I had forgotten about Cyprus. I suppose it was lodged somewhere near the back of my mind as a cheap British Mediterranean satrapy usefully divided into two: a southern bit, where our chavs went on holiday, and a northern bit where our criminals hide out from the filth. I was dimly aware that we had allowed them, some time ago, to go their own merry way and that since had followed a predictable descent into barbarism, yet another Ottoman invasion and some sort of coup effected by the useless Greeks. And that’s it, really. I know too that over the years Cyprus has been owned by almost everybody, from the Romans to the Knights Templar and various dissolute rich Venetians, and that almost all of these administrations were preferable to the one they have now, which is as one of Germany’s string of bitch-slapped client states within the democratic, accountable and uniquely successful European Union.
I think I knew that they were in the EU, the southern bit, and were thus now trading in euros rather than goat dung or whatever, and desperately miserable, impoverished and angry. I suppose it was also in the back of my mind that if the country had any sort of economy, probably based almost entirely on selling lager and condoms to young people from places like Rotherham and Sittingbourne, it would be now be utterly wrecked as a consequence of misbegotten EU membership. But it certainly hadn’t occurred to me that their own government, having been urged to do so by the EU troika and the International Monetary Fund, would attempt to rob its people of their savings. Still less that all this would annoy Russians. Something new every day.
The decision to relieve Cypriots of up to almost 10 per cent of their savings to underwrite a loan designed to keep this hilarious edifice the EU afloat for a few more months and bail out their own banks was, as Vladimir Putin put it, ‘unfair, unprofessional and dangerous’. More than that, though, it is straightforward theft and the Cypriots have reacted in what I consider to be an entirely appropriate manner, i.e. driving JCBs into the front of the banks in order to get their money out right now, screaming abuse about EU politicians and their own cowed government, and declining to give the plan a single vote in parliament. In a forlorn and failed attempt to make this theft more palatable to both the Cypriots and the rest of the world — which reacted with astonishment and some alarm — the government and the EU has tried to imply that the action was aimed squarely at its Russian savers, whom, they added, were all money-laundering drug-running mafiosi, and so it’s all right.
There are lots of Russkies in Cyprus and some of them are thickset and rather forbidding men wearing heavy gold jewellery, accompanied by sharp-cheekboned, tarted-up little blonde minxes from Novosibirsk. But only 40 per cent of the various bank customers are Russians, and surely not all of them can be criminals. Either way, I suppose we will know how angry the dispossessed Russians are if Angela Merkel starts glowing like a Belisha Beacon in the next few weeks. The brunt of the theft, whatever way you look at it, would fall upon ordinary Cypriots — especially those stupid to have saved up more than €100,000.
And so the Cypriots are the next to cop it for having fallen for the honeyed promises of the EU; allowed into the institution when they should not have been as a consequence of delusional optimism from the, uh, gatekeepers. The sums never stacked up, of course. Cyprus was no better placed than Greece (or Italy, or Spain, or Portugal. Or, while we’re on the subject, France) to accommodate the cultural changes which, unspoken, attended to membership.
Venetians and Ottomans they have experienced aplenty in Nicosia over the years, but they have never enjoyed the firm smack of self-denying Calvinism, the odd but economically advantageous ideology that work is good in and of itself, and the more work the better, and that when you’ve worked, and received your pay, you save it. A bizarre philosophy, when you think about it. Greece, incidentally, considered itself part of the First World until very recently; it is now regarded by economists as an ‘emerging’ or ‘developing’ country. Like Turkmenistan, then, or Zambia.
Meanwhile, from Reggio de Calabria in the south to Oporto and Bilbao in the north, southern European mattresses are about to start bulging with hastily liberated cash. If I were an Italian or a Spaniard, I would be in the queue at my local bank branch this very minute, gnawing my fingernails down to the quick. There has not been the slightest indication from within the EU that what has been tried in Cyprus will definitely not be tried elsewhere. Or at least there has been no explanation as to why the same thing won’t happen in Italy or Spain.
Even if there were some sort of guarantee to this effect, I think it would be about as effective as a statement of financial soundness from the Greek finance ministry. You see, they will do anything and everything to keep this project afloat, no matter if it puts the entire population out of work and then robs them of their savings. The more you see the destruction across Europe, the more one is inclined to agree that the EU needs a bullet in the back of the head.