Ahead of critical deadline, Cypriots hit the ATMs and lash out at Germany

With the banks closed while the Cypriot government and Europe try to hash out a bailout plan, people lined up to get what money they could from the ATMs -and to vent about the crisis.

Petros Giannakouris/AP
People queue at an ATM outside a closed Laiki Bank branch in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, on Thursday. The European Central Bank says it will keep emergency aid for Cyprus' troubled banks in place at least until Monday, but will have to cut it off after that unless an international rescue program is drawn up.

Anger at Europe – and the lines in front of local ATMs – are growing in Cyprus, following a hard deadline by European Central Bank (ECB) officials that would cut off vital funding to Cypriot banks if the country's leaders do not come up with a plan to raise 5.8 billion euros by Monday.

The ECB yesterday that if Cyprus did not determine an acceptable way to raise the 5.8 billion euros called for by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund by Monday, it would end the emergency funding that is keeping the big banks here in operation.

And while the warning sent Cypriot governmental officials into action, it also sent dozens of Cypriots to line up at ATMs to get what money they can before Monday's deadline.

"You're really at loss when you can't get to your money. It's a very strange feeling," says Andri Ioannou, an unemployed man waiting in one of the many queues around Nicosia.

"My dad owns a restaurant and it's hard for him to even buy basic supplies. We're running out of cash, no one takes checks anymore and few people take cards from Cypriot banks. We're waiting for this situation to be resolved so we go on with our lives."

With the bailout uncertain, Cypriot banks have been closed for four days in a row amid government fear that depositors will try to empty their accounts and spark a bank run. Internet banking is disabled, no credit cards are being accepted, and wages are not being paid. Local ATMs still work, but with a daily withdrawal limit of €400 ($518). Rumors have spread in Cyprus that Laiki, one of the major local banks, could be on the verge of collapse.

Maria Anagnostou, a pensioner from Greece also waiting to make a withdrawal, plans to make the trip to the ATMs daily. "A year back, when there were rumors on a Greek default I brought my savings here. Now, I risk of losing them all, so I'm withdrawing money everyday to save as much as I can, and I'll keep withdrawing until we see what happens."

Like many of the populations most hard-hit by the eurocrisis, Cypriots blame Germany for their predicament. Some reports say the German government was a key proponent of the now rejected bailout "tax" on Cypriot bank accounts. The Germans have taken a hard line on the Cypriot crisis, largely due to fears that a bailout of Cypriot banks would mean underwriting Russian oligarchs who account for at least a third of the deposits in Cypriot banks.

In recent days, the German government has warned that, if no deal is made, major Cyprus banks will collapse, wiping out people’s savings.

“I think it is unclear if the Cypriot banks will be able to open again,” Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaueble told German television station ZDF Sunday.

Cypriots says Germany has it in for them. Over the weekend, protesters demonstrated outside the German Embassy. At one point in the protests a man managed to get inside the German Embassy, took down the German flag, and threw it to the rest of the protesters below him, which the police later collected.

"The Germans want outright to take our money," says Antonis Constantinou, a taxi driver in Larnaca. "They didn't like it that the Russians were bringing their money here so they are trying to scare them away, push them to go to Switzerland or Liechtenstein."

Ms. Anagnostou also doesn't accept the argument about Russian accounts. "Europe should change it's stance towards Cyprus. They say there's black money here. Isn't there money laundering being done in Switzerland and Lichtenstein? Why aren't they pressuring these counties?"

But Cypriots don't leave the local government off the hook either.  Giorgos Stavrou, a waiter in Nicosia, points out that President Nicos Anastasiades, who agreed to the bailout tax plan, won 58 percent of the vote in February's presidential election in part because he "promised not to take such drastic action."

Regardless of who's to blame, Cypriots remain unsure about what they can do.

"Well we can't take out our money and keep them at home," says Mr. Constantinou. "Then they'll get stolen from our homes. Who should take the money? Germany or burglars?"

Anagnostou plans to just keep withdrawing what money they can from the ATMs while she can.

"I don't know what I'm going to do afterwards," she says. "I might take [my money] back to Greece."

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of 5 free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.