Jul 062015
 

By Michael Nevradakis99GetSmart
Reporting from Athens

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It was November 2011 when I had the opportunity to meet Yanis Varoufakis in person, for the first and so far only time. Upon the invitation of his close friend and promoter James Galbraith, Varoufakis was visiting the University of Texas, where I was studying, to give a talk about the future of the Eurozone and to present his new book. As the host of what was then a locally-produced Greek radio program (Austin Hellenic Radio), I attended Varoufakis’ talk in order to try to get an interview with him on site. And indeed, I did. “Be quick though, eight other media outlets are waiting to speak with me,” Varoufakis told me.

This quote made an impression on me, but is quite indicative of Varoufakis’ personality. His “rock star” status in the world of “anti-austerity” economics was already beginning to be solidified. That same period, Varoufakis made appearances on CBS’ 60 Minutes, on NPR, and on a number of other media outlets across the world. One year later, Varoufakis would be back at the University of Texas, apparently on Galbraith’s invitation, as a visiting scholar. His annual salary of $100,000 (which can be seen through publicly-available records, as the University of Texas is a state university), was more than what many tenured professors earn at the same university. But despite his burgeoning celebrity status, little did I imagine that just a few years later, he would become the finance minister of a Greece which was even deeper in crisis.

Flash forward to Sunday night: the resounding “no” vote in Greece’s dubious referendum on whether or not to accept the already-rescinded proposals of the institutions formerly known as the troika was now official. For many in Greece and also in the global left, which continues to amaze with just how unaware of reality it really is, this “no” vote was the beginning of a new chapter for Greece, a victory for anti-austerity forces led by the darlings of the global left, SYRIZA, with prime minister Alexis Tsipras and finance minister Varoufakis at the helm. Yet, it did not take long for that bubble to burst—for those who were paying attention. Soon after the “no” result became official, Varoufakis tweeted that Greece’s place is firmly within the Eurozone, adding that he would not permit the alternative, a “parallel currency,” to be instituted. No word, of course, about the true alternative which has always been on the table: a return to a national currency. Varoufakis then described the “no” vote as a “majestic, big YES to a democratic, rational Europe,” Tsipras then followed this up with a similar tweet of his own, stating that the voters of Greece responded to the true question at hand in the referendum by stating that they want a Europe “of solidarity and democracy.” Surely that was the exact thing grandma, grandpa, and the unemployed were thinking while filling out their ballot.

The “no” vote led to celebrations in Syntagma Square and throughout Greece despite the deep divisions which exist within Greek society and which remained apparent in the lead-up to the referendum and in the results. Just one day later though, Varoufakis did what he does best: grabbed the headlines, announcing (via Twitter) that he was resigning as finance minister. The timing, while seemingly peculiar to some, couldn’t be better: Varoufakis is exiting the government as a hero, a “leftist” and “anti-austerity” darling who surely has a bright future to look forward to on the lecture circuit, as an author and analyst, and perhaps even with a corner office waiting for him somewhere in Washington or Brussels.

Varoufakis is escaping at just the right time, as a few hours later on Monday, Tsipras was given the “green light” by the leaders of all of the political parties represented in the Greek parliament, sans the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), to come to an agreement with the “institutions.” Tsipras and other SYRIZA officials have, again, stated their repeated intention to keep Greece within the Eurozone. Tsipras and others, including Varoufakis, have never acknowledged the findings of their own government’s “debt truth commission,” which found that most of Greece’s public debt is illegal and odious and the repayment of which would be a violation of the Greek people’s human rights. Tsipras, instead, has stated his intention to follow the recommendations of the “good cop” (the IMF) in merely requesting a “debt haircut” of 30% and a 20-year “grace period.” Following Varoufakis’ resignation, Tsipras was said to be considering a broader cabinet shake-up which would include more “centrist” elements that would then continue negotiations with the creditors.

