Monday, 27 May 2024

Yanis Varoufakis

Political leader who loathes power

FANTASTIC MAN - Yanis_varoufakis_1_fm30

For six interesting months in 2015, Yanis Varoufakis was the brave minister of finance in crisis-shocked Greece. It was short and quick but just long enough for him to become world-famous and lose all his friends. He published a few books and started a new political movement, DiEM25, and this summer, his party, MeRA25, won a respectable nine seats in the Greek elections. So Yanis is back in politics – yet he doesn’t even like politics, or people in power, or any kind of experts, really. He loves motorcycles. In the following conversation with the architect and OMA/AMO partner Reinier de Graaf, he discusses the past, the present and the sci-fi novel he’s currently writing. Fun fact: the two have never actually met.

From Fantastic Man n° 30 — 2019
Portraits by DANAE STRATOU

FANTASTIC MAN - Yanis_varoufakis_1_fm30

REINIER — Hello?
YANIS — Can you hear me loud and clear?

I can hear you very well. I’m just sorry I can’t see you, because that’s the delight of Skype.

Okay, let me see if I can improve my signal… Let me see… But let’s begin and I’ll see if I can switch on the video.

I want to start with an interesting anecdote [camera starts working]… Ah! There you are.

Here I am.

So, I came across an interesting anecdote from way back, that you had a job as secretary of the Black Students Alliance at the University of Essex, and when that sparked a certain amount of controversy you had an interesting reaction, where you said, “‘Black’ is a political term, and as a Greek, on the grounds of ethnicity, I have as much right to be there as anyone else.” And in reading that makes me wonder, do you think “Greek” is also a political term?

Well, let me begin by clarifying: I was not secretary, I was spokesperson. The controversy is not something that happened surreptitiously after I accepted the role; it was planned. The whole point of having me as a spokesperson was to create the controversy. When a couple of Afro-Caribbean friends who were running the BSA approached me with a proposal that I play that role, that I become their spokesperson in the student union, I immediately said, “Guys, what are you going on about?” and they said, “Look, precisely because you are not black, or recognisably black, we want you.” So it was completely planned from the beginning. To make the point that black was a political category: it’s a state of mind; it’s got nothing to do with skin colour.

Does the same apply to Greek? That is my question.

It applies to every category that the human mind invents to classify people.

The reason I’m asking this question about the political dimension of being Greek is that I think you have a profoundly obvious and intelligent criticism of the EU and that nobody verbalises that as concisely as you do. You say the EU is afraid of one thing: it’s afraid of democracy, but it shouldn’t be. If we are to take the EU seriously, then the EU ought to mature in terms of democracy, and that’s the only way forward. Now, as Greece is the birthplace of democracy, what strikes me in watching you is that there’s an almost rebellious insistence on democracy, which itself can never be branded as a form of rebellion because it is so obvious. So in that sense, I think the position of telling Europe to be more democratic is something that is quintessentially the domain of a Greek person to do. It’s perhaps a stereotype, but it offers a wonderful consistency in the political dimension of being Greek.

Well, there is an element of that, but at the same time there is something missing from your analysis. Greece is not just the birthplace of democracy; it’s also the birthplace of a deep antipathy, a deep contempt for democracy. And I’m not just talking about modern Greece – I grew up in a dictatorship, my mother and father grew up in a different dictatorship – but also ancient Greece. It’s the cradle both of democracy and of great enemies of democracy. If you go back to ancient Athens, some of the most significant thinkers of the time, like Plato and Aristotle, loathed democracy. There is no greater enemy of the idea of democracy than Plato! So what I suspect, what I would like to do in rephrasing your question, is to say that my Greek tradition has prepared me for this great clash between the advocates of democracy and its greatest enemies.

There is such a long tradition of that in Greece.

Indeed, you have to remember that democracy had extremely powerful enemies. And it only lasted for seven decades at most. It was a very fragile flower; it was trampled on by the Greeks, by the Athenians, by the enemies of the idea of governance by the poor.

