As the banks opened in Cyprus…

I must admit I didn’t expect this. We are a people quick to lose our temper and even more quick to rail about injustice. But the reality was today that people queued, waited, did their thing in the bank, most of them getting the 300 euro they are allowed, and then left.

Banks opened at noon with police and private guards looking determined, but the queues were smaller than expected, barely more than 50 or 60 at the largest branches and barely 10 or 20 in smaller ones. By mid afternoon, there was no queue to speak of at most places.

But the main thing was people’s attitude. Many of them went into the banks to send 5000 euro to their kids studying abroad –one of the few transfers allowed under the restrictions. Others, mostly older depositors, went in to take cash as they have no credit or debit cards to get them by.

But most importantly (and surprisingly), people tended to let the older ones skip the queue, to wait patiently and to avoid pushing and shoving –a favorite pastime in Cypriot queues. Sure, there were some cases where tensions and voice rose, these were barely worth reporting, to the chagrin of local and foreign press looking for a Gaza-like riot to report in their media.

I’m not sure that this is a sure sign that depositors have calmed down; capital controls may have dissuaded people from trying to get their money out. But in any case, the day showed that the panic most of us feared, didn’t materialize.

This was an unexpected opportunity. As people didn’t, after all, break into the banks tow take what’s theirs, the government has an opportunity to take the long weekend (third in a row, I know…) to make its next moves and further calm people down. It also has the chance to move ahead with the more daring of moves that are still required of the Bank of Cyprus, such as (dreaded word!) downsizing.

The only ones who were completely out of tune, were as always the better off. The Church of Cyprus, probably the biggest business in the land, filed suit at the Supreme Court against the “violation of property” that came about from the absorption of current Bank of Cyprus shares into the banks’ debt.

Not the riot we were expecting
Not the riot we were expecting

Hitherto the most powerful of the largest shareholders in the largest banks (both now in trouble), the Church felt cheated when it was told it will have to give up its shares because it owns a business that failed. The Supreme Court accepted a writ freezing the move by which existing shares are used for the banks’ debt and replaced by newly issued stock owned by the depositors who are to be bailed in.

This is blindsiding people as well as the government, who stood proud by the unlikely Cypriot calm at the opening of the banks after two weeks. Good thing everyone in Brussels is off for Easter, otherwise we might have received a new upping of the ante.

In the meantime, the President will start negotiating with the Troika once again tomorrow, hoping to present a final deal to the Euro Working Group on April 4. The Church’s lawsuit appears to be the photo bomb of the day.

Well, their undying devotion to secular wealth, is for the Church of Cyprus what pedophilia is for the Vatican. They are now becoming a problem, even though the head of the Church had very publically put “his” property in the disposal of the President in order to help the country deal with the crisis.

But despite the rich odd man out and a few other Pharisees, the day rolled on much more smoothly than even the most optimistic ones among us expected.

None of this is over, of course. But right now, most Cypriots are willing to be humble and to stand thankful for small victories in what will be a very very long struggle.


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