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Cyprus economic meltdown: Build a socialist alternative to austerity
Although the media circus has moved on, the economic situation facing the population of Greek-speaking Cyprus is now even more dire.
Niall Mulholland, who has recently visited the island, reports on the challenges facing the working class and the Left organisations in particular.
The weather in Cyprus at this time of year is warm, with a refreshing breeze blowing over the island. The same pleasant balance cannot be said about the economy, which is in meltdown.
Last March, the Cypriot government, led by President Nicos Anastasiades, agreed to a €10 billion bailout package with the 'Troika' (International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and the European Union).
In return, Cyprus was told it must raise €5.8 billion. The agreement saw bank depositors with more than €100,000 face big levies, hitting many small businesses.
The country's second largest bank, Laiki Bank, was closed down and its €9 billion worth of debts taken on by the Bank of Cyprus.
After a two-week closure, banks reopened on 28 March but with strict controls on the amount people can withdraw each day.
But, as if this was not bad enough, last week the already stunned and angry Greek Cypriots were told that the bailout had ballooned from €17 billion to €23 billion.
Cyprus has to find €6 billion more than the €7 billion mooted when the preliminary agreement was reached on 25 March.
President Anastasiades' right-wing government had already decided to impose swingeing austerity measures, bank closures, property taxes, privatisations of the three most profitable semi-state sector companies (electricity, telecommunications, and ports), and many sector job losses.
They are even considering selling part of the gold supplies of the Central Bank, worth €400 million.
Political scandal surrounds the government. Anastasiades has been forced to strenuously deny that he knew a legislative bill was being prepared for the deeply unpopular 'haircut' of all bank depositors prior to the European Group meeting in March.
Popular anger is aroused by reports that insider information enabled the rich to take out millions of euros from bank deposits before 15 March.
Officially the Cypriot economy is due to fall by 8.7% this year and by 3.9% in 2014. But many economists believe there will be a 10% fall in 2013, and a plummet of anything between 15-25% by the end of next year.
The government tries to dampen popular opposition to austerity by claiming the measures will not be as harsh as previously planned because some privatisations will be pushed back to 2018, there will be fewer cuts in education and the repayment of the bailout loans will start after ten years and will take 12 more years (in total, Cyprus will, in effect, be under the control of Troika for the next 22 years).
But this is cold comfort to the working class and middle classes who face years of austerity, job losses or emigration.
Unemployment is already sitting at 14%. 'Social markets' (modern soup kitchens) are springing up everywhere.
Working people also expect that, like Greece, the Troika will be in Nicosia every few months, demanding a new wave of cuts in return for bailout conditions.
The newspapers are full of despair. It is generally felt that the crisis is the worst since the 1974 Turkish army invasion.
The trade unions and Left need to ensure they lead mass struggles against austerity or there is a danger that nationalist forces and even the far right will gain the initiative.
This needs to include deepening relations with working people in North Cyprus, who have suffered their own austerity cuts for years, as well as developing common struggle with the working people in other countries of southern Europe that are hit by the Troika's austerity policies.
So far, apart from organising some protests during the March crisis, the unions have given no real lead.
The right-wing unions are in talks with the government about 'managing' the crisis. The Left unions, linked to Akel (Greek Cypriot communist party), rhetorically oppose cuts but do not call for any firm action.
Members of New Internationalist Left (CWI, Cyprus) participate in a broad campaign against austerity initiated mainly by forces affiliated to Akel, the 'Movement Against Privatisation and Austerity', but criticise its lack of a fighting programme.
The economic crisis is deep and will only get worse. A radical alternative must therefore be posed.
If the unions and Left fail to resist effectively, other populist, nationalist 'anti-austerity' campaigns can make headway.
Unlike Greece, which, in effect, has suffered 28 years of austerity, many Cypriots are unprepared for the very hard landing ahead after years of economic boom.
But looming class battles will radicalise more and more Cypriots in the next months and years.
In anticipation of coming struggles, the New Internationalist Left puts forward a socialist alternative.
This includes repudiating the debt, nationalisation of the banks under democratic public control and management, opposing privatisations, breaking with the bosses' euro, and for the public ownership of the key industries and major utilities, to enable the economy to be democratically planned to serve the needs of the majority, not the profits of bankers and the speculator minority.
A new powerful Left needs to be built in Cyprus, with the aim of forming a government based on the needs of working people.
The situation facing Cypriot society is desperate; only a bold, socialist, internationalist programme can resolve the crisis in the interests of the majority.
In The Socialist 1 May 2013:
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