Head of Cyprus's Orthodox church urges exit before eurozone collapses
Archbishop Chrysostomos II says single currency will not last and appeals to Russian investors not to flee the island
Miriam Elder in Limassol
The Guardian, Sunday 24 March 2013 15.13 EDT
The powerful head of the Orthodox church in Cyprus recommended his country prepare to abandon the euro as talks on an EU bailout came down to the wire.
Archbishop Chrysostomos II endorsed the position, increasingly popular inside Cyprus, alongside an appeal to Russian investors to continue banking with the island despite the threat of a government raid on their deposits.
"The euro cannot last," Chrysostomos told Realnews, a Greek newspaper. "I'm not saying that it will crumble tomorrow, but with the brains that they have in Brussels, it is certain that it will not last in the long term, and the best is to think about how to escape it.
"It's not easy, but we should devote as much time to this as was spent on entering the eurozone."
Anger with the European Union has been steadily growing as Cypriots blame Brussels for failing to agree the bailout needed to save the country from financial collapse.
The archbishop's comments carry considerable weight on the island, and
not just because of his religious position. More than just a spiritual haven for Cypriots, the Orthodox church is the country's biggest landowner and a major investor in everything from hotels and construction to a brewery. It also holds a majority stake in Hellenic Bank, Cyprus's third biggest.
Last week, the church said it was prepared to mortgage its properties in order to contribute to saving the island's struggling economy.
Chrysostomos said in a second interview, published on Sunday, that he would appeal to rich Russian investors not to flee the island. A proposed levy on accounts over €100,000, designed to contribute to underpinning of a tranche of the bailout worth €5.8bn (£4.95bn), would hit foreign investors particularly hard. Russians are believed to hold nearly half of all deposits in Cypriot banks.
An estimated 50,000 Russians live on the island, taking advantage of its favourable financial infrastructure as well as close cultural ties between the two countries. Most people in Russia and Cyprus are Orthodox believers.
Chrysostomos said he would host a dinner on Thursday for the heads of Russian businesses active in Cyprus in an effort to convince them to remain on the island despite the growing uncertainty, the Greek newspaper Kathimerini reported on Sunday. "He went on to say that Cypriot people have got used to living comfortably, and should now learn to live on tighter budgets as well," the newspaper reported.
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