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Cypriots' New World Marred With Uncertainty


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. We've been watching events in Cyprus all week. It's the fourth eurozone country to receive a bailout but it's come at a high price, including a heavy tax on big deposits, as well as strict cash controls, and a major bank closure, which have probably destroyed the country as a regional financial center. That has made many Cypriots wonder if the price of staying in the eurozone may be too high. Joanna Kakissis joins us on the line from Nicosia. Joanna, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: Very dramatic couple of weeks, obviously, in Cyprus. How do the Cypriots with whom you've had a chance to speak feel about the bailout agreement?

KAKISSIS: I suppose if I could use one word it would be traumatized, because their world essentially changed from one day to another. They're not even sure what the consequences of this are going to be yet because they feel like everything is still all up in the air.

SIMON: Joanna, who do they tend to hold responsible?

KAKISSIS: You know, a lot of Cypriots blame themselves that they should have seen this coming and held politicians accountable for the country's mess. They also blame Greece because Cypriot banks invested heavily in Greek bonds. And a lot of people feel especially bullied by Germany, which is, of course, providing most of the eurozone loans. Just a couple of days ago, I met a woman named Angela Panagiotou, and she works at Laiki Bank, which is going to be closed down. Angela and her husband both work at the bank. They have five kids and a mortgage. So, she feels very unfairly treated. So, here she is.

ANGELA PANAGIOTOU: I have never had an arrear on my loan. And I have never borrowed more than I could pay. Why is she punishing us for being legitimate?

SIMON: And she is Angela Merkel in Germany?

KAKISSIS: That's correct. And Angela Merkel in Germany has become somebody that a lot of people have said, why are you doing this to us? She has become a figure of a lot of mistrust and I would even say hate.

SIMON: Do people still want to stay in the eurozone?

KAKISSIS: President Nicos Anastasiades says yes. But, you know, many Cypriots are really skeptical now. They know how disastrous exiting the euro is going to be. You know, it's inflation, they import so much and those imports would be prohibitively expensive if they left the euro and returned to the Cypriot pound. But they feel like the eurozone just destroyed them by dismantling their banking system, which has been the heart of their economy for the last 40 years. Earlier this week, I met this couple, Marinos Pourgouris and his wife, Yianna Ioannou. He's a literature professor and she's a clinical psychologist. They used to live in the U.S. and moved back to Cyprus. Marinos says that what happened in Cyprus, that this big hit on the banks, should scare everyone else in the eurozone. And he says it's about trust.

MARINOS POURGOURIS: I don't know how they can fix it and I don't know how they, politicians, economists, you know, can convince people elsewhere in Europe that their money's not threatened. And for us it's totally gone, that trust in the system. Whatever was there in fact, is gone.

SIMON: Joanna, what's ahead for Cyprus in the weeks and months?

KAKISSIS: Well, you know, that's still unclear. Everyone's still waiting to see how this is going to shake out because the banks just reopened. There's very little fuss. People were expecting a bank run but people were actually quite calm. I should say that the Cypriots are also very resilient. Yianna, the clinical psychologist who's married to Marinos, the professor, she says Cypriots have been through really, really tough times before, like, you know, the 1974 invasion by Turkey, which devastated the country and actually divided it in two. And she sort of only half-jokingly said that she'd rather live off the land instead of living in this constant state of fear and uneasiness with some of this eurozone drama.

YIANNA IOANNOU: We'll plant some vegetables. We'll be fine. We'll survive. No matter what, we'll survive.

SIMON: Voices from Cyprus given to us by Joanna Kakissis. Joanna, thanks very much for being with us.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome, Scott. Nice talking to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.