypriots are non-violent by nature. Just take a look at the
vandalism and street protests in Greece. You have none of that
here. This is a completely different mentality," said political
scientist Hubert Faustmann of the University of Nicosia.
He said Cyprus was a small country, and if you took to the
streets in protest, "you could be taking it out on your
neighbour's brother in law".
"Also, there is a realisation that deep down, things were
not perfect here," he said of a country whose overgrown banking
sector was eight times the size of its economy.