I don’t know whether you are aware of this, but our paths nearly crossed about two years ago when Harvard University Press, the publisher of my book, reached out to you to ask you to write a review of it and potentially also a blurb for the back cover. Allegedly you had agreed, but then, before the deadline, you went missing, supposedly on a motorcycle trip. At least that is what I heard. I have two questions that have emerged from that near crossing of paths. One is a very simple one: Did you ever get my book, and did you ever read it? You can just say no!

No, I never got it, and I never read it, because I never got it. But let me apologise if I dropped out. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I can assure you there was no motorcycle trip.

That’s the other thing I wanted to ask!

There was no trip whatsoever. I haven’t been on holiday for five years. I had one week off last summer when I simply crashed out in exhaustion. I stayed at home and slept almost 24 hours a day.

FANTASTIC MAN - Yanis_varoufakis_2_fm30
Yanis was photographed by his wife, Danae, at their home on the island of Aegina.

Even if the rumour is untrue, I was deeply fascinated by it because of all kinds of Che Guevara analogies and the inspiration that presents itself on trips away. How important is it for you to have time away from the things you are doing in order to recharge and to think?

It’s crucial. Let me begin with motorcycling trips. I used to take motorcycling trips, but that was a long time ago. I used to take them with a great friend of mine who is unfortunately now afflicted with terrible cancer, so I’m waiting for him to recover before I can take another long one. My wife is a motorcyclist, but she doesn’t like long trips. For me, a long trip is to go from Greece to Sweden and back, and there’s only one person in the world who wants to do this with me and he is not well at the moment. Because of the complete lack of time due to the political madness that erupted in 2014 and 2015, and that continues for me to this day, I had to create a different outlet. So instead of motorcycling trips, I use my time a lot more efficiently in order to get away within myself. For instance, on flights: I spend a lot of time on planes, and I resist doing work while on them.

And resist the increasing availability of onboard Wi-Fi?

Oh yes, it’s switched off completely. I always have a book I’m working on, and the purpose of the book is to be my escape – the book is never about what I do in my daily life. At the moment I’m getting a great deal of relief, inspiration, excitement and respite from a book I’m writing. I’m halfway through it.

Is this your science fiction novel?

Yes, yes it is. It’s what keeps me alive to a very large extent.

I’ve heard rumours about that book and I’m deadly curious. Does it involve the Halpevam (*1) machine that you came up with in ‘Talking to My Daughter About the Economy’? (*2) Could you lift the veil?

Absolutely. You’re exceptionally well researched, spot on! I’m taking Halpevam to its real extremities. The idea for the book started when I read a review of ‘Talking to My Daughter’ written by the Irish finance minister about a year ago. Even though he was politically opposed to me, he wrote a nice review, but he was critical. The one criticism that stung, because it was correct, was essentially: “Okay, Varoufakis is criticising capitalism for this, that and the other, but what’s the alternative?” Now, of course this is a standard question; it’s a question that Marx never answered. He talked about communism but he always avoided depicting communism because the result would be a disaster. It would be a kind of utopian version of ‘The Republic’. (*3) But I thought it was a good criticism and I started giving myself a headache imagining what this book could be like. I don’t want to write a ‘Republic’, I don’t want to write my own version of ‘Utopia’ (*4), because it’s just impossible to do; I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know how to explain what China would look like in this alternative present, or what the United States would look like, what the UN would look like, what democracy would look like at a world level. So I thought, “Okay, I need constraints… Imagine that you could have glimpses of that alternative present and through those glimpses try to piece together what the alternative might look like. How do you get glimpses?” Well, that’s where Halpevam came in. So just to lift the veil slightly, one of my characters is developing Halpevam for his own philosophical reasons. He is designing Halpevam in order to present people with an opportunity of the perfect life according to their own criteria, standards, preferences, whims, passions and so on, with the plan that they will ultimately decide not to step into this perfect realm because of some primordial, rational antipathy towards a universe in which you are a slave to your passions. Then Halpevam, as it’s about to be launched and tested, develops a malfunction, a glitch, and that glitch allows my protagonist… It makes him realise that there is a parallel trajectory of humanity. The timeline bifurcated in the year 2008, for obvious reasons, and he starts conversing with his own self in that alternative trajectory, finding out that things happened differently in that alternative trajectory. There is a conversation between my three main characters and their alternative selves in the alternative present, where they find out how corporations work, how democracy works. But those are glimpses; it’s not a complete picture because the wormhole that connects them is very thin and allows for very limited communication, which is my trick for not having to tell the entire story of what the alternative, what the utopia, would look like.

