Before Brexit, of course, there was Grexit: the possibility, one year ago, that Greeks defying the will of E.U. bureaucrats bankers would fall right out of Europe.
Yanis Varoufakis was the finance minister of Greece’s radical left government during that heady summer of 2015. He got famous first for his flair: open shirt, shaved head, and motorcycle jacket — but then really famous for playing chicken with his nations’ creditors in Brussels and Berlin.
His line was that Greece could not and should not be forced to take on huge new loans to pay off bad old ones as a price of staying in the European Union. “Fiscal waterboarding” he called it: periods of intense austerity that crippled the Greek economy in exchange for bailout money that went to big banks.
See Varoufakis and Tsipras in Paul Mason‘s film about the Greek crisis:
Greek voters loved him, but his prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, rolled over in the crunch. Varoufakis lost his battle and gave up his ministry, but the third phase of his fame had just begun — as the exceptional political figure who could articulate in principled defeat the brutal logic of finance for finance’s sake. He is more visible than ever in politics this summer as the leading figure of the pan-European democracy movement known as “DiEM 25.”
He’s at it in the US in book form, his title drawn from the inhuman code of Athens’ ancient warfare with Sparta: “the strong do what they want,” meaning today the banks and the rich; “and the weak suffer what they must.” On the cover of his book, he adds a question mark. In the book, Varoufakis argues that the fight for the glorious European project — England’s Brexit vote against union is part of it, he says — between the spirit of democracy and the power of wealth.