A version of this commentary originally aired on Dialogos Radio, during the week of February 4-10, 2016.
Once again, Greece is experiencing a time of political and social uncertainty, a time where yet again many citizens have begun to search for a new political savior, one that will pull Greece out of its current economic abyss and provide the promise of “hope” and “change”, putting an end to the crisis and placing Greece back on a path towards growth and better days.
This is highly similar to what was taking place in Greece just over a year ago, when millions of people within and outside of Greece believed that SYRIZA could comprise this sort of political force. And they believed this purely on the basis of rhetoric and promises. The big promises made by Alexis Tsipras and the rest of SYRIZA regarding the abolition of the austerity measures with one law and one article, the supposedly anti-austerity Thessaloniki policy platform, the tearing apart of the memorandum agreements, promises, promises and yet more promises from SYRIZA, including promises that all of these wonderful things could take place firmly within the confines of the European Union and the Eurozone, and that SYRIZA, when in power, would indeed manage to change Europe!
No one, however, seemed to notice how SYRIZA’s pre-election rhetoric was already being significantly watered down compared to their earlier promises. No one noticed that whereas Tsipras had once said that remaining in the Eurozone is not a fetish, SYRIZA was now not even contemplating an exit from the euro, not even as a Plan B. No one noticed that SYRIZA abandoned its platform to nationalize the banking system. Formerly radical economist Costas Lapavitsas, whom we have unfortunately interviewed in the past on our program, had once been proposing a so-called “radical economic platform” including a euro exit. In January 2015 however, just prior to the elections, he appeared on the BBC to defend SYRIZA’s economic platform as a form of “mild Keynesianism.” Dozens of candidates on SYRIZA’s ballot were former members of the corrupt PASOK party which ruled Greece for most of the 40 years following the fall of the military dictatorship, and many of them were elected and attained cabinet posts in the new government of supposed hope and change.
However, perhaps the biggest sign of the flip-flop and broken promises that were to follow was the inclusion of the false prophet Yanis Varoufakis on the SYRIZA ballot and his selection as Greece’s minister of finance after the elections. Varoufakis, a former adviser to PASOK’s George Papandreou, who brought austerity and the IMF to Greece, had carefully developed a reputation as a supposedly “radical” anti-austerity economist who was not afraid to clash with the system and who would demand the end of austerity and the memorandum agreements. Yet this same Varoufakis was telling us, long before the elections, that it was impossible for a country to leave the Eurozone, while rejecting the actions of countries such as Argentina and Iceland, stating that he instead sought a so-called “European solution” for the Greek crisis. Nobody seemed to notice this, and instead, Varoufakis earned the most votes of any individual candidate in the January 2015 elections.
Now, one year later, we are once again seeing the same theater of the absurd take place before our eyes, and this time Varoufakis, the son of a wealthy industrialist who is married to the daughter of another wealthy industrialist, is being presented as the best and only hope for change and for the elimination of austerity, not just in Greece but for all of Europe. On February 9th, he will announce the launch of his new pan-European political movement with a presentation in, where else, Berlin, a movement that is already promising to “restore democracy” to Europe and to “save” Europe from itself. And everyone who last year was ridiculing and insulting anyone who dared to suggest that SYRIZA was not what it presented itself as being and that it would break is promises, has now forgotten what they were saying a year ago and is doing the same exact thing to anyone who dares to question Varoufakis, his record, or his sincerity.
Let’s take this opportunity, therefore, to remind everyone about the major “achievements” of Varoufakis, before, during, and after his term as Greece’s finance minister.
Varoufakis is the man who, as Greece’s finance minister in the first days of the new SYRIZA government last year, had gone to the initial negotiations at the Eurogroup summit proposing the continuation of 70% of the previously existing austerity measures and memorandums, for another six months, as he said. He refused to even raise the specter of a Eurozone exit for Greece, not even as a negotiation tactic or as a Plan B. In fact, Varoufakis, while he was supposedly negotiating hard with the troika, publicly stated that Greece has no Plan B! It should therefore come as no surprise that the 70% proposed by Varoufakis became 100%, meaning continuation of 100% of the previous austerity measures and memorandums, for the next four months. Varoufakis agreed to this and had the audacity to return to Greece claiming that the agreement was an example of “creative ambiguity” and that the troika would now be known as the kinder, gentler “institutions.”
At the same time, Varoufakis, in countless appearances and interviews in the media, kept parroting the same stale myths about Greece and the people of Greece, such as the myth, which was proven to be a lie, that Greece had the highest rate of Porsche Cayenne ownership in the world. Varoufakis lectured us about the, quote, “hard working German taxpayers,” who were, quote, “bailing out Greece,” and who, quote, “wanted a return on their investment,” neglecting to say, however, that Germany and the troika have profited quite handsomely just off of the interest that Greece is paying on its forced loans, without even getting into the lucrative assets which Greece was forced to privatize and which they bought up. Instead, Varoufakis was telling us about the need to lead a so-called “austere existence,” all the while he and his wife were photographed for a French magazine’s photo shoot, in front of a table full of lobster and champagne at their home with a full view of the Acropolis.