So, a critique of the capitalist system?

That was more my previous book. This is more than that. Through the development of my three characters in the first part of the book, I incorporate a critique of contemporary capitalism but also a very vicious critique of the left and of progressives. I’m putting my head on the chopping block. I have always been very reluctant to join a political party, particularly on the left, because I was always very wary of people like myself. This is why people say that I am trying to be postmodern and to build an image of a liberal or libertarian communist or Marxist, but for me it’s the old anarcho-syndicalist resistance to authority, the idea that we should have not just a red flag but also the black flag to remind us of the nasty underside to each one of us.

Perhaps that is precisely the political dimension of being Greek that I was after. I think you hit the nail on the head. Correct me if this is completely misguided, but you seem to cultivate the position of an outsider even once you are an insider by definition. You are a politician, but even your physical appearance – Fantastic Man is extremely interested in that, so I have to bring that up. You have all the hallmarks of somebody who wants to be everything but a politician, and yet you are a politician. You are an economist who says the economy is too important to leave to economists. Do you think the position of an outsider can be cultivated forever? Do you think that there might be an expiration date, a time limit on how long one can insist on being an outsider?

If it’s your aim to be an outsider, then you are missing the point. Being an outsider cannot be an aspiration.

But it can be an effective posture.

But I’m not interested in that. I really am not interested in that. I stood for parliament, I accepted the position of finance minister. I would have stayed an insider if there was any prospect that they could agree with me on some very basic things – they did agree with me in private, but not in public – and convert that agreement into law, into economic policy that could alleviate the suffering of many people. My aim was not to blow things up and then resign and build a career as an outsider.

Maybe the word “outsider” is wrong; perhaps the word “anarchist,” that you brought up, is better. Your blog in 2015, when your candidacy for Syriza was announced, said: “My greatest fear, now I have tossed my hat in the ring, is that I may turn into a politician. As an antidote to that virus I intend to write my resignation letter and keep it in my inside pocket, ready to submit it the moment I sense signs of losing the commitment to speak truth to power.” That suggests a complete ambivalence about even wanting to be a politician.

It’s an essential requirement of being a decent politician. Anybody who wants to be a politician… I always thought that about university life: anyone who wants to be head of department should be banned from being head of department.

Good luck!

The point I’m making is that if you are a good professor you shouldn’t want to be head of department; you should want to read, write, research, teach and so on. Administrative duties are a necessity, but a chore and a duty; anybody who loves doing it should be banned. I have the same view on politicians. Before I forget, let me make a point about the anarchists. There is no room for anarchists in government, because that would be a contradiction in terms. I’m not an anarchist, but what I do believe is that we all need a little anarchist within us to counteract the allure of conformity. From what I understand regarding Darwinian processes of evolution, one of the mechanisms, mutation, is random and what creates adaptation and diversity; it’s what creates the impetus for and the machinery of radical change. Mutation is the anarchic part of the evolutionary process. The point I’m making is that the same thing must apply to living, functioning progressive societies within the systems of government. I suppose this is also part of my Greekness in the sense that dialectics – the idea of the creative power of inner conflict – comes from ancient Greek tragedy. It comes from Heraclitus, even Epicurus.

I’m happy you mention Greek tragedy. In ‘Adults in the Room’ (*5) you describe the characters as a Greek tragedy or a Shakespearean tragedy, “overtaken by the unintended consequences of their conception of what they ought to do.” I thought that was very beautiful phrasing. If you look at your own life and regard it as a Greek tragedy, what act are we in at the moment?

Ha! The beauty of it is that it hasn’t been written yet! But, look, I’m pushing 60 now, so I don’t know how much more time I have for fresh chapters to my personal story. The one thing that I am absolutely adamant about is that I should not be an impersonator of any role, even one that I have created. For me, what really matters in good theatre is that actors personify roles, which means they bring their own recalcitrant and indeterminate self into the roles that they are interpreting; I would like to be doing the same thing.

