[en] Yanis Varoufakis writes "Adults In The Room"
Histroy @ Work
Disclaimer: This text reveals at least one particularly exciting aspect of the book.
Disclaimer: This text has been translated using www.deepl.com, with some additional „improvements to the worse“. Let me assure you, that the German Version is ... „more appropriate“. But – I would very much like to hear whether this text is still „readable“, so to speak.
It’s been a hard days night
and I’ve been working like a dog.
It must have been something like that, and if you add it up, Yanis Varoufakis (YV) probably slept about 17.5 hours in the first half of 2015, that is to say, altogether. There was no more time, at least that's what we believe immediately when we put the 600+ pages of "Adults in the Room" („Die Ganze Geschichte", published by Kunstmann) aside. Whow! What a book!
[As for the German Version:]
Who messed up the stupid title?
The commentators agree that there has not yet been a comparable book. Insider-Stories, some confessions of life (which were also delicately coloured), yes; but at least in the (relatively current) political environment I have not yet read this openness, attention to detail and authenticity. As an audience, we are accustomed to being fobbed off by politics with pre-punched text blocks, and this inevitably leads to conspiracy-like interpretations. how could it be otherwise: if you don't know anything, you will sting in the fog. The "background talks", in which journalists are accused of eating up 2 or even 3 "truths" in the wake of interests, also produce corruption rather than transparency. Therefore, it is less fascinating to look through the keyhole of the human-all-too-human view; it is to look at the agendas, strategies and tactics.
Yanis Varoufakis (YV) provides insights into the mechanics of power, the abysses, constraints and dependencies, right down to the psychopathological structure of political action. These insights, that's the special thing, inform us even if they would be wrong or lying (attention: subjunctive), because wrong or lying would not be the mechanics, but at most the respective personal assignment or responsibility: it doesn't matter if (only one! example) Jeroen Dijsselbloem really is this brutal-slippery-opportunistic asshole, as he is being drawn - the point is that there really IS this brutal-slippery-opportunistic acting, ongoing. That's no surprise now, as we've always had it. But the usual political speech that there is "no evidence" (for some... let's say: Machiavellian... interpretation), this appeasing neutral lie as a discursive figure ("... but this is now speculative...") is once and for all off the table. Politics is exactly as we have always imagined.
I couldn't get the book out of my hand because it confirmed some long-bearded assumptions. Not even because it denounces the politic language for the umpteenth time, and not even because it makes it somewhat understandable why some aspects of political speech are simply unavoidable when several interests are squabbling over the same facts. These facets have their own value and, depending on the point of view, are at least entertaining; but the really exciting thing for me was a detailed insight into the necessities, forces and structures involved in trying to change the system.
King for a day
"What would you do?" so the question: "For one day you can change everything." A popular topos. What you can learn from YV is this: it will be hard for you to get a pizza at least once - not to talk about "everything else". We like to cultivate a few naive ideas, but budgets are planned, positions filled, things have their deadlines, preliminaries, formal hurdles, and even if you were a skilled and experienced professional: only very few things in such a slow and ponderous steamer are not tied up, screwed, nailed and soldered.
Syriza... ante portas
The election victory of the left-wing, or even radical left-wing camp had been foreseeable. Alexis Tsipras and Syriza had already come close to the government bank in the previous elections, and in the autumn of 2014 it seemed clear that a change was inevitable. The previous governments up to Samara's cabinet (2012-2015) had delivered the country to the knives in compliance with the Eurogroup's dictates and their terminators, the Troika, and these technocrats, who had not been elected by anyone and had no legitimacy, had installed flunkies in the central positions of Greece: at the HFSF, the "independent" privatisation authority, the Greek Central Bank, the Greek Tax Office and the Statistical Office. (YV does not say so explicitly, but with regard to the corrupt structures of Greece, one or two reasons for this approach can be stated ...)
