He strides into the auditorium like a gladiator entering the Colosseum.
His domed bare head resembles a helmet; a lectern acts as his shield with only his words as his swords. With an upright bearing and a penetrating gaze ready to lance any opponent, the public was soon swooning over the remarkable Mr. V.
At the Sydney Writer’s Festival to promote his latest book, ‘And the weak suffer what they must?’ Varoufakis was returning to the place of his previous tenure. As a young academic at Sydney University, Yanis charmed his young followers be they females or gay guys who flocked to his lectures on Game Theory in the Political Economics Department. Varoufakis rock star persona was confirmed by his nickname in the 1990s: ‘Freddie Mercury’ to whom he bore some resemblance even sans moustache.
It’s interesting that whilst Varoufakis is still admired by some for his physique as well as his economic ideas down under, in Greece it’s another story. There he is regarded a polarising figure; beloved by cleaners who were restored to employment in the Finance Ministry upon SYRIZA’s electoral victory in 2015, yet quickly reviled for placing capital controls on a possible bank run prior to the referendum. Many Greeks regard Varoufakis as a show pony- just check out this video where a popular English TV show Tonight with John Oliver pokes fun at him (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfZSkqkrh7U) befitting his nickname “Baroufakis” (someone who talks baroufes is something talking nonsense).
His decision to be photographed at home with his wife for Paris Match, (a French weekly news magazine) also showed poor judgement indeed. It’s one thing to appear bourgeois and lament its display in the glossies, quite another to proclaim to be an ‘erratic Marxist’ and actually live out that reality (Varoufakis’ Aegean retreat rents for $5000 a week to foreign holidaymakers).
The global media finds Mr. V exciting ‘the man of the moment’ portraying him as the quintessential biker-rebel politician. But this is surely as old hat and cheesy as Marlon Brando in The Wild One.
Varoufakis is not a Marxist, nor a revolutionary, but a reformist of the social democratic kind. He would like Greece and Britain to remain in the EU, and believes the capitalist system can be redeemed through Keynesian policies (state investment, ‘pump priming’, a strong welfare net). Varoufakis sensible approach to paying off the Greek debt by tying it to economic growth was consistent with his acceptance of 70% of the memorandum.
On a practical level Varoufakis has merit belied by his image. During the 1990s when he was commissioned by the NSW Taxi Drivers Union to provide an economic costing of driver remuneration actually led to greater benefits for its Bailee drivers, who are still reaping the economic rewards.
Varoufakis is a contradictory figure therefore but his real strengths lie in his economic insights. Varoufakis made the compelling argument at the SWF of the origins of the EU as an offshoot of the Marshall Plan to bolster US trade by creating a market for its goods whilst using and strengthening the US greenback (Germany remains the factory of Europe with the French the perfect administrators).
He’s not blind to Greece’s shortcomings but sees light at the end of the tunnel, after years of devastating austerity diktats.
Varoufakis remains an enigma. His rock star persona occasionally gets in the way of his economic ideas. Judging by his sold out book at the SWF, Varoufakis straddles two worlds with a fine balance-he’s an economic maestro but also something of a myth.