Links on Yanis Varoufakis

by Chris Sturr | January 31, 2015

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One of the exciting things about the new SYRIZA government in Greece is that the new finance minister is Yanis Varoufakis, a left economist. I am familiar with him because he has been interviewed many times on Behind the News, the radio show of Left Business Observer editor Doug Henwood.

The latest episode of Behind the News compiles clips from five of those interviews, starting with one from 2008 in which he comments on the street demonstrations by students and unions, running through several interviews about the eurozone crisis, and ending (culminating?) in an interview from November in which Varoufakis talks about how SYRIZA should deal with its creditors if it takes power. Two questions and answers from the end of the interview are especially telling and interesting:

Doug Henwood: “Why has it taken so long for some kind of political response to what is now getting to be a fairly old crisis?”

Yanis Varoufakis: “When things go bad and families lose income, their members lose their jobs, it is a natural, I believe, reaction, of people to privatize their concerns and lick their wounds and try to do whatever they can in order to put food on the table. The result is that any radicalism just disappears and what you have is a wave of pessimism that numbs people and causes them to abandon the political–the public–sphere. But that doesn’t last forever, and at some point–especially if there is some hope of stabilization, even at very low levels of economic and social activity–something gives, some spark ignites a fire, especially amongst younger people, who just don’t believe they deserve to live in a world that treats them as fodder. One hopes that young people will at some point say ‘Enough is enough.'”

Doug Henwood: “What would SYRIZA do if it got in power or close to it?”

Yanis Varoufakis: “One word sums it up: negotiate, negotiate, and negotiate. … But to negotiate, and be taken seriously, you have to have a credible threat. You have to be prepared to blow the whole thing up, simply by being intransigent if you are not taken seriously.”

That first stage, when people are “numb,” is when Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine kicks in, I take it (and explains why it took so long for Occupy to happen). I recommend listening to the whole episode (it’s about an hour), and to the interviews the excerpts come from.  But if you want more quotes of some of the best bits, check out the piece in HuffPo with the inflammatory title, Greece’s New Finance Minister: ‘You Have To Be Prepared To Blow The Whole Thing Up’, which seems to have taken the episode as its main source.

There’s been some discussion of Varoufakis on the email list of the Chicago Political Economy Group (CPEG), whose members Ron Baiman and Bill Barclay have blogged here.  That discussion produced more interesting background about Varoufakis, including an interesting blog post by the Australian economist Steve Keen (Steve wrote a piece on debt deflation for our Economic Crisis Reader; Varoufakis taught at Sydney University in the 1980s): My Friend Yanis the Greek Minister of Finance.  And Peter Dorman has a post (Greek Negotiations Begin with a Blast) about SYRIZA’s strategy of not engaging with the Troika (the European Central Bank, the IMF, and the EU)–the “negotiate, negotiate, negotiate” of Doug’s interview, if you listen closely, is with other European governments, not the Troika. Dorman mentions Varoufakis’s background in game theory (though I gather he was mostly a critic of game theory); that is especially interesting given that Varoufakis recently had a consulting position with the video game company Valve Software (as discussed in this episode of Doug’s show).

Another good place to get information about Varoufakis is at his own blog, which is in English, and which he promises to keep posting to even as finance minister.

 

 

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Mike-Frank Epitropoulos on SYRIZA Victory

by Mike-Frank Epitropoulos | January 26, 2015

See also Mike-Frank Epitropoulos’s pre-election piece, A Second Demonstration Project for Greece. Patti Smith’s song People Have the Power has been adopted as SYRIZA’s anthem.  SYRIZA’s twitter feed posted another YouTube version of the song (as reported by the New York Times), but that version can’t be viewed in the United States.

Anti-Austerity SYRIZA Wins Big—Now the Clash with the Crisis

The left, anti-austerity SYRIZA party scored a decisive victory in the Greek elections on Sunday, with margins exceeding those of most polls.  This is the first time that a left party has won Greece’s national elections, and Europe’s and the world’s attention is focused on how SYRIZA will combat the economic and humanitarian crises that the country faces in the wake of Troika-imposed austerity programs.

SYRIZA is projected to have won 149 of the 150 seats needed to secure a parliamentary majority (with 36-37% of the vote).  Party officials have indicated a willingness to work with any democratic, left, or anti-austerity forces, and have joined with the center-right anti-austerity party the Independent Greeks (ANEL) to form a government, since SYRIZA did not secure an outright majority.

The out-going New Democracy (ND)-led coalition government of Antonis Samaras garnered 27-28%, while their partners in PASOK brought up the rear in seventh place with about 4.5%.

The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party left its mark as well, finishing third overall with just over 6%.

There is much discussion about how SYRIZA’s margin of victory exceeded expectations, including the notions of “hope” and “desperation” of large percentages of Greeks, especially the youth.  A subplot might well be that the unprecedented outside pressure and interference from some world leaders and financial sector institutions led to a backlash by the Greek citizens.

SYRIZA’s results represent a clear mandate, and its leader, Alexis Tsipras, made clear that the hard work for Greece starts tomorrow.  He made sure to put Greece’s elite and oligarchs on notice about changes that are likely to follow, including crackdowns on tax-evaders, increases in taxes on the higher strata, and a more active social state.

Tsipras also emphasized what any spectator of the celebrations of SYRIZA could see—a conspicuous presence of other left, anti-austerity parties from across Europe, including Spain’s, Podemos, and groups from Italy, Portugal, and other countries.  This is precisely the symbolic threat that the SYRIZA victory represents: the beginnings of networks of other anti-austerity, left groups connecting on an EU-level to fight the neo-liberal forces in the EU and the Troika.

Immediate reactions to SYRIZA’s victory, ranged from euphoric optimism and relief to cynicism and vicious attacks from other parliamentary parties.  Government hardliners of ND and PASOK warned that SYRIZA’s project would fail quickly because—they claim—“there is no alternative” to market discipline imposed by the financial sector.

But it’s clear that the Greek people did choose an alternative: democracy over the dictates of the markets. 

The Troika’s prescription of austerity and privatization was tragic for Greece, and the debt is insurmountable as it stands.  Now comes the hard work for SYRIZA and Greece.  It will require them to stick to their guns, to not succumb to mainstream pressure, and to keep the needs of the people at the fore.

Mike-Frank Epitropoulos teaches sociology and is the director of the Pitt in Greece and Pitt in Cyprus programs at the University of Pittsburgh.  He spent three years teaching in both private and public-sector higher education in Greece before returning to the United States in 2007.

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