I’m interested in the critique that Europe hasn’t gone far enough because it hasn’t evolved into a fully fledged democratic entity of its own. I cannot vote in Holland for a Greek person or vice versa. The first line of the manifesto of DiEM25 (*6) essentially says that Europe is afraid of one thing: democracy. I think it’s spot on. What strikes me is that that criticism about a lack of democracy – “Nobody ever asked us” is the most common line people use when they talk about Europe – is the exact same criticism used by the populist right. Farage has that argument, Thierry Baudet in the Netherlands has that argument, and they invariably have a more inspiring, more energetically precise view of Europe than those who try to defend Europe in its current form. You have said it’s not about reforming but rather transforming Europe. I think it’s very interesting that your analysis and criticism of Europe is broadly the same as that of right-wing nationalists, but your proposal of where things ought to be heading couldn’t be more different, in a sense. How do you view this? It’s a very promising thing, because it also suggests you could have a huge voting base in people who currently want Nexit, Brexit, Grexit, etcetera.

I agree, with one exception. The analysis is not the same, out of the right.

I’m simplifying, but there are similarities in the rhetoric.

Oh yes, you can take a speech by Nigel Farage in parliament and juxtapose it against a snippet of one of my speeches and they sound similar. There’s no doubt about that. But the analysis is profoundly different. His, the nationalist analysis, is based on a mythical perception of the nation state. They present the nation state as a community that would be ideal and idealistic had it not been for the EU, whereas I don’t do that. I certainly don’t do that.

I know you don’t want to take things in anywhere near the same direction, but the frustration about the lack of a truly democratic EU, that is a shared thing.

Indeed, but I think the profound difference is in the analysis as to why the EU is undemocratic. My analysis of the EU is one that Nigel Farage, the Dutch nationalists, Le Pen, Salvini would never touch, because it’s an analysis of how the EU was created in the 1950s as a cartel of big business.

Yes, coal and steel.

Coal and steel. And then they brought in the car manufacturers, then farmers, then bankers. The EU bureaucracy was all about managing a cartel, and still is to this day. This cannot be reformed straightforwardly; it cannot evolve into a democracy, into a European democracy, which is why we need to transform. Now the Farages and the Le Pens will never acknowledge this, because they have this bucolic picture of a wonderful community with cows and the church and cultural homogeneity that was spoiled by a totalitarian project, binding together different cultures in an undemocratic way. There’s no going back to that. If you tried going back to a myth that never existed about the bucolic community, all you will end up with is massive great recession that is only going to benefit the fascists, and certainly not the democrats. I’m criticising the nationalists as being incoherent at putting forward a programme that will never return us to the bucolic harmony that they are supposedly portraying. A progressive agenda is one of capturing the institutions of this cartel and making them work for a Europe that is now indivisible, and if you try to divide it all, what you are going to end up with is a massive dystopia.

There is something else, and I would like to bring my own profession into this… At OMA, we are modern architects. We are architects that celebrate the architecture of the early 20th century and have made it evolve, an architecture that oozes the avant-garde, the modern spirit, one that isn’t traditional. There has been a marked difference in the most recent wave of populism. They are taking on what they perceive as the whole cultural elite; they talk of cultural Marxism, and they take on modern architecture, modern art, subsidies for avant-garde theatre, etcetera. They are so horribly efficient in terms of persuading and convincing people. I just wonder how on earth you compete with what they do so efficiently. It’s a question I’m asking myself just as much as I’m asking you. I’m hoping you have a better answer than I have!

I’m not sure I do. You put your finger on the wound, this criticism of cultural Marxists, which I find preposterous because there is no such thing as cultural Marxism. They try to conflate cultural studies, the postmodern term, with Marxism, which is remarkable because the whole point about the postmodern term, the French deconstruction movement, both in architecture and in politics, philosophy, Derrida and so on, was to challenge the Marxist narrative. This talk about cultural Marxism is effectively what the Nazis did in the 1920s, dismissing bourgeois critical thinking. There is no doubt that, just like in the 1920s – at a time when people are suffering, at the time when the majority of people worry that their children and grandchildren will have worse opportunities or fewer opportunities than they did, at a time when they feel helpless – scapegoating occurs. Whether it’s race or religion or the person who writes theatre, designs nice buildings, writes music. This kind of scapegoating becomes so easy, so very easy. I don’t think we should despair; I think we should take it as a given. This is what happens during deflationary periods. A time when the middle class is seeing their nest egg dwindle, the working class is losing all protection, their kids are being Uberised, and they themselves can’t see how they will make it into their 80s with pensions that are dwindling.


