I’ve never been to Cyprus but I’m told that it’s a pleasant enough place. Actually a few years ago I used to have a Cypriot personal trainer called Tasos whose voice still echoes in my ears if I’m tempted to give up on some weight-training challenge. “Come on, you can do it! Just a bit longer!” Tasos will be with me always because he has a permanent place in my head.
We used to think of banks as permanent too. Some of us just wanted a place to keep our overdraft and to sort out facility bills whereas others had altogether grander ideas. Cyprus’ banks have both sorts of customers. There are the ordinary Cypriot people, people like Tasos and the worried woman in the photograph, for whom their bank account is their method of keeping afloat and then there are the others, mostly not even Cypriot at all, who just look for the latest hiding place for growing their wealth and hiding it from taxation or the eyes of their governments. I’m not accusing any Russians, of course, but it’s odd how many of them have accounts on this small Mediterranean island.
Cyprus, the uneasy foster child of Turkey and Greece, has had enough problems in its recent past but now, it has both Russia and Germany on its back too. We’re talking austerity cuts again of course. Frau Merkel, the strong person of Europe, is insisting on cuts in exchange for a European bail-out of the Cypriot economy and the Cypriot government has, unfairly, decided to take it out on all of its citizens, rich and poor, by raiding their bank accounts. Germany is sticking to its guns and Russia is now threatening to take investment revenge on behalf of its, allegedly, innocent rich Russian investors.
The poor woman in the photograph and her compatriots are being stung in what is becoming a familiar story. The bankers and international financiers mess up the world economy by their unregulated behaviour over the last twenty years, a dangerous mix of incompetence and greed, and now governments are trying to make amends with a variety of often unsuccessful economic measures that, if the UK, is anything to go by, appear to be failing. As is so often the case, when times get bad, it’s the ordinary people who suffer the most. This is what’s happening in Cyprus.
Later today, the Cypriot parliament is to vote on this policy of authorised bank-raiding. I hope it will reject the idea so that, not only the ordinary people of Cyprus, but the rest of us, can relax again believing that our banks are a safe place to put our money and, of course, to keep our overdrafts.
I’m hopeful for Cyprus. It was also, after all, the birthplace of Venus, the goddess of love. Let’s have a little more love and a little less Russian money-laundering, and who knows what might happen in that sun-kissed island. A country, no matteer how small and struggling, shouldn’t live off the immoral earnings of a few Russian oligarchs. “Come on, Cyprus!’ as Tasos would say, “You can do it!” The trouble is, of course, that these poisonous international financiers may leave Cyprus but they’ll soon be somewhere else. Look out Latvia!