Nicosia: Patient Cypriots formed orderly queues and waited in the sun for their banks to reopen after nearly two cash-starved weeks on Thursday as a feared bank run turned into a “bank stroll”.
Cyprus authorities had imposed tough capital controls to stop people draining their accounts, but some people were even depositing money instead of withdrawing it following the closure of the banks on March 16.
The calm held despite a few branches opening later than the scheduled time of 1000 GMT, with packs of foreign journalists, who in some cases outnumbered those in the queues, showing more signs of agitation than residents.
Kyriakos Vourghouri, owner of a minimarket, waved a yellow deposit slip showing an amount of 678 euros ($869) as he emerged from the bank.
“I didn’t withdraw any money. I deposited money,” he told AFP. “The problem is not in Cyprus, it is in Europe, which has become gangrenous.”
Thursday’s reopening time was finally announced late on Wednesday after repeated delays, and from about an hour before the doors swung open dozens of people were queueing outside banks in Nicosia.
Armed guards were posted outside many branches while tellers, who unlike in other European countries are not housed behind glass security, urged customers not to vent their frustrations on them.
Guards dished out Greek-language copies of a government decree imposing limits on how much of their capital they can touch, including a daily 300-euro withdrawal limit.
“It will be a very bad day — there will be swearing and a lot of anger,” unemployed electrician Philippos Philippou said as he waited outside a branch of Cyprus’s number two bank, Laiki.
But when he later emerged, Philippou flashed a smile and said: “There is confidence, everything was fine.”
By late afternoon there were no queues and people were entering banks freely. Most were withdrawing money or paying utility bills.
“I will not say it was a difficult day, it is the whole situation that is difficult,” Pambos Michael, a manager at a Laiki branch in Ledra Street, told AFP.
He could not say if there had been more customers than on a usual day, but stressed that the main difference had been a large crowd had arrived at opening time.
“In 1974 we survived the invasion of Turkish troops and we will survive again,” he said. “This whole thing is a disaster but I am sure we will come out of it in a matter of time.”
Many Cypriots stayed away altogether, saying there was no point in queueing.
“I’m not going to the bank today. I have to be in the shop these hours. There’s going to be queues so I’m not going to spend so many hours there to get 300 euros,” said Roula Spyrou, 50, a jewellery shop owner.
— It’s a German union to destroy us’ —
But along Makarios Avenue, where many designer shops and cafes had already closed as the island’s debt crisis intensified, stores remained mostly empty.
Under a deal agreed in Brussels on Monday, Cyprus must raise 5.8 billion euros to qualify for a 10-billion-euro bailout from the “troika” of the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.
In the first ever eurozone bailout to involve a levy on investors, those with more than 100,000 euros in the Bank of Cyprus (BoC) and Laiki face losing much of their money.
Laiki will be wrapped up and largely absorbed by the bigger BoC.
Many customers were angry with the EU, particularly its economic powerhouse Germany.
“Yesterday my house, tomorrow your house,” said one man.
“It’s not the European Union, it’s a German union to destroy us, everyone wants to destroy Cyprus,” said one kiosk owner. “It’s the first time I feel like this since 1974.”
Vourghouri predicted that Germany will be the biggest loser because Chancellor Angela Merkel “ignited the fire.”
A German tourist couple in central Nicosia said they felt bad about the way Cyprus had been treated.
Asked about the anger towards Merkel, they replied: “She’s making us angry as well and we hope by October she’ll be out.”
As they walked off, they joked that they would say they were from the Netherlands if anyone else asked.