Yes, Uberised.

It’s a very nice term.

The bulk of the middle ground is being Amazonised, Uberised. It’s very easy at that point for anybody to get on a soapbox and do what Goebbels did so very well in the 1920s. This is what we have now, so let’s accept it and ask ourselves how to deal with it. There are no definitive answers, but I know how not to deal with it. The way not to deal with it is to demonise these people – the Hillary Clintons of the world talking about the deplorables are the scourge; they are the problem. When Macron turns against those who vote for Le Pen and talks about them as if they are the scum of the earth. We must never abandon those who are drawn to fascism. We need to talk to them. We need to use soft power. We need to expose them to the contradictions of that which they are supporting, but with respect. Whenever I go to the US, I tell my liberal friends there to stop demonising the people who vote for Trump! Drop this bullshit about Putin, about Facebook, about how these people were duped. They were not duped; they were angry. What happened in 2016 was inevitable. In the US, a majority of families could not afford a car. You really want to explain why Trump is there? Stop doing what the Weimar Republic establishment were doing, which was to blame the victims. Look at these people with respect, show them respect and they will repay it. We are going to learn a hell of a lot that we didn’t know. Look at Brexit, for example. Look at the way the London-based petit bourgeois Remainers are treating those who voted for Brexit and who still support Brexit in the north of the country or in Clacton-on-Sea: they treat them like scum. Whereas, when I talk to those people, I disagree with them – I campaigned against Brexit, as you know – but they have very good arguments. Not convincing arguments, but they are arguments we must engage with.

What’s so fascinating is that the Leavers won the debate hands down because they were the only ones actually bringing something to the table. The rest basically didn’t want to talk. I think Slavoj Žižek once said this: the liberal establishment, they are pro-diversity, they are pro-gay, they are pro-this and pro-that, but at the same time they are all in basic support of the capitalist mechanism, the institutional mechanism, and there is no real critique at the heart at any of their arguments. There is no resistance, there is no counterstory.

But this is what happens, we have a so-called liberal establishment, but it’s not liberal. It’s very illiberal, and it’s not really very well established! It’s a very illiberal dis-establishment: losing the argument all the time, insisting on business as usual when business cannot remain as usual, having a sense of entitlement.

There’s an overwhelming sense of frustration felt by many people that they are being denied their authentic emotions by the establishment.

I’m not prepared to grant people like Farage or Trump or Le Pen the label of authenticity. They are wholly inauthentic. But let’s summarise it by saying that the nationalists – the fascists, call them whatever you want – appeal to authentic discontent, authentic feeling and then proceed to usurp it and to weaponise it in order to create a regime that is exactly 
the opposite to what is necessary to deal with those authentic complaints and that ill feeling. Take Trump, when he wins what does he do? He drains the swamp and floods it with his cabinet; Goldman Sachs rules over his own cabinet. Farage and Johnson will do the same thing with Brexit using their very appealing language of restoring sovereignty to parliament. If Brexit succeeds under Johnson, if a no-deal Brexit takes place, the next step he is going to take is to surrender the sovereignty of the House of Commons, completely and utterly, to a TTIP agreement with Donald Trump. By the way, can I interject for one second…

Well, I’m not saying anything so you’re not interjecting.

Right. I pulled up the email from your publisher, 24 October 2017.

Let’s not, it’s so uninteresting.

It said “Can I send a copy of the book to the this address?” and I said “Yes, please.”


But nothing came.

Terrible, okay. That’s not the publisher, that’s a later email from our in-house publicist when the book was already out, as I wanted to send you one regardless. The publisher is Ian Malcolm… Can you still see me?

