Cyprus bailout: 'If the Russians leave, the island will be destroyed'

For many businesses, the wealthy expat community is the lifeblood of their local economy

Nicosia

As the drama unfolded in the parliament building in Nicosia, thousands of protesters assembled in nearby Lena Stylianou Square to express their disgust at the situation Cyprus now finds itself in. Chanting “Troika get out!”, the demonstrators were kept several hundred metres from parliament by riot barriers and lines of police, while on the other side of the line dozens of news crews and journalists were reporting on what was taking place inside.

Amid the crowds Marina, a 44-year-old housewife, said she wanted Cyprus to avoid retracing Greece’s footsteps: “We want a referendum, the government must fall and allow us to decide on what we want.” Her friends agreed. “Look at what happened to our neighbour [Greece], we don’t want to become like them.”

Kostakis, a 60-year-old public servant, also roundly rejected European help. “We prefer to help our country by lending our money straight to the state. They can return it in a few years with interest – it beats becoming a colony of the Troika.”

Inside parliament, the opposition party leader echoed the sentiment of the crowds. “Why should we accept our entry into a vicious circle of uncertainty which will lead to worse measures? Why accept a measure that has never been accepted anywhere else?” asked Communist leader Andros Kyprianou.

He also demanded a list of all the names of depositors who had withdrawn their savings from bank accounts in the run-up to the controversial Eurogroup summit that decided on the stringent deal. Rumours had been spreading on the island that a number of politicians and foreign dignitaries had removed their assets from financial institutions in recent weeks.

Earlier in the day, the Cypriot Finance Minister was landing in Moscow to explore alternative options with the island’s long-time Russian allies. Many Cypriots fear losing their close links with the Russian expat community should an eventual bailout deal come down hard on those with the largest bank balances on the island. An increasing number of Russians are now resident in Cyprus and their activities provide work to many: from large companies to small shops. Imposing mansions and fancy designer shops in the capital are evidence of this recent financial boom.

One of the island’s most important law firms deals largely with Russians. Vassiliades & Co said its clients had almost all said they will move their deposits as soon as financial institutions in Cyprus open again.

“We have the exact same amount of Russian interests in Cyprus as in the South of France, but the EU doesn’t seem to be that preoccupied by that,” said Chris Vassiliades. He added that most of his Russian clients are thinking of transferring their funds to France. “We are trying to appease them as at the moment nobody really knows what will happen.”

“If Russians leave Cyprus, the island will be destroyed,” said 40-year-old George.

Elias, a Cypriot who owns a mini market in the heart of Nicosia, sells products that range from Vodka to jams and sausages to the Russian community. “If they leave, I might as well close my shop. What’s the point of buying this stuff if I can’t sell it, other than outright catastrophe?”

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