Cyprus Votes 'No' Against Austerity and 'the People' Cheer

Cypriot protesters take part in an anti-bailout rally outside the parliament in Nicosia. The banner reads 'Cyprus says no'. (Photograph: Yorgos Karahalis/Reuters)

Cyprus Votes 'No' Against Austerity and 'the People' Cheer

Plan to levy individual's bank accounts rejected

As protesters cheered outside, Cyprus's parliament rejected a bailout proposal from the European financial 'troika' that would have levied individual savings accounts held in the state's banks.

Though a small island country with relatively low impact on the wider European economy, the proposal put forth over the weekend caused a stir across global markets as fears of a bank run spread.

As Reutersreports:

The vote by the small state's legislature was a stunning setback for the 17-nation euro zone, after lawmakers in Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy had repeatedly accepted unpopular austerity measures over the last three years to secure European aid.

The rejection, with 36 votes against, 19 abstentions and one absence, brought the east Mediterranean island, one of the smallest European states, to the brink of financial meltdown.

EU countries said before the vote that they would withhold 10 billion euros ($12.89 billion) in bailout loans unless depositors in Cyprus shared the cost of the rescue, and the European Central Bank has threatened to end emergency lending assistance for teetering Cypriot banks.

But jubilant crowds outside parliament broke into applause, chanting: "Cyprus belongs to its people."

"The voice of the people was heard," said Andreas Miltiadou, a 65-year-old pensioner among the demonstrators.

The Guardian continues its live coverage of events in Cyprus here.

Answering the question "Why Does Cyprus Matter?" The Nation's Maria Margonis explains:

One, because this is the first time the EU and IMF have decided to take money directly from people's pockets rather than through the messy process of cutting wages and pensions and putting taxes up. You could perhaps read this as a tacit acknowledgment that austerity has failed, economically as well as politically: it's messy, it's unreliable, and it makes people vote for leaders who won't play the game, like Italy's Beppe Grillo. You could certainly read it as a sign of how profoundly Europe's leaders have lost the plot. Though the market meltdown predicted over the weekend hasn't materialized, howls of derision have issued from bankers and business leaders as well as Cypriot indignados: if guarantees on bank deposits aren't worth the paper they're printed on, if people's savings can be siphoned off by fiat, then the world as we know it, or at least the banking system, will come to an end. (It's worth remembering here that before the last Greek election a Syriza economist proposed tapping private deposits to fund public investment; he was pilloried as a dangerous radical who would destroy the principle of private property.)

Two, it matters because with both ends of the economic spectrum lining up against it, the latest Band-Aid offered for the ailing Eurozone looks more and more like a crowbar to help tear it apart. The European Union, a liberal project with the twin goals of preserving peace and solidarity and facilitating commerce, always had opponents on both left and right. As the crisis deepens and peace and solidarity drop out of the equation, those voices are getting louder, not only in Greece and Italy but in Scandinavia, where far-right parties are rising, and in Britain, too. The anti-immigration UK Independence Party beat the Tories to second place in a recent by-election. Cyprus, a former colony, is home to several thousand British retirees; the front page of the Daily Mail today denounces the great eu bank robbery. The financial "contagion" from the Cyprus bailout might be containable; the political fallout will be more problematic.

Three, it matters because the plundering of ordinary people's savings to bail out the banks lays bare more starkly than before where the real power lies. What price is democracy, when the European Central Bank's Jorge Asmussen can present an elected European leader with the choice to accept the deposit tax or we will let your banks go under, and your economy too? (And yes, I know that Cyprus has a bloated banking sector; I know its people elected the governments that chose to let this happen; I know it's a center for money laundering. But so are Switzerland and Luxemburg and the City of London, not to mention--according to the Basel Institute of Governance--Germany.)

Last but not least, it matters because Cyprus matters. Always in the cross-hairs of Great Power rivalries, betrayed by its former colonial masters, pushed and pulled by the politics of its neighbors Greece and Turkey, the island has struggled for decades to shape its own destiny. When the crisis hit Greece a couple of years ago, a Cypriot friend wrote to me, "Don't bring us down with you, the way you did last time." She meant 1974, when the junta in power in Athens launched the coup in Cyprus that sparked the Turkish invasion that split the island in two. Cyprus's fall this time is due in part to its exposure to Greek bonds, which were given a short back and sides last year by the same financial wizards who have hatched this latest plan.


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