In case it is still unclear, the writing on the wall is as follows: Tsipras and his government are going hard for a new agreement that will not be popular, and which will not be much different from the proposals which Greek voters said “no” to. A new agreement perhaps not markedly different from the 47-page proposal submitted by SYRIZA prior to the referendum being called, which included the implementation of a primary budget surplus of almost 1% beginning this year (even though Greece is currently in deficit and would therefore need to cut its way back to a surplus), dozens of privatizations in a program that would continue well past 2020, making permanent many previously “temporary” taxes which SYRIZA had declared unconstitutional prior to the elections, and pledges to honor Greece’s debt commitments. And this time around, whatever the proposal is, either on the part of the government or the “institutions,” the Greek people won’t be given the option to say “yay” or “nay.” Notably, with the “vote of support” Tsipras received today, he has the backing of the same pro-austerity political forces—New Democracy, PASOK, To Potami, and the far-right Golden Dawn—which, until yesterday, were urging the Greek public to vote “yes.”

Varoufakis, in other words, is escaping the oncoming train wreck, and with good reason. But does that make him a hero? Anything but. Varoufakis is a master of rhetoric and doublespeak, a man who knows exactly how to tailor his message for the audience he is addressing, saying one thing to his “partners” in the IMF and in Brussels, and something different to the Greek people shaking his hand and patting him on the back on the street in Athens. Despite his carefully-crafted public image, however, there is much evidence which belies Varoufakis’ true intentions:

  • Soon after assuming the post of finance minister, Varoufakis proposed towards his partners in the Eurogroup the continuation of 70 percent of the previously-existing (and illegal) austerity measures, enacted by the unelected government of technocrat Loukas Papademos in February 2012 amidst tremendous popular protest and police violence.

  • When even the continuation of almost three-fourths of the austerity measures proved to be insufficient for the troika, Varoufakis capitulated, agreeing to continue all of the existing agreements “temporarily” (for an additional four months). He then returned to Greece and told the Greek people that this agreement consisted of “creative ambiguity.”

  • In an interview with the Associated Press in early March, Varoufakis flatly stated that he would “squeeze blood from a stone” to repay the IMF, which holds views that he “personally agrees with.”

  • Varoufakis ended up being true to his word: in late April, the Greek government issued a presidential decree (a practice which it had pledged prior to the elections that it would not continue) to essentially confiscate all remaining funds in the Greek Treasury, including pension, health, and education funds. These funds were then used to make the IMF May loan repayment.

  • In May, Varoufakis, along with economy Minister Giorgos Stathakis and then-lead negotiator Euclid Tsakalotos (who is now Varoufakis’ replacement as Finance Minister) hand-picked former World Bank employee Elena Panaritis as Greece’s new representative to the IMF. Panaritis’ impressive CV boasts of her accomplishments in pushing forth hundreds of privatizations in Peru and other Latin American countries, while she is perhaps best known for her role in promoting policies which became known as “Fujishock,” named after the now-jailed (on charges of murder and human rights violations) ex-president of Peru Alberto Fujimori. Panaritis is a former MP with PASOK, who has stated that she is “American, not Greek, and who voted in favor of the memorandum (austerity) agreements. Due to popular outcry, including from voices within SYRIZA, Panaritis eventually withdrew from her new post as IMF representative.

  • Prior to the July 5 referendum, Varoufakis kept stating his intention to “restructure” Greece’s debt, even though his government’s own “debt truth commission” found that the debt is illegal and odious. Varoufakis has not acknowledged this finding, talking only of a “restructuring.”

  • Varoufakis flat-out lied, in a radio interview on ABC Australia, claiming that Greece could not print drachmas even if it wanted to, that they were destroyed in the year 2000, the year before Greece joined the Eurozone. In actually, Greece joined in 2002, and to this day maintains an ultra-modern banknote printing facility in the Athens suburb of Holargos, one of six such facilities in the Eurozone, which is used to print 10 euro notes, and occasionally other denominations. Even if Greece did not have such a facility though, it could follow the example of dozens of other countries and simply outsource its banknote printing to outside firms, based in Switzerland and elsewhere.

