'I spent it all. Thank God I did!' Relief for now in Cyprus – but pessimism still reigns

Fears for jobs, banks and other industries are high

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The Independent Online

Sitting in the back of his brother’s photography shop sipping strong coffee and apportioning blame for the bleak situation Cypriots find themselves in, Andreos Yeros is willing to concede that his compatriots are not entirely without fault.

“Sure, we’ve made mistakes – money used to come to us like that,” says the 62-year-old, waving his hands in the air. “Our banks were full of money – all the billions the Russians brought. I didn’t have to go to the banks – they would come to us... People had three, four cars. We wanted to live like kings, buy big houses. But now we will pay the consequences.”

Mr Yeros says he once had “millions” – he did not specify how he came about it – but spent it all. “Thank God I did!”

As banks reopen, people are wondering what lies in store for future generations. “I lived a good life, but I’m thinking about the future, about my two sons and my girlfriend, who is 27. What will happen tomorrow?” asks Mr Yeros.

Andry Lambrou is also worried about her son. But the loans the 47-year-old housekeeping manager took out were not spent on flashy cars and large houses.

When her children were 8 and 13, Mrs Lambrou’s husband died. The only silver lining was that the life insurance meant she could buy her home. So she threw herself into work, putting in shifts night and day to save for her children’s future. She recently used her house as a guarantee for a loan to pay for renovations on her son’s property. She put the €120,000 in the bank – and now has no idea when she will be able to access it.

“They should first confiscate the villas, big bank accounts, and then take from the ordinary Cypriots,” she says. “Whatever I had is something I had worked for.”

At least, she says, she has a job. Unemployment in Cyprus is 14 per cent. Economists estimate that could soar over 25 per cent. Initially, there will be job losses at the banks which are being restructured. More will go in offshore banking, while many smaller business will struggle to survive as financial institutions reign in loans.

Patrick Antoniou, 50, thought his spell of unemployment was behind him. He had a few business ventures, but ill health meant he was back on welfare of €600 a month. Then he found out his family owned land on the holiday island of Paphos, which he estimated to be worth around €600,000. But before he had a chance to get a loan to develop the land, the crisis hit.

“All the prices are going to go down. People can’t work, they will sell their property,” he says. “The economy is going to go down, down, down.”

Analysts predict the economy will contract by between 15 and 20 per cent in the next few years. No one knows when it will recover, with the EU deal requiring Cyprus to wind down offshore banking, one of its main sources of income.

“We sell only sun and our banking, which is finished,” laments Mr Yeros. Cyprus still has the sun, but yesterday no one seemed in the mood to notice.