Anyway: It became the "15 world minutes" of Yanis Varoufakis. His appearance was a global event: Never before had a "nameless" finance minister achieved world fame within 14 days (even Joschka Fischer's "I'm not conviced" was a pale cough, compared to the quiet-thunderous, conciliatory NO! of YV). His political behaviour and public appearance - in London, for example, he appeared in too tight a shirt and leather cloak - was the subject of much public and private debate at the time. A friend fought against my defense (from YV) that he hadn't even tried to tackle the massive tax avoidance and tax evasion: After all, there would have been money there. In not knowing the situation, I had to admit it; today I know: that YV would very much like to have collected these taxes and has also made considerable efforts to do so. However, he had absolutely no control over the institutions that were nominally subordinate to him - and for which he was held accountable all over the world! And this was not coincidence or political omission, but the result of a renunciation of sovereignty which the Greek governments were forced to surrender to Samaras in return for the so-called "rescue packages" (YV says: half of them drew it half, half sank...).
Varoufakis takes office in a situation in which European and other institutions (the Troika, the Eurogroup working group, the ECB, the IMF, the IMF, etc.) are doing everything in their power to overthrow, if possible, or expel or at least hinder the government that has just been elected, using all available means and methods -.... it... be... for it declares its willingness to submit unconditionally to the concerted dictates of these institutions. From day one, the ECB threatens the Syriza coalition with the closure of Greek banks. The reason for this downright warlike attitude is not recognizable for YV, even confusing, because he makes, academically schooled, one competent and constructive proposal after another, examined by international experts, to protect his country from the catastrophic consequences of another "rescue package".
In order to understand the drama of the situation from day one, we need some understanding of the impact of the concerted European dictation on the Greek economy and the citizens of the country. In detail, we are talking about complex interrelationships and follow-on chains, which can only be discussed in detail in the book. The HFSF is a relatively easy to understand example of these mechanics. This 100% state-owned (!) „Hellenic Financial Stability Fund“ was set up in 2010, and as a result substantial funds from the "second bailout package" (approx. 50 billion euros) flowed into the fund,.... under the condition that they were used directly to refinance marauder Greek banks. „Legally speaking,“ writes YV, "the bankers should transfer 80 percent of their equity to the HFSF [and thus transfer real control to the state - IvD], but two provisions ensured that the parliament would still have no say in the management of the banks: Firstly, the parliament agreed that the shares that the HFSF would receive would be non-voting. Secondly, the HFSF board of directors should consist of foreign directors appointed directly by the troika and Greek citizens (the managing director and the chairman of the board) who could only be appointed with the troika's consent." The resulting lack of parliamentary control over the billions of euros in bailouts, however, is only one aspect of the mess.
Simplified: In traditional practice (privatisation of profits, socialisation of losses) new debts of the Greek state towards European creditors have been created out of the problems of bankrupt (private) banks. However, in order for Greece to be able to service these debts, it was necessary (e. g.) to dismiss civil servants, reduce pensions and liquidate state ownership. One of the consequences of this broad-based austerity policy was that Greek GDP almost halved between 2008 and 2016, the unemployment rate rose from 7.75% in 2007 to 27.48% in 2013, and the approximately 1.2 million pensions (with a population of 10.78 million) were reduced 23 times in seven years (which saved approximately 50 billion in government expenditure). And further cuts and savings are planned for the coming years.
YV reports - and I tend to believe this: credibly - that many, if not the majority of his European and international interlocutors, in a personal conversation, themselves considered the measures imposed on the country to be economically wrong, counterproductive and morally reprehensible - and encouraged YV not to bow to the dictates. At one point YV quotes a conversation with Wolfgang Schäuble, his actual, most powerful and persistent adversary, who responds to the "privately asked" question: "Would you sign the memorandum instead of me?" replies: "As a Greek patriot? No." But the concessions that YV experiences in private dialogue remain private; the same opinion leaders publicly show a clear departure from the apparently false and harmful recipes.
