‘An unpredictable Marxist’
A new word has been recently added to the rich Greek vocabulary: “Varoufakism.” It is linked to the former controversial Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, who has now become the center of ferocious attacks by almost everybody, Greek or not Greek. He is accused of failing to realize what the new leftist-led Syriza government had promised to the Greek people and was elected for: a better deal for a new aid-for-reforms package that would get the Greek economy back on track after a terrible five-year period of austerity.
The elections of Jan. 25 brought to power the leftist Syriza, who, after failing to win an absolute majority, had to cohabit with the small conservative nationalist party of Independent Greeks who, too, campaigned against new austerity measures.
Against mounting frustration and hardship and before the catchy enthusiasm that this new government actually had a “whole new set of ideas that could do the trick,” this unlikely political bond was swallowed by most as long as the government stood on its feet in terms of the parliamentary majority.
Varoufakis, a professor of economics and games theory, became the second most popular man after PM Alexis Tsipras when he was appointed finance minister to head the negotiations with Greece’s creditors – the IMF, ECB and the eurozone. Greece’s central problem was the economy, so all eyes were set on Varoufakis’ negotiation skills. His impressive CV and his uncompromising flamboyant, cosmopolitan style filled people with hope that he had secret cards up his sleeve that other conventional academics did not have.
An “unpredictable Marxist” by his own description, Varoufakis was already known among the supporters of Syriza as a theoretician with clear and clever solutions. His convincing analysis of the faults of today’s economic system, on the role of the banks, etc., was pumped to his audience mainly through his packed social media accounts and through his books.
In order to serve his country, Varoufakis had to return to Greece from the United States and give up his post as visiting professor at the University of Texas and “economist in residence” for the video game Valve Corporation. He had left or taken leave from his previous post at Athens University after becoming frustrated – as he claimed – at not being able to organize his department as he wanted.
He jumped into the international stage a few days after his appointment during a joint press conference with his Dutch counterpart and the head of the eurozone’s finance ministers, Jeroen Dijsselbroem, when he declared that Greece would not sign a new austerity package unless there was a settlement or a write-off its public debt, which he insisted it was unsustainable.
It was during those first days of the Syriza-led government when Varoufakis’ “unpredictable” style of negotiations was launched – with the backing of the Greek prime minister. After positions and tactics that ranged from intentional delays to “creative ambiguity” – another of his terms now part of the Greek vocabulary – Varoufakis dragged the negotiations on for five months, only to end in failure. Of course, his argument has been that during the five months of acrimonious negotiations, the Greek side put forward concrete proposals, but it was the creditors who wanted to kill a leftist government.
In a desperate move with banks now under capital control and with the state coffers about to run out, the Tsipras government managed to get almost 62 percent backing in a national referendum where Greeks confirmed that they did not want more austerity but wanted to remain in the euro. Varoufakis was asked to resign.
In a subsequent stormy parliament debate a few days later, Tsipras got an overwhelming majority of votes authorizing him to go back to Brussels and renegotiate to keep Greece inside the euro at all costs, even with the toughest austerity. Seventeen members of his party voted against him, among them two ministers.
And what about the former finance minister? He chose not to participate in the debate; he sent a “yes” vote by post to the parliament, while excusing himself for family reasons – thus effectively abstaining as his letter was invalid and he was later photographed by the swimming pool of his summer house on the island of Aigina.
Nobody knows if Greece will survive this weekend or if Tsipras can retain his position as the head of the same government. The partners of Greece keep on saying it was a “loss of confidence” that made them negative toward Greece. I hate to imagine their faces when the see the Aigina photos in their own press.