This was nothing, however, compared with what was to follow. Varoufakis, along with the other saviors within SYRIZA, nominated and elected the corrupt, conservative, pro-austerity former New Democracy minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos as president of the republic. Once again, the SYRIZA and Varoufakis apologists told us to give them more time. Varoufakis repeatedly stated that Greece’s debt would be repaid, quote, “in perpetuity” and that it is legal, at the same time that the Greek government had put on a big show of creating a parliamentary committee to investigate the legality of this very same debt. In an interview with the Associated Press, Varoufakis flatly stated that he will “squeeze blood from a stone” in order for the IMF to be repaid, while in another interview, Varoufakis stated that he sought to develop good relations with Christine Lagarde and the IMF, which held views that he, quote, personally agreed with.
Varoufakis repeatedly stated that his homeland is Europe and not Greece and that he would like to see the development of a so-called United States of Europe. He stated that the Eurozone is like the “Hotel California,” where you can check out any time you like but you can never leave. Such was the nature of Varoufakis’ supposedly fierce negotiation, just as when he told ABC Television in Australia that even if Greece wanted to it was unable to mint its own currency, because Greece’s mint was destroyed when Greece joined the Eurozone. It seems he was unaware of the fact that Greece’s mint is still alive and well and is where the 20 euro notes are still printed today.
Moving forward, the “heroic” Yanis Varoufakis stated that the previous privatizations would not be rescinded and that he agreed with the privatization of public assets such as airports and harbors under certain supposed conditions. Indeed, he spoke out in favor of further so-called “investments” by China’s Cosco in Greece, including the privatization of the port of Piraeus, saying that this would be a positive development for the country.
Forging ahead, Varoufakis selected Elena Panaritis as Greece’s representative to the International Monetary Fund. The same Panaritis who was a former World Bank official and who had designed the destructive Fujishock policies which had been implemented in Peru and which drove millions of people into poverty, which led to price increases on basic goods of up to 8000%, where hundreds of public assets were privatized, and all of this done under the rule of an autocratic government whose ruler, Alberto Fujimori, is now serving a 25 year sentence for murder and other serious charges. The same Elena Panaritis who, as a member of parliament with PASOK, voted in favor of austerity and the memorandums. This was the selection of the supposedly “heroic” Yanis Varoufakis, who however never raised the issue of German war reparations to Greece and never investigated the actions of Yannis Stournaras and other former finance ministers for their role in bringing the austerity agreements to Greece.
Continuing on, Varoufakis, in the spring of 2015 when he was still finance minister, oversaw the issuance of a governmental decree, a practice which SYRIZA had promised it would not follow when in government, which confiscated the cash reserves of the entire Greek public sector. This decree was then ratified by the Greek parliament, including with the vote of Varoufakis, and the cash reserves of the Greek public sector were confiscated and used to make the May IMF loan repayment. After this, Varoufakis and the SYRIZA government, as part of their supposedly hard negotiations with the European so-called partners, presented a 47 page proposal which foresaw 8 billion euros of new austerity measures, including a perpetually increasing primary budget surplus—meaning more austerity—further tax increases, elimination of early pension benefits, which do in fact exist in countries like the US and elsewhere, and the privatization of public assets such as major airports and harbors. Everything that the current SYRIZA government is doing and that Varoufakis apologists claim to be against. At around the same time, Varoufakis presented a proposal for the introduction of a parallel currency following the model of the IOUs issued by the state of California, while he publicly admitted that capital controls would be introduced in Greece.
After this followed the big, “heroic” example of democracy in action, the referendum on whether to approve or reject the austerity measures proposed by the European so-called partners of Greece. Varoufakis, who was still finance minister, did not present any proposal to the Greek people, however, of what the governments plans would be if the “no” vote prevailed. And indeed, when the “no” vote did in fact prevail, not only was there no plan, but Varoufakis coincidentally was absent from the parliamentary vote which gave authorization to Alexis Tsipras to reach a deal with the lenders. Varoufakis did state publicly, however, that if he had voted, he would have voted yes to give Tsipras this authorization, authorization which resulted, of course, in the third and harshest, thus far, memorandum agreement for Greece.
This is the charlatan whose record as Greece’s finance minister is one of nothing but austerity, and who yet is now being touted as the savior not just for Greece but for all of Europe, the man who will end austerity and, quote, save Europe and save capitalism from itself. Varoufakis is the man who has praised the, quote, “radical” and “dynamic” individualism of Thatcherism, in other words, of neoliberalism, and the man who publicly eulogized Thatcher on his blog after her death in 2013. He is the man whose new book was presented in the Athens Music Hall in January 2015, just prior to the elections which brought SYRIZA to power, by far-right Greek television talking head Mbambis Papadimitriou, who once expressed his support for a so-called “serious Golden Dawn.” Varoufakis is the man who has repeatedly heaped public praise on German chancellor Angela Merkel for her handling of the refugee crisis, the same Merkel and the same Germany which has contributed militarily to the carnage in the Middle East, the same Germany where there have been dozens of arson attacks of refugee housing facilities, the same Germany which has housed some refugees in former concentration camps, the same Germany which has confiscated valuables from refugees entering the country, the same Germany which is accused of paying off African governments to take back asylum seekers and to prevent them from coming to Germany again. And we are supposed to believe the words of this man, Varoufakis, when he says that he can somehow change Europe and the EU for the better, but that the euro cannot be changed and that a country could never leave it.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the bold, brilliant, anti-austerity savior Yanis Varoufakis. And the unfortunate reality is that even when faced with the facts, Varoufakis’ many fans and apologists will dismiss all of the above, even doubting the facts of Varoufakis’ actions during his tenure as Greece’s finance minister. A selective amnesia which begs the question, when will we stop believing in the “hope and change” that the system itself presents to us?