Argument with a Dutch friend on Cyprus

It was typical Monday morning: I was in a coffeeshop reading the news while outraged at some distant injustice. On Monday, I was angry at the European Union for forcing small depositors in Cyprus to contribute to a bailout. I expected my friend to be outraged with me, to show some sympathy with my anger, but she started parroting some of those German ideas about how Northern European countries are shouldering all the corrupt, lazy Southerners and Russian money-launderers.

And true, the North can make many legitimate complaints about the South, but there seems to be a prevailing notion in the Netherlands and Germany that their bankers were completely innocent in this global financial crisis. Beyond the contempt at German politicking during this electoral year, I have started to sense a punish-all attitude that may tear the European Union apart.

Simply put, it was wrong of faceless bureaucrats to ask for money from private depositors; and small ones too, to greater outrage. As I sat in the coffeeshop, Petra asked me: “You seem so concerned, it's almost as if you have money in Cyprus.”

I don't, but many economists have already come out talking about how the European Union has now informed the world – and especially depositors in troubled Eurozone economies – that deposits are not wholly inviolable, something which could in a future crisis spark panic and bank runs. But it didn't matter to Petra, she insisted that it was time the Southerners started taking their own finances into account.

It's been a few days, and Petra has now changed her mind. She's seen how this has affected and will affect many innocent depositors. Whereas before she criticized “Russian money launderers,” she now admitted that it's best to let “99 guilty man go free, than for an innocent one to languish.” Clearly this has been a PR failure for the EU.

I told her: “Well, it's not like you've changed politics somehow. You and I once had an argument about squatters and I remember you had very strong opinions on the subject. You called it, 'getting something for nothing.'”

I had once told Petra that I wanted to squat some rich guy's unused home. I wasn't serious, but I wanted to see how she reacted. She almost came short of publicly denouncing me as a communist and ending our friendship. I cited common law, and how ownership was not something absolutely guaranteed by law. “There should be no people without homes, no homes without people; especially if it's a rich guy's abandoned apartment,” I argued until we eventually agreed to disagree on the right for someone to squat under certain conditions.

In the squatting and banking arguments I began to notice a massive ideological rift in Europe. There is an increasingly socialist class in the south of Europe that rejects modern banking, while an industrial, capitalist North will go to any length in order to preserve the status quo.