Yanis Varoufakis and Homer
As a baby-boomer who has enjoyed the extraordinary benefits of the post-war European project, it is hard not to be deeply affected by Yanis Varoufakis’s personal account of his struggle with the European leadership in 2015. Adults in the Room (2017) is not an easy read, well-written though it is. Most of all, with its heroic theme, it might seem to be an attempt to re-write history. Yet, so much has happened since the Greek Spring of 2015 – Brexit, Donald Trump’s election, the migrant crisis, the rise of populism in many parts of Europe, that the book almost seems old hat, an account of the last glimmer of hope before the visionary European project is expunged.
Varoufakis is an academic, a noble journeyman rather than a member of the Nobel Prize club, who identified the flaw in the fiscal water-boarding of Greece. His attempt to rectify this as a Minister of Finance essentially undermined the bases of the Greek bail-out and the appallingly bad economic judgement of all involved: the 2010 Greek government, the EU organisations and the IMF. All these organisations and their leaders were complicit in half-baked strategic thinking, because it was easier to charge ordinary Greek people with the economic problem than tackle the root causes of it and thereby return the Greek economy to sustainability. In a word, expedience won out. And the media, complicit too, loved the circus that this evoked.
Passing Ithaka on a ferry to Kefalonia I was deep into the dismaying climax of Varoufakis’s story when, to my surprise, the man next to me, piped up. In an instant, furrowed brow, large hands, I realized in his blue overalls he was a sailor, awaiting the call to dock the boat in Poros.
“ How is it?” he asked.
I looked at him as he pointed to the book, knowing Varoufakis remains a controversial figure in Greece (though the book was 5th on the best-seller stand in Athens airport bookshop).
“Good,” I replied laconically.
“Politicians, “ he replied. “Greece has no hope. We produce nothing. Everyone is for the state.”
He puffed momentarily and eyed the book again, as though it was a fierce creed.
“ We produce nothing.”
As our ferry angled past the straits to Ithaka, the land of Homer, I wanted to say, but look at this boat, it’s full of tourists – Greek and foreign. Better to produce pleasure than to toil in factories. Better to be in an honest global industry, tourism, than the tainted confines of global finance.
But I stayed quiet, as I noticed Varoufakis does so often in his book.
Misrepresented because he has the audacity to challenge the technocratic expedience, and the political compromises, Varoufakis is no suitor for Penelope’s hand. He is the vagabond whose story is one of dignified struggle at the very heart of the post-war European project. Whatever ego he might project or conceal, his views are needed now more than ever.