Warning: this book will make you angry and may induce you to join an European reform movement (if so please go to https://diem25.org/).
This book is the almost blow-by-blow account of how for 6 months in 2015 Greece under the Radical Left Syriza government showed the rest of Europe that another way was possible, rebelling and resisting against the debt-austerity stranglehold imposed by the infamous BCE – IMF -European Commission trojka, only to capitulate under extreme pressure at the end, even after a victorious referendum.
It is the story of how the troika lost its credibility and Syriza lost its soul, of how the hopes of a Continent were dashed to mantain unsustainable economical policies with no hope of success, and the power of the political and financial élites who had devised them to cover other grievous errors in judgement.
Backed by a large number of progressive economists including Nobel Prize Joseph Stieglitz, the policies proposed by Varoufakis and his team were expected to have a positive effect on the Greek economy and help repay the debt while at the same time combating povery, corruption and large-scale tax evasion and bringing the Greek banking system back in control after it had contributed to the default. As it emerges from the book, however, this was not something the creditors cared about. The whole humiliation conga line was about some people high up in Germany and at the IMF and their desire to keep their seats in the middle of a storm which they had contributed to cause.
In the midst of many betrayals and capitulations to the logics of power and to the bare-faced blackmail of international financial institutions, Varoufakis and the Greek population emerge as the true, tragic heroes, standing fast against pressure and fighting for a reasonable solution that would preserve the diginty of the Greeks and actually fix the economic problems consequent to the financial crack of 2008 and the subsequent Great Recession.
At the time of these events, in Italy we were all supporting the Greek rebellion to the diktats of the troika, to the point that an Italian left-wing party, in the effort to make the EU elections more European and in solidarity, had put the leader of Syriza Alexis Tzipras as headliner in its list. We and the Greeks were in the same situation, after all, only a bit less strapped for cash, but with a government that didn’t have the least desire to antagonise its “masters” and was more than happy to pursue self-defeating austerity policies that had the only result of pushing people to lose any faith in the State and in politics and push young people to emigrate in droves in order to make something of the degrees they had obtained (I am one of them).
Varoufakis, who must be a much better person than me, doesn’t want to think that there was any explict malice in the whole débacle.
I beg to differ.
The crisis of the Southern European countries, like the fall of the Iron Curtain before, has been gleefully used for a round of disaster capitalism, with all the trimmings of sales of public assets, privatisations and reduction in workers’ right and living standards.
Case in point, our own Asshole Premier Renzi used the excuse of the crisis to make it easier for firms to employ people with unsecure, hyper-fexible contracts, and fire people at will. As clearly stated in Varoufakis’ book, the reduction of employee salaries and protections is the explicit objective of the German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble in order to make Europe more competitive with emerging economies.
Also, I cannot forget how the whole systemic crisis has been framed in the media as a result of the laziness, work-shyness and lack of financial savy of the Southern Countries. “They live above their means”, “they have too may holidays”, “they work too few hours”, “they don’t save enough”, you could hear everywhere, even though at the time Spain and Ireland were actually running surpluses in their economy. You could smell the xenophobic rethoric from miles away, and the acronym they invented for the affected countries was just the icing on the cake. Of all the letter combinations that you can get from Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Italy and Greece of course they made PIIGS.
Pigs, with all the connotations of gluttony, stupidity and laziness that the word entails.
The xenophobic rethoric didn’t stop there. In 2015 I was at the European Molecular Biology Conference in Birmingham and I attended a panel about scientific excellence, the EU’s favourite dogwhistle word for “we’re going to give money to institutions that already have money”. The then-director of one of the foremost scientific institutions of Portugal intervened to tell us all that Portugal as a country didn’t allocate any money to PhD scholarships at all for one year. He also produced a document that justified the total cut of investments in science with some kind of European strategy to “leverage the competences of each member country” or something like that, which we all agreed that meant: Southern Europe should leave science to its Northern betters and focus on tourism and agriculture because that’s what they are good at.
And the consequences of the EU’s shitty behavious and lack of forethought were even more far-reaching than they had imagined: with the UK Conservative government pressing on with the austerity with the excuse that Europe wanted it (it this case it is not true, it was self-inflicted), the troika subverting all colours of government to its agenda, and a general lack of faith in the State, politics and humanity, combined with the fallout of the Great Game between foreign powers in the Middle East, it’s no surprise that we had Brexit, a resurgence of nazi-fascism and populism all across Europe, the greates humanitarian crisis since WWII and a peak of intolerance and hate crimes against immigrants and refugees.
The recent victory of Berlusconi, the Real Nazi-fascists(TM) and the populists in Italy is just the latest consequence in this awful mess.
Europe could well disintegrate and then each smallish country on its own would be unable to deal as effectively with global issues like climate change and the global refugee crisis and would be easy pickings for iniquitous commercial deals like, NAFTA-style.
However, there is hope, and not the kind of hope that says “everything it’s going to be OK”, but the kind that sees a mess and fights to clean it. Headstrong, indomitable Varoufakis and a bunch of like-minded people have joined the effort of many other European associations to reform the EU in a more transparent, democratic, collaborative and socially just sense. DiEM25 is a pan-European, cross-border movement of democrats that aims to fix the EU by democratising it and they have a ballsy, do-or-bust plan to do it by 2025, date by which they estimate that if we haven’t fixed it, the EU will disintegrate. I encourage you all to read their manifesto and, if possible to join the cause.
Only together we can win.