I can see you; my phone is overheating. We’re having a heatwave here. Okay, I can now see the exchange with Ian Malcolm. He wrote to me on 11 May 2017 and I said I would do it and I didn’t do it. Apologies. I really want to read your book. The name ‘Four Walls and a Roof’ (*7) is interesting. I’m not an architect or anything like that, but the concept of the wall is crucial. My great criticism of Anglo-Saxon political philosophy is that it relies too much on the notion of an impenetrable fence separating the rational from the irrational, emotion from reason, and so on and so forth.

I have a question on Greece and the events of 2015. You addressed the phenomenon of irresponsible lending. Greece is hardly the only example; we can look at what is happening with a lot of African countries. And I think there are more examples out there. I was wondering whether there’s something one can learn from the Greek case to formulate a new ethics of aid. Can you imagine a new ethics of aid?

Well, I want to make a sharp distinction between loans and aid. Neither is a solution. The solution should be something like the Marshall Plan. (*8) The whole point of the Marshall Plan was that it was neither loans nor aid; it was a form of enlightened selfishness by the USA.

It was a very political instrument.

Yeah, but everything is political in the end. There was a moment of enlightenment in the US due to two great fears. One fear was the Soviet Union, that in the 1940s had won lots of hearts and minds in Europe. But there was another fear that was even greater in the minds of policymakers – the fear of another Great Depression. The American industrial machine in the 1940s was at full strength. They were producing gigantic quantities of ammunition, of aircraft carriers, for the war effort, and they became worried. They said, “Look, even if we convert all those factories into civilian factories producing washing machines and cars, there is just not enough demand for all the washing machines and cars that those factories can produce! Every family would need ten washing machines! It’s not possible. So, we need the Europeans to buy them. But the Europeans have no money, so we have to give them the money! And we can’t give them loans because they are already bankrupt, so we just have to give them the money.” This was such a profound and clever way of creating a semblance of macro-economic balance in a dynamically imbalanced global capitalism.

What would it take for there to be a Marshall Plan in Africa? Because one could say that’s partly what the Chinese are doing in Africa, although they do it in the form of really, really big loans that are then paid for with resources and all kinds of things. They clearly have a political motive too, but how do you see this new equilibrium or this new form of globalisation panning out, where there is no longer a Western author of globalisation, where globalised interests can no longer automatically be equated to Western interests? How do you see that panning out?

That’s a fantastic and intricate question. In brief, the answer to your question is a new kind of internationalism, based on a new kind of Bretton Woods. (*9) Let me describe this very impressionistically. Imagine if a new kind of IMF – a reformed, transformed IMF – were to issue a global currency that is only digital; you and I never touch it, never see it, but it is an accounting unit, like the SDRs (*10) of the IMF. I would prefer to call it something different, like the “cosmos” or whatever. There is a flexible exchange rate between all currencies and the “cosmos”, and all trade is denominated in this new currency, so all the national accounts are kept in this common accounting unit, and we penalise both trade deficits and trade surpluses equally by simply putting into an account a proportion of the deficits and surpluses of the separate countries. And then these units are invested in green technologies in the deficit countries, effectively Africa. And that, as I said, is a very impressionistic view of what would be the first step towards something like the Marshall Plan. Because what we need in the world today to tackle climate change and the inequalities that give rise to migration flows that are involuntary and that crush the souls of the people that are forced to leave is about $8 to $9 trillion a year of investment in the green transition, especially in the Global South. That can’t be loans, it can’t be the Chinese model, it can’t be the current IMF or World Bank model. It has to be some kind of public financial instrument like the one I suggested, the “cosmos,” which, by the way, is based on John Maynard Keynes’s initial plan for an International Clearing Union that mobilises existing idle savings from the Global North and transfers them as investments into the Global South. That’s the shortest answer I can give to your very interesting question.

Could we end on a personal note, if you don’t mind?

I don’t mind.

I want to go back to the Halpevam and the fundamental impossibility of acquiring happiness through the pursuit of one’s desires. How is your own happiness level at the moment, and how have your desires evolved since 2015?