  • Varoufakis, prior to the January elections, had his new book presented at the Athens Music Hall by television talking head Mbambis Papadimitriou of Sky TV. Papadimitriou is perhaps best known for stating his views that the previous New Democracy government should not discount a future governing coalition with a “serious” Golden Dawn, while Sky TV, in a sea of pro-austerity media outlets, waved the “yes” flag higher than most, providing exactly zero minutes and zero seconds of televised coverage of the demonstrations in favor of voting “no.”

  • Varoufakis, early in his tenure as Finance Minister, spoke of the need for the Greek people to lead an “austere existence.” He and his wife Danae Stratou then posed for a remarkably obnoxious photo shoot at their Athens penthouse, with a view of the Acropolis, for gossip magazine Paris Match.

  • Varoufakis has repeatedly repeated mythology about the crisis and the Greek people which is untrue: that “hard-working” European taxpayers are supporting Greece (when in fact, their money is being loaned, profitably, to Greece), while referencing the myth that Greece has the highest percentage of Porsche Cayenne ownership in the world, a claim which has been debunked but which remains remarkably persistent to this day.

  • Varoufakis has stated that his homeland is Europe, not Greece, and that he would like to see the formation of a “United States of Europe.”

  • Varoufakis has repeatedly claimed, falsely, that no country has ever not repaid the IMF. He has also stated that he prefers a “European solution” to Greece’s crisis, instead of following the example of countries such as Argentina.

As pointed out by analyst Wayne Madsen, Varoufakis has also been employed as an “economist-in-residence” for the Valve Corporation, closely linked to Microsoft and Bill Gates. He served for six years as an economic adviser to former Greek prime minister George Papandreou, who later dragged Greece under troika supervision after first ensuring that Greece’s debt and deficit figures were falsified (worsened) in order to provide the economic and political impetus for Greece to be dragged under troika oversight. The foreword to one of Varoufakis’ books, “A Modest Proposal,” was written by former French prime minister Michae Rocard, who has called for current European Parliament president Martin Schulz to be apppinted as European “strongman” and who has repeatedly warned SYRIZA to abide by the current austerity agreements.

It is clear that Varoufakis is not a hero or a man of integrity. If anyone is heroic, it is the majority of Greek voters, who in the face of an unprecedented media and political terror campaign, voted “no” to the European creditors’ proposals, even if the referendum itself is dubious in nature. Despite this though, Varoufakis and SYRIZA are receiving heroic treatment, proving once again how easily people are swayed and how easily they are satisfied by words, instead of by concrete actions. Greek voters may have courageously voted “no” to the proposals of the troika, but the ball remains in their court: will they keep up their resistance, or will they accept a SYRIZA capitulation and continue giving a hero’s welcome to a government which has sold them out?

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  21 Responses to “Greece Referendum: Syriza Didn’t Get The Message”

  1. Michael, your article should be read by the Greek and European propaganda claiming that the Tsipras/Varoufakis duo had a hidden agenda to take the country out of the Euro, which is not true, according to your report, which I happen to agree with.

    As for your dislike of Varoufakis, your bullet arguments are soft. You cant blame the guy for working with Papandreou when that was the austensibly best alternative for the country then to gain some experience. That he paused in his penthouse with his rich wife, well, why would you hold that against him. Bad taste for you and I, maybe, but Varoufakis should not be crucified because of that. What made a negative impression on me is his brash comment to you at the university of Austin.

    I don’t doubt that he could have served Greece better if he had a bit more humility with the European autocrats. Oh, well, maybe except with Jeroen Dijsselbloem, he is something else….

    • Once again you are very soft on SYRIZA and Varoufakis. Out of the 12 bullet points I listed, the ones you pick on are the Paris Match one and working with Papandreou (which in itself is inexcusable)? Come on. Do you have anything to say about the others? They are all backed up by facts and speak volumes about who Varoufakis really is.

