Cyprus, it’s all Greek to me
By Yorgos Karahalis
I’ve been working in the media industry since 1986 and I can’t recall the last time Cyprus, the small divided Mediterranean island, attracted so much attention since the 1974 invasion by Turkey, which stills keep the island and its residents separated.
A decision by the European Union for a “haircut” on deposits in all Cypriot banks made the country one of the top stories in the region and across the world. Various scenarios for Cyprus’s financial meltdown appeared everywhere.
After the vote by the Cypriot parliament, who delivered a loud ‘No’ to the proposal to seize depositors’ money, and the government’s decision to close banks all over the island to avoid a bank run, the idea of a violent uprising started gaining traction. The capital Nicosia, with its population of just 300,000 people, saw journalists, TV crews, photographers and famous analysts drinking coffee on the pedestrian Ledras street in the old part of town.
The tiny Eleftherias square at the end of that street was occupied by TV crews who were preparing for the big day – the day the banks would reopen. “There will be blood”, the title of a film starring Daniel Day Lewis, resonated in my mind.
As a Greek photographer who has been through all the nasty riots over the last two years since the crisis broke out in Greece, I could not see any signs of the forecasted Cypriot version. Many Cypriots consider themselves Greeks. They share the same National Anthem, they are Orthodox and of course they speak Greek.
So after 10 days and a few sporadic anti-bailout peaceful rallies, the banks reopened at 12:00 on Thursday, March 28, 2013. It took just a few hours for the rest of the world to realize that there would be no blood at all. After a couple of hours the small, calm lines outside the branches disappeared, just like they were never there at all.
There was no rioting, no invasions of banks and not even one went up in flames! And that was it!
The next day most journalists started packing up their belongings and arranging their flights home.
I’m writing these lines on board the plane back to Athens. The sunny weekend on Ledras street was just what some might call “boring”, with Cypriots and tourists flocking the cafes and the restaurants of the old town. The street remains untouched, without iron fences outside its banks and its shops, and with not even a single burnt shop.
I’m still trying to figure out how it’s possible to consider yourself a Greek without Greek behavior. The media left town, depositors lost a lot of money and Cypriots did not destroy their capital – weird story.