No storm, only calm, as Cyprus banks reopen

When the doors opened half an hour late, customers formed a queue and waited their turns, dignified and orderly

A crowd waits for a branch of Cyprus Bank to open in Nicosia, Cyprus, yesterday, after almost two weeks of closure. Photograph: Angelos Tzortzinis/The New York Times

A crowd waits for a branch of Cyprus Bank to open in Nicosia, Cyprus, yesterday, after almost two weeks of closure. Photograph: Angelos Tzortzinis/The New York Times

 

Patience and perseverance rather than panic marked the sorrowful opening of Cypriot banks at noon yesterday after a 10-day holiday.

President Nicos Anastasiades commended compatriots for their “maturity” during this time of crisis.

Television crews and print journalists on an early-morning vigil outside the Laiki Bank on Nicosia’s high street, Makarios Avenue, were disappointed that customers were not forming long queues.

Laiki is due to be split and customers with less than €100,000 will be absorbed by the Bank of Cyprus while those with more, including Russians, could lose up to 80 per cent.


Business as usual
At the International Business Unit of the Bank of Cyprus, where foreign firms lodge and access funds, it was business as usual from 8.30am.

Stelios, who handles my accounts, read through the directive from the Central Bank before shifting funds from one account to another and transferring my April rent. “There is no limit on card payments to shops,” he said, “but you can cash only €300 a day.”

Three containers of euro notes had been flown in overnight. I asked the security guard whether any Russians with guns had turned up. He laughed and pointed to his comrade outside the door. “See, no guns, we don’t expect guns.”


Calm
At Laiki Bank back on Makarios Avenue, customers turned up at 11.30am, calmly mounted the steps, and waited while down the street at the Bank of Cyprus branch more than 20 customers, including six UN peacekeepers from Slovakia in uniform and blue berets, filed in through the door.

Police lurked in the shadows across the street in case of trouble while Arjun Saini, an Indian student of business administration and finance at Alexander College in Larnaca, complained of the delay.

“Last week my father transferred €2,100 for my fees. I must also show the High Commission I have funds in my passbook [which he opened to show lists of figures] so I can get a visa for my holiday in Britain.”


Dignified, orderly
When the doors opened half an hour late, customers formed a queue and waited their turns, dignified and orderly.

The line at the small Laiki branch in the Ayios Dhometios suburb was two or three people deep, swelling to six or eight during the lunch hour. The security man at the door, who hails from Russia, took his cue from clerks inside before letting customers enter one by one.

A handsome woman, hair bouncing on her shoulders, eyes flashing, strode up the steps. Seeing journalists hovering, she snapped: “I’m here to sort out my father’s fixed deposit. He worked 40 years and saved his money. Now some bureaucrats in Brussels want to take it away. It’s not fair. I’m sure the politicians got their money out. We trusted them when they said they would not touch deposits.”

The only Russian customer in sight was a young woman in black coming to draw her modest salary, promised to be paid on time. She left, striding briskly with €300 euro of her earnings. Tomorrow she can draw another €300 euro from the tellers or €100 from the cash point.

Fixed deposits manager Angelos Stylianou who had assumed the role of major domo, said: “Customers are coming normally for the end of the month. It’s always busy like this.”

As closing time approached, turn-over at the nearby Bank of Cyprus was brisk. Inside, the tellers, whose money and pensions are here, shared customers' misery. Three tearful women huddled together on a divan while a policewoman attempted to comfort them.

The weary manager said, “Though we close at six, we’ll be here till eight. Thank God, everything has gone smoothly today. What is happening is illegal, unethical.”