      But some SYRIZA supporters are so blinded by their fanatism towards the party and its personnel that even if you shove the facts in their face, they’ll excuse them away. Then we wonder how Greece got into its precarious position. Denial and excusing things like this away. Oh, and being star-struck. People seem to be wowed by this guy when he doesn’t even know (or at least claims not to) that Greece has a banknote printing facility and forgets what year Greece joined the Eurozone.

      As for my “dislike” of Varoufakis: I don’t have anything personally against him. But I do hold in contempt anyone who lies to the public in order to win votes, going back on their word after they get their votes.

      • Well said and I agree with your analysis Mr. Nevradakis! “It is clear that Varoufakis is not a hero or a man of integrity. If anyone is heroic, it is the majority of Greek voters, who in the face of an unprecedented media and political terror campaign, voted “no” to the European creditors’ proposals, even if the referendum itself is dubious in nature”…

  2. Many interesting details in your analysis. How ever wealnesses abound:

    Twice you state that the July 5 referendum was “dubious” and do not explain why. This is simply not good enough for such a serious matter being addressed.

    It is good that Varoufakis is out of the picture if all that you report is true. With all the evidence you present it is difficult to see how he could ever have been called a hero or darling of the left. Maybe a neoliberal trickster?

    I agree that the heroes standing up to this debacle are the Greek voters but I do not think that you can assume or inducate, as you do, that Syriza will betray them. Nevertheless, at the end of your text you do leave the door open for Syriza and Tsipras to redeem themselves by at least toning down the austerity program.

    If Tsipras acheives a 30% “hiaircit” and kicks the can down the road for 20 years this is in a way a small victory. It depends how nuch hardball Merkel and Schueble play.

    Tsipras cannot even impy that he wants to return to eeh drachma as this would be a red rag to a bull as far as the creditors are concrened. He still has that oprion if he is forced into a position that he has to “drop his pants” and completely betray the referendum result.

    You do not even allow for the possibility that Tsipras will have to harden his own position after receiving 61.3% support for not accepting the conditions placed on the table by the creditors / trioka. He now has a mandate to do this but NOT accept worse conditions as you imply.

    My solution would be to declare the debt illegal and odious – as Rafael Correa did in Ecuador – and pull the rug out from the creditors, the troika and the whole neoliberal system.

    This tactic of making countries pay off debts that are much higher than they are in reality has been going on for years. In 1902, Venezuela had the same problem and eventually then revolutionary President, Cipriano Castro resisted a naval blockade by European powers and eventually renogotiated more favouravle terms some years later.

    You know as well as I do that debt based neoliberalism has its days numbered and this, combined with the derivatives bubble, needs to be burst so as to free billions of people from teh chains of debt slavery.

    • We agree on the big picture. To clarify, I go into much more detail about the dubious nature of the referendum in the first article in this series, http://99getsmart.com/the-truth-about-greece-syrizas-creatively-ambiguous-referendum/, published just a couple of days ago.

      Regarding Tsipras, it is difficult to see how he will harden his stance when he is currently publicly accepting the IMF’s positions re: the debt, over the findings of his government’s own debt truth commission. He also continuously reiterates Greece’s “place” in the Eurozone and refuses to entertain the idea of grexit. I do not think it’s because it’s a red flag, but because Tsipras, Varoufakis, Tsakalotos, etc. are on record as being pro-Euro. The new finance minister Tsakalotos does not believe in “national currency systems” (paraphrasing his own words). He also has zero connection to the mass struggles: he’s a product of British elite schools.

  3. So many critics of the Greek leadership give the impression of being totally ignorant of thinkers such as Sun Tzu and Machiavelli. Are they just telling fairy tales or is it possible that their strategies and advice can actually help the underdog slay a dragon? While perhaps sharing your antipathy for Varoufakis, both Sun Tzu and Machiavelli would have given the Greek ex-Finance Minister high marks for the way he conducted himself.

    • PS Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus would also have approved.

    • So that’s how we judge finance ministers now? On whether Machiavelli (not noted as a fan of the public will) would have conducted himself? The Varoufakis fans are really reaching.