Christine Lagarde said at one point to YV that he was right about his criticism and his proposals, but "they all" had invested too much "political capital" to be able to move away from their position. In other words, the European and international elites could not afford for little Greece to win any small victory - because: the European house of cards rests on the foundations of this capital. However, YV does not recognize, at least he does not write it down, that the dogmatics of the Brussels institutions is a necessary consequence of European unification efforts: If the European institutions had to admit structural errors in the construction of the euro, the media and speculation would take care of the rest. Right or Wrong: our Euro! That is - at least from a Brussels perspective - the law of their actions.
"... as the person in charge, he was a total failure."
wrote a friend to whom I have a qualified opinion. I was amazed. Until then, I hadn't left half the book behind me and I was quite amazed by the dictum. But even with knowledge of the entire book today, I have to contradict the friend and can only assume that in his vote he had (at least partly) been caught up in the propaganda of the Brussels apparatus; the mighty tentacles of which were sometimes able to spray their poison on all internationally relevant channels in a few hours - and did so!
On the other hand, YV is also self-critical. Whether he also made a mistake once, he was asked in an interview: "Every day", was his answer, "and whoever claims otherwise lies." Now such sweepstakes are quite common, but YV also goes into detail. He describes a moment in Brussels on February, 24th of 2015 when he made a "catastrophic mistake". In my opinion, this was the tipping point, and I doubt whether YV has fully grasped the significance of the moment:
On a second level, Varoufakis' report is also a fascinating study of game theory. In journalistic reporting, it was very popular at the time to denounce YV as a "game" theoretician, so to speak; it was a sneaky game with the term "game", insinuating a certain frivolity. In fact, it seems to me that the game theoretician Varoufakis did not overlook all aspects of the "game" either.
The central conflict during YV's term of office revolved around the signing of the memorandum, which YV rejected with a mandate from its prime minister and his "war cabinet". Well, more than that: YV and the government of Tsipra had been elected for this very NO (to a continuing austerity policy)! I will make another comment on the issue of "historical and social responsibility" further down the line, for now I am referring to Varoufaki's role, especially from the point of view of Tsipra and in the company of his Greek colleagues.
YV reports that the Minister of Finance's role was not a coincidental one: for years he had built up a reputation (at least in Greece) for publicly explaining and condemning the damaging and catastrophic aspects of Greek debt policy and European coercive measures. YV was a kind of rock star, at least in the Greek economy. As such, he had developed a "almost hard-nosed" opposition to the European "torturers", and it was precisely for this opposition that Tsipras brought him into his cabinet: no one else would be able to represent Greece's economic interests more profoundly in this situation.
At the same time, Tsipras was and is a politician and YV is not! As a politician, Tsipras had to succeed in curbing the opposing forces of his coalition, and not a few, especially left-wing cadres, mistrusted YV and subordinated right-wing "collaboration" to him. For Tsipras, the impartial YV was the "Joker" of a Mission Impossible and, if necessary, also a suitable scapegoat; and YV knew that. As a left-wing politician, Tsipras wanted an act of liberation (in one word: a debt cut) for his country, but as a real politician he also looked at the probabilities. YV seemed to him to be the right terrier to hold on to this "impossible position"; at least that's how it had always occurred - until about February 24th. At that time, he was in office for barely more than a month, travelling almost uninterruptedly between Athens and Brussels. The EU institutions had already subjected him to extensive procedures of "economic waterboarding" on several occasions, but he had remained firm: no signature under the "Memorandum of Understanding". Concurrently, YV sought a negotiated solution with proposals and analyses.
In an impossible position you have only one chance: hardness.
You can't threaten what you're not ready to do, and if you twitch or blink, you lose. Such a situation had swung up on February, 24th, and there was a moment of decision: The EU and all of them had refused, undermined, thwarted, sneaked and smashed every attempt, every possible compromise with cunning and fraud, tricks and deception. YV - and with him the Greek government - still had one more chance: he would - a maximum blow against Mario Draghi - have to unilaterally decree a haircut for the SMP bonds and immediately - as a fallback for the Grexit that is then possible - provide a digital replacement currency for Greece. Hic et nunc, he had a mandate! This would be a huge risk - but with a high probability of success, because all EU players had to lose at least as much in this process as Greece had to lose through an exit/expulsion from the euro.
