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Cypriots Question EU's Motives Behind Bailout

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: And I'm Joanna Kakissis, in Nicosia, Cyprus. For Marinos Pourgouris, a literature professor at the University of Cyprus, waking up to a seemingly normal life as his country faced bankruptcy was a kind of torture.

MARINOS POURGOURIS: We can still go to the cafe and have coffee. We still wake up, and nothing has happened. We think - we imagine we're going to get paid at the end of the month, but everything around us, the media, is reporting that our world is going to end.

KAKISSIS: The world did not end with today's bailout deal, which will save Cyprus from immediate bankruptcy, but will also kill an economy that took 40 years to build. It's an economy based on foreign investment, and it turned Cyprus into a regional banking center.

But eurozone leaders - especially the loan paymaster, Germany - said that this banking system was bloated, and it had to be cut down. They imposed limits on cash withdrawals, and also insisted on taxing those with more than 100,000 euros in the bank, which is about $130,000.

Marinos' wife, a clinical psychologist named Yianna Ioannou, wondered if the eurozone wanted something else, like lucrative natural gas reserves recently discovered off the island's coast.

YIANNA IOANNOU: The whole situation makes us paranoid, right? So we start thinking: What are they after? Is it natural gas? Do they really want those big depositors to go to German banks?

KAKISSIS: Yianna never thought she'd feel this way about the European Union. When Cyprus first joined the EU in 2004 and adopted the euro in 2008, she and Marinos thought their tiny country of less than a million people would be protected.

IOANNOU: The metaphor is that it's a family. It never really felt like a family.

POURGOURIS: A very dysfunctional family.


IOANNOU: Yeah, if it's a family, it's very dysfunctional. I mean, the power dynamics inside the union have been obvious from the very beginning. It feels more like a game, and Cyprus is a pawn - to me.

KAKISSIS: The couple is couple is expecting their first child next month. They're worried if the new bailout deal kills the Cypriot economy, they won't be able to support him.




KAKISSIS: Later that evening, they stop at the home of friends who are also anxious. They are Michalis and Christina Xanthos, who both work at Laiki, or Cyprus Popular Bank. The bank is going to be dissolved as part of the new bailout deal.

Michalis has worked at Laiki for 20 years - his entire adult life. He was planning to use the bank's generous pension to pay for his children's college education. Now that's gone.

XANTHOS: I feel like the whole Cyprus has been unfairly treated, and I am unfairly treated. And I have a family, two children, and we have structured our family and our life based on this job.


POURGOURIS: Christina says she hasn't been able to sleep all week. She worries that she and her husband won't be able to find new jobs now that they're in their forties.

CHRISTINA XANTHOS: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: My parents lost everything when Turkey invaded their village in the north of Cyprus in 1974, she says. They started over in Nicosia and worked so hard to educate us and help us establish our lives. We worked hard, too, and thanked God we had our jobs and homes. And now, just like that, she says, we're scared that we're going to lose it all again. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Nicosia, Cyprus. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.