  4. “Varoufakis has also been employed as an “economist-in-residence” for the Valve Corporation, closely linked to Microsoft and Bill Gates”

    While i generally agree with your message, above quote tripped by hatchet job alarm. As i know the gaming industry, i also know that apart from Gabe Newell (one of Valve’s founders) being a former Microsoft employee, no such link exists. Actually, Valve is a fierce competitor of Microsoft, having lately started to push Linux as an alternative to Windows.

    Next time you want to push an agenda please be more careful with your fact checking.

  5. Per European Treaties, the Greek Government cannot print currencies other than the Euro, and only with the approval of the ECB. As a consequence, no private printers such as De La Rue or Oberthur would accept a job for fear of loosing all contracts with the ECB and risk counterfeiting suits.
    Such “illegal” action must therefore be performed in secret and thus can only be contemplated within the printing works of the NBG, which the Government, at least so far, doesn’t control. The NBG Governor is a ex ND MinFin, and all his board is of the same side. Taking over the NBG consequently is very hard, probably requiring emergency powers. The Government may, and should, have some friendly insiders in the NBG, but there is so much that they can do through back channels.

    It is also probably true that the original printing plates for Drachmas are gone, so one has to redesign new ones. Again, this is something that can be done,but should be done in secret as it contravenes the law. So Varoufakis is not going to tell it, not any more than Dijsselbloem did tell it in 2012

  6. I think you misunderstand V a little. I’ve followed his career for sometime and know that he is not focused on Greece but Europe. As I understand it, he wants reform in Europe and begin to move the Euro Zone away from the domination of the financial sector and the Anglo/American alliance that seeks to define the value a society by the production of goods and services. More to the point, tha money is literally the ultimate moral value. V was hoping that social democratic forces in Europe would align with Greece’s efforts to create a more humanistic Europe. Clearly that is not unlikely to happen since anti-social democrats were able to move the debt in question from private to public hands thus giving themselves more than adequate political cover to make an example out of Greece so that the other PIIGS countries would take note that no debt is odious as we move full-steam ahead towards what appears to be a neo-feudal future for the globe.

    • When Varoufakis collaborates with the IMF, empties the country’s treasury in order to pay the IMF (which has already profited handsomely off of Greece’s misery), and nominates a sociopath largely responsible for the murderous policies of “Fujishock” as Greece’s representative to that very same IMF, then it is clear that Varoufakis has nothing to do with the left or with “social democratic forces.” He’s a trojan horse, an impostor, and his “rock star status” is completely unwarranted, but predictable–he’s on the same level as Obama in terms of milking his public image for all it’s worth.

  7. I’m sorry, what were your qualifications to pose any kind of critique of anything again?????

    • Host of a weekly Greek radio program for five years, numerous published articles and interviews in several reputable publications, bachelors and Masters degree in Political Science with prior study in Economics and current doctoral study in Political Science, on the ground in Athens for over two and a half years. Does that satisfy you, “Mike,” or does speaking the truth of your beloved SYRIZA disqualify everyone in your book? One thing is clear, your qualifications as a troll are evident.

  8. The one thing Yanis Varoufakis is interested in is his own self aggrandizing. Instead of being a lowly Professor of Economics, he is now an internationally known Professor of Economics and interesting speaker. Six months destroying Greece has given him a world wide audience, so that he can make more money. And I am sure he does not keep his savings in Greek banks.

  9. Dear Mr. Nevradakis,

    Thank you for your interesting, dissenting opinion.

    If the leadership of Syriza is as you describe, who would be the alternative? The KKE? Or do you expect a split within Syriza?

    I suppose I am correct in assuming that the Greek people is now craving for a real left-wing alternative. Who could incarnate that alternative?

    Kind regards,
    Johan van den Broek

  10. […] of the leaders of all parties represented in the Greek Parliament, Prime Minister Tsipras was given the green light to come to an agreement with the “institutions” (lenders). Tsipras and other government […]

  11. […] evasion, his high praise for Margaret Thatcher, and his statements calling for Greeks to lead an “austere existence” while he posed alongside his wife for a photoshoot at his luxury residence in Athens with a view […]

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