Instead, at this point-of-no-return, YV made a decidedly mellow statement. YV himself ("mea maxima culpa") writes that this "weakness", this flinching, was a mistake - he believes: against the EU torture servants. What he doesn't understand (at least not write down) is that he has lost his value for Alexis Tsipras at this moment: YV was not the warden who would ruthlessly take the unspeakable on his account when his own analysis left him no alternative. The game - if Greece would strike back „seriously", the EU institutions would in turn give way.... was lost at that moment, even if it went on for a few months after that. Others follow a first withdrawal: in the following months, YV has to "return to the war cabinet" more and more often in order to renew his mandate and ensure backing for the agreed "hard" position. But: the more often he wants to swear in the MP and his colleagues, the more lip-smelling their confessions become. For they have all seen and understood, and it is this constant reassurance that the politician Tsipras reads as a weakness of both YV and his "hard position" - and which leads him to the (internally expected) surrender.
Is that a „total failure“? I think two,5 questions have to be answered for this assessment: first of all, if you think that YV's central failure would have been to buckle, you must also support the high-risk game (as such) that would have resulted from perseverance (with all the consequences of a possible/probable Grexit and the Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and French domino problems that follow). At the same time, the representative of this position should think that the Grexit would have been the only correct measure, and only then could he condemn David's weakness (as such) in Goliath's house; and finally he would only be allowed to call this failure "total" if he himself had done it better. I have experienced similar moments myself: in one case I remained steadfast, in another I buckled. ... you throw the first stone...
However, the question of responsibility also goes hand in hand with the question of guilt. I have hinted that the political abysses, ambushes, opportunism and betrayal (the word does not have a plural) that Varoufakis describes evoke real horror in the unsteemed reader. Meanwhile, prompted by his former comrades, public discussions are being held about the fact that YV, through misjudgement and stubbornness, "culpably drove the Greek state into the third rescue package" and is thus personally responsible for a further 84 billion in public debt. The "discussion" goes so far as to officially expose YV to charges of high treason. Stalinism is flourishing in the Greek costume.
There have been other contributions to the discussion that reflect on the possible reprehensibility of secret recordings of conversations with the iPhone. YV is committed to this, and I can only hope that he has really recorded every relevant conversation! As long as people say this in conversation and do the opposite publicly, I stand firmly by Varoufakis' side.
I see differences on some other points!
What is Europe?
YV, it seems to me, is pursuing a contradictory political goal: on the one hand, as a committed European, he presents himself and seeks and wishes for a European Union (just not THIS one), on the other hand, his values are entirely shaped by a picture of the sovereign state and the (left) idea of an executive demos (people). His political action as Finance Minister was aimed at regaining the sovereign decision-making powers of the Greek state, even at huge cost (after leaving the euro), which Greece had ceded to diffuse Brussels executives among its predecessor governments. Donald Trump also claimed his resignation from the Paris Treaty as a "recovery of state sovereignty". I believe that two core problems crystallize in this wrong European position:
- Without (military, fiscal, economic and international) sovereignty (and that is exactly what Christine Lagarde called "political capital"), there will be no united Europe. And of course, the decisions given to a centrality will seldom be „proper“ and will be rated at least from opposing points of view.
- However, a federal Europe would suffer nothing more than the "will of the people", because it is crystal clear that the European citizens would have a maximum of diverging interests, cultures and objectives in almost every issue, and therefore any "democratic" decision would be based on highly fragile, weak coalitions - with the respective effects on political legitimacy.
This consideration also makes it clear, as a kind of collateral gain, why the European administration is making great efforts today to put almost every truly relevant issue before the European process (e. g. into the Eurogroup working group, which is not legitimised by any mandate). The experienced democrat denounces this and demands the involvement of the European Parliament! The fact that the European Parliament's decisions have not yet encountered the most differentiated resistance from the sending populations is simply due to the fact that these decisions have so far been limited to the degree of curvature of bananas and the designation of cultural capitals.
