Yanis Varoufakis: In his own words

By Russell Hotten
Business reporter

image source, Reuters
image captionYanis Varoufakis met UK Chancellor George Osborne on Monday

With his open-neck shirt hanging outside his trousers and long black overcoat, Yanis Varoufakis could pass for an ageing rock star.

Greece's new finance minister is on a European tour, arguing the case for a debt write-off. For Europe's highly-polished political and financial elite, the 53-year-old 'libertarian Marxist' has been a culture shock.

Not for him the guarded, diplomatic-speak that politicians are used to. Here's a selection of his opinions.

On the austerity terms of Greece's €240bn bailout

"Europe in its infinite wisdom decided to deal with this bankruptcy by loading the largest loan in human history on the weakest of shoulders... What we've been having ever since is a kind of fiscal waterboarding that has turned this nation into a debt colony."

Varoufakis wants to stay in the eurozone

"Greece is absolutely, irreversibly, committed to staying in the eurozone," he told CNN. "The problem is that once you're in, it goes just like the Eagle's song 'Hotel California' - you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave."

His view on the 'troika' - the EU, IMF, and ECB - that arranged Greece's bailout

"A committee built on rotten foundations."

On being accused by a European finance minister of "killing" the troika by not talking to them


image source, AP
image captionVaroufakis held talks with French finance minister Michel Sapin on Sunday as part of his whistlestop tour

On the different treatment of bankrupt banks and bankrupt states

"Quite remarkably, while the insolvent states are visited upon by stern IMF and EU officials, are constantly reviled by the 'serious' press for their 'profligacy' and 'wayward' fiscal stance, the banks go on receiving ECB liquidity and state funding (plus guarantees) with no strings attached. No memoranda, no conditionalities, nothing."

He wants a deal with hedge funds, bankers and the establishment. But...

"Forging alliances with reactionary forces, as I think we should do to stabilise Europe today, brings us up against the risk of becoming co-opted, of shedding our radicalism through the warm glow of having 'arrived' in the corridors of power."

Poet Dylan Thomas was his inspiration after Syriza won Greece's general election

"Greek democracy today chose to stop going gently into the night. Greek democracy resolved to rage against the dying of the light."

To the wealthy and political elite that he says ran Greece

"We are going to destroy," he told Channel 4 News "the basis upon which they have built for decade after decade a system, a network that viciously sucks the energy and the economic power from everybody else in society."

He studied economics and maths in the UK in the 1970s and 80s

"I found it [economics] such a morose subject, so bonecrushingly boring, so much reliant on third rate mathematics. Why study inane metamorphoses of third-rate mathematics when I could study first-rate, aesthetically pleasing, ideologically unproblematic, mathematics? So, I immediately transferred to the School of Mathematics."

Varoufakis taught at Sydney University, where he was no fan of Australia's prime minister John Howard

"That awful little man."

On Karl Marx

"In truth, Karl Marx was responsible for framing my perspective of the world we live in, from my childhood to this day. It is not something that I volunteer to talk about in 'polite society' much these days because the very mention of the M-word switches audiences off."

image source, Getty Images
image captionVaroufakis has spoken of his unease about his new-found fame

On Margaret Thatcher's legacy

"All that sprang out of Thatcherism were the spivs, extreme financialisation, the triumph of the shopping mall over the corner store, the fetishisation of housing and… Tony Blair."

Before the financial crash, Greeks thought the party would never end

"The average Greek had convinced herself that Greece was superb. Uber alles. A cut above the rest. That we had made it into Europe's hard core but that we were even better than the austere Germans, the snobbish French, the bubbly Italians, the stiff-upper-lip Brits. Due to our exceptional 'cunning', Greece was managing to combine fun, sun, xenychti (late nights) and the highest GDP growth in Europe."

And after the crash?

"Self-immolation followed self-congratulation, but left self-importance in the driving seat."

He loves the BBC - well, most of the time

"As a fan of the BBC, I must say I was appalled by the depths of inaccuracy in the reporting underpinning this interview (not to mention the presenter's considerable rudeness). Still, and despite the cold wind on that balcony, it was fun!"

image source, AP
image captionThe meeting with Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem was reportedly tense

On worries about his elevation from university professor to politician

"I know that I run the risk of, surreptitiously... indulging a feeling of having become 'agreeable' to the circles of 'polite society'. The sense of self-satisfaction from being feted by the high and mighty did begin, on occasion, to creep up on me. And what a non-radical, ugly, corruptive and corrosive sense it was!"

And when did he first notice that "corruptive" influence?

"My personal nadir came at an airport. Some moneyed outfit had invited me to give a keynote on the European crisis and had forked out the ludicrous sum necessary to buy me a first class ticket. On my way back home, tired and already with several flights under my belt, I was making my way past the long queue of economy passengers, to get to my gate. Suddenly I noticed, with considerable horror, how easy it was for my mind to be infected with the sense that I was 'entitled' to bypass the hoi polloi. I realised how readily I could forget that which my left-wing mind had always known: that nothing succeeds in reproducing itself better than a false sense of entitlement."

On calls that he must now stop writing his widely-followed blog

"Naturally, my blog posts will become more infrequent and shorter. But I do hope they compensate with juicier views, comments and insights."

Related Topics

More on this story