I’m in a good moment. My wife and I have been through a very difficult patch over the last four years: the period of expected and very predictable demonisation, especially here in Greece, that followed my resignation from government. It has been quite something to watch, the whole panoply of the oligarchy and its press coming down on us because we fell in between two stools – we were against the Troika (*11) and its counterparts here, and at the same time, my own comrades who stayed in government after having surrendered had no choice but to take swipes at me as well. So the last four years have been quite difficult. They have been quite instructive as well: it’s during these periods that one discovers who one’s true friends are. Getting re-elected in parliament with my party, MeRA25 (*12) and entering parliament now was much harder than it looked because of underhanded strategies by our opponents and threats that our candidates received on a daily basis at all levels: at the personal level, at the level of their own image and so on. It’s good to be able, through this small parliamentary group, to give voice to our internationalist agenda, our transnationalist European agenda, our agenda for Greece, our agenda for all the things that you and I have been discussing, including the green transition for Africa and so on and so forth. Greece, for some reason that I am not sure I understand, has always been at the eye of almost every storm, internationally. If you recall, it was here that the Cold War began, it was here that the eurocrisis began, and now we have a significant build-up of tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, and Greece is again at the forefront of that. As an internationalist…

The eye of the storm is the perfect place to be.

It’s a very good place to be! Look, what’s good about my life is that I don’t get bored. There is not one moment when I can’t find something exciting to think about or to discuss or to do, and that is a godsend. I’m very privileged, having interesting things to do and having the means to do them.

How is MeRA25 doing?

Very well. It’s a smaller party; we just came into being, really. We have a small group of parliamentarians – there are nine of us – and every single intervention they have made has been significant. It is quite satisfying to notice that when our parliamentarians get up to speak, the rest actually pay attention – usually they don’t, they are bored and looking at their phones, but not when our people get up, because what they say has substance and is unpredictable. Our interventions in parliament seem to be doing the trick; if you look at some objective statistics on YouTube, our speeches have by far the greatest number of views compared to those of other Greek parliamentarians. People are taking notice of what is being said in parliament on their behalf. And walking in the streets, we are a party that got 3.44 per cent of the vote, which is very small, but if I were to believe everybody who said that they support us we should be in government now!

If that were to happen, would you become Greece’s prime minister?

I’d have to.

Who would you appoint as minister of finance?

I haven’t given it much thought.

They can be trouble.

Indeed, they can. All ministers can be.

So it sounds like you are keeping busy at the moment. No holiday or short motorcycle trip coming up?

No, I use my bike every day to go to the shops and to go to parliament. During the election campaign I used my motorcycle quite a lot to campaign around the country, and there were some nice moments where I rode on my own from one town to another. My wife and I are going to have one week off in August, but I very much expect that we’re going to go nowhere.

You’re going to stay in your house on the island of Aegina?

Yes. It’s a lovely place, a very nice house. I’m going to try and write more of my book and spend more time with her. Very close to the house we have three wonderful open-air cinemas, one of which is right on the coast, on the water, so I’m going to go to the movies!


1. Halpevam
Heuristic Algorithmic Pleasure & Experiential Value Maximizer, a super-computer-type of machine that can create pure bliss

2. Talking to My Daughter About the Economy
Subtitled ‘A Brief History of Capitalism’, by Yanis Varoufakis, 2013 – an explanation of the ins and outs of the economy for his teenage daughter, Xenia

3. The Republic
Plato, around 380BC

4. Utopia
Thomas More, 1516

5. Adults in the Room
Subtitled ‘My Battle with Europe’s Deep Establishment’, by Yanis Varoufakis, 2017 – an account of six months of fighting with Merkel, Macron, Lagarde and Schäuble

6. DiEM25
Democracy in Europe Movement 2025, a pan-
European, cross-border movement of democrats, founded by Yanis Varoufakisand philosopher Srećko Horvat in 2015, with the goal of establishing a new democratic constitution in Europe by 2025

7. Four Walls and a Roof
Subtitled ‘The Complex Nature of a Simple Profession’, by Reinier de Graaf, 2017 – an often amusing reflection on being an architect

8. Marshall Plan
An American programme to support European economies after the Second World War

9. Bretton Woods
A system, established in 1944, to govern monetary relations among independent states

10. SDRs
Special Drawing Rights, a monetary reserve currency created by the International Monetary Fund in 1969

11. Troika
An unofficial term for the decision group formed by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF

12. MeRA25
European Realistic Disobedience Front, a Greek political party founded by Yanis Varoufakisin 2018, which is part of DiEM25