YV's book is written from the perspective that the debt“bondage“ of the Greek people is economically wrong (the halving of the GDP certainly does not create a new, bubbling financial solvency for servicing loans) and morally reprehensible (the redistribution of economic failure to the social shoulders has evoked a widespread impoverishment of the Greek population) - and that it would have to lead to a debt cut. It does not, however, take into account the question of how these debts were incurred.
But that is a tricky question.
First of all, there is the potentially very German position, according to which debt is a binding obligation: after all, governments have made these debts, which were elected by the Greek people. On the other hand, one could argue (objectively questionable, but morally understandable) that these elected governments did not execute the will of the voters, but merely promoted their corrupt, oligarchic interests.
The fact is, then, that those who have incurred these debts - and this is quite a "class of profiteers" in total - have stuffed their pockets with them; they have not even paid their taxes. But the figures should now be those who have never received anything from the benefits, the poor and the poorest, the unemployed and the pensioners. The fact that this is a moral hillside situation seems reasonable even without discussion.
But it is precisely the Germans who have had to learn a special form of national responsibility, namely that they will be held liable for the crimes of their forefathers and grandfathers even if they have not even become acquainted with them. At least for the last, let's say 30 years, the German people are largely committed to this responsibility.
This raises a tricky question: what could justify the Greek Government's release from its historical and national responsibilities? And the question becomes even more acute when and because the Greek government does not succeed in bringing the debt makers to account or at least recovering their tax debts.
Varoufakis has the "guilty oligarchy". She is repeatedly insulted and demonized, but that's it . There is no consideration of history, legal rights and morals.
There are, I would like to make that clear with these critical aspects, several levels on which this book can be discussed. As a historical document, it is grandiose, breathtaking and a political textbook without precedent. In his leftist, adjective-strong terminology, it is sometimes rooted in a zeitgeist that we Germans overcame in the 1980s. At the same time, however, it is thoroughly elucidated on the economic level and anything but ideologically messed up. If, as YV suggests, the historical-national responsibility were a figure of discourse of the past, which we would no longer have to worry about out of "economic reason", I would presumably agree unreservedly with most of Varoufaki's proposals; and even my existing reservations are not immediately prohibitive.
I started by saying that the change of political system in Greece, at least according to the will of the voters, was of particular interest to me: It didn't happen! I remember very vividly the disappointments and disdain that I, as a young person, have shown for such recurring developments. Yanis Varoufakis, on the other hand, makes it clear that most "of us" who attach notions of a political alternative (not exactly the „Alternative für Deutschland“, a right wing party) do not have the tip of an understanding of what change means "actually". The tremendous forces that are released in such a process, the complexities that want to be managed immediately, the pressures and threats that lie in the air or push into action were largely unknown to the ordinary mortal; they were, because this can now be read. It is impossible, after reading Yanis Varoufakis, to follow any "good wishes" of the kind "why can't we just...".
That would like to make you feel rather pessimistic for the future, and for me this is the prevailing world view anyway. But! YV also shows that there are historical moments in which success and failure hang by the thread of a personal attitude and/or decision. He or she, which is also an important recognition, must be supported by a "collective" democratic mandate, a mandate in the sense that: „Go and act for us“ (and not a mandate: go and do the following: ...!; that would not require a negotiator). I think YV screwed up this mandate on February 24th. That doesn't change my respect or sympathy - the "guilt issue" for me ranks between absurdity, cowardice and political crime - for a person who has tried to succeed on a Mission Impossible. At the beginning of the book, YV describes a conversation with Larry Summers, who asked him whether he wanted to become an insider and ensure the associated personal secrecy, or whether he was an outsider who posed his insights into the world and... then disappears offside. YV promises to act according to the rules of the insiders as long as he sees a chance to get Greece out of debt bondage. If he had succeeded, this book would probably not exist.
Does winning this book make up for the suffering of the Greeks?