By Angelos Anastasiou
THE world’s eyes may have been turned to Philoxenia centre’s Jean Monnet conference room in Nicosia on Thursday afternoon, but the 200 protesters outside cared very little about the European Central Bank’s interest rates, Mario Draghi’s grand plan of monetary expansion, or the impact of the press conference on the global economy.
They were members of the Capital Securities Association, a group of people who unwisely invested a lifetime’s savings in bank bonds that were wiped out during the 2013 banking meltdown. They have been demanding restitution for their losses since but have enjoyed no breakthroughs yet, and the future looks far from promising for them.
Held about 100 metres away from the Philoxenia building, courtesy of about a dozen police officers and an elaborate steel barrier keeping everyone at bay, some carried signs that read “the guilty must pay”. The crowd demanded entry to the conference room but were firmly denied by the leader of the police team.
“Why not?” they asked. “We just want to give them a written memo.”
But this was never intended to be a peaceful demonstration, and it was hard to believe that’s all they wanted. Regardless, they tried the ‘democratic right’ card again.
“A so-called democratic country refuses entry to citizens wanting to observe a public event, and a so-called democratic President posts armed [riot squad] MMAD to protect him from his own people?” one of the protesters yelled in an obvious attempt at getting the rest fired up.
President Nicos Anastasiades wasn’t there, but that mattered little to anyone, and the trick worked. The mob quickly got angry and started hurling expletives about Anastasiades and ruling party DISY’s leader Averof Neophytou, before trying to force its way through police lines.
That it would have been futile, as another police unit backed by the aforementioned “armed MMAD squad” was guarding the entrance to the building, seemed to make no difference to them.
But the mob’s thirst for violence quickly dissipated, when one of the policemen calmly engaged Association chairman Phivos Mavrovouniotis.
He eventually allowed five representatives in so they could deliver their memo.
Those left behind thought the number too small, and the violent mood resurfaced. One protester suggested storming the Bank of Cyprus headquarters “now that police are busy here”.
“We’ll beat the security guards and force our way in.”
Another yelled that instead of wasting their time outside Philoxenia, they should be pulling all-night protests outside Anastasiades’ house, along “with our grandchildren”.
“Just so that his own grandchildren, and his wife, can witness the pain he has caused,” he said.
Neither proposal had many takers, so everyone settled on walking the couple of kilometers to the Nicosia-Limassol highway and staging a sit-in, blocking traffic. This method of attracting publicity appears to be a favourite with the Association’s members – they have already used it twice, ignoring the fact that neither time appears to have helped their cause. It would seem they adopt the “no such thing as bad publicity” doctrine.
But what was particularly striking about this group was that outside the context of their capacity as failed – or deceived, depending on outlook – investors, these are perfectly ordinary people, everyday middle-aged men and women, the friendly kind you might meet in any village “kafene” in Cyprus.
Approaching the steel police barrier, however, seems to make their faces contort into a militant mask, raise their voices to an incomprehensible screech, and fill them with self-righteous rage.