Varoufakis Comeback Poses New Threat to Greece’s Tsipras



Alexis Tsipras and Yanis Varoufakis in the Greek Parliament in 2015

Yanis Varoufakis was the surprise of the recent European parliamentary elections, with his party, called “Democracy in Europe Movement 2025” (DiEM25), coming only a few votes shy of snatching a seat.

On Thursday, the eccentric economist announced the candidates who will represent his party in Greece’s national elections on July 7. The list of over 100 names includes his artist wife Danae Stratou, as well as academics, musicians, engineers, actors, farmers, university students — and even a few individuals who are unemployed.

Varoufakis was never out of the public eye after his short stint at Greece’s Ministry of Finance. The Greek-Australian economist and professor had become a controversial personality during the first five months of the Syriza administration, and he continued to attract a following long after he had left power.

The majority of Greek citizens originally saw their new finance minister as the man who had the guts, and the skills, to go against the country’s international creditors and their austerity measures. Others saw him as an opportunist who collaborated with a clueless leftist prime minister who knew nothing about economics.

Indeed, Varoufakis clashed with Greece’s lenders — the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission, the so-called “troika” — from the get-go. His over-ambitious proposals for a new currency (or even a cryptocurrency) which he believed would free Greece from the crippling bailout program were never seen as serious by creditors.

Furthermore, Varoufakis’ Eurozone peers saw him as an arrogant narcissist with whom they simply could not negotiate. In fact, IMF chief Christine Lagarde famously said during a Eurogroup meeting that she could discuss Greece’s debt only with the “adults in the room.”

The Greek minister later took her phrase and used it as a title for his book of memoirs recalling the first six months of 2015.

Refusing to accept the troika’s rescue program brought the country close to a Grexit situation, with the certainty of bankruptcy ominously looming overhead. When Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras realized that declaring bankruptcy would be catastrophic for Greece, he agreed to a new bailout program full of austerity measures.

Varoufakis resigned immediately after the July 5 referendum, seeing that Tsipras intended to follow the line of the creditors, despite the fact that Greeks had just voted “No” to a new bailout program. After his departure, Varoufakis wrote a book titled “Adults in the Room: My Battle with Europe’s Deep Establishment.” He has never stopped taking jabs at Tsipras in interviews ever since.

Is Varoufakis back for vengeance? 

Four years after the acrimonious split between the Greek prime minister and finance minister, Varoufakis is back in the political arena, with his party garnering 169,287 votes in the European Parliament elections, or 2.99 percent of the total vote.

The impressive show of the DiEM 25 Party is extremely close to the three percent needed for a party to enter the House in Greece. It is likely then that the outspoken “default Marxist,” as Varoufakis once called himself, will be a member of parliament after July 7, 2019. And it is even more likely that the votes that could put him there would otherwise have gone to Syriza.

Alexis Tsipras desperately needs the votes of DiEM 25. But he knows that it is next to impossible to actually attract votes from Varoufakis’ supporters. They are the disgruntled ones who in 2015 voted for a leftist prime minister who would work against the European hegemony — only to see him become its most loyal servant.

Varoufakis himself stands adamantly against any cooperation with Tsipras and Syriza after the elections. He recently spoke to Kathimerini newspaper, comparing Tsipras to an actor who has to believe the lies of his role in order to be convincing.

“Alexis is like an actor who goes on stage to play a role, in other words to perform a lie, knowing at the same time that in order to be good he must believe that his role is real and what he says is true,” Varoufakis said scathingly.

He also implied that he knows things about the departing Greek prime minister. It should be noted that during Varoufakis’ short term as finance minister, he had claimed that he was recording secret cabinet meetings and Eurogroup sessions, although he never confirmed this when asked.

“Alexis knows that I know that he knows,” the former minister told Kathimerini.

Economist turned social media star

One of the reasons Varoufakis has certainly secured his presence in Greece’s House is that he was never seen as a typical politician. He never once wore a suit. His flamboyant shirts and overall style, along with his economic theories, have even made him a social media star.

When he visited British finance minister George Osborne in London after donning a long leather jacket, a reporter described him as being dressed like a “1990s drug dealer.” A recent convert to his side is Baywatch star Pamela Anderson, who gave assistance to his campaign in Germany.

Sometimes Varoufakis’ lifestyle clearly repudiates his leftist economic theories and his suggestion that Greeks should live a frugal life. He and his wife own a luxurious beach house in Greece. A man of contradictions if nothing else, he also often rubs shoulders with the global elite. He has often been called a “champagne socialist,” as the British phrase it.

Yet Varoufakis is clever and educated enough to dismiss these contradictions and continue preaching his theories, which are very likely to be expressed again inside the Greek Parliament.