Political economist Yanis Varoufakis attracts the biggest ever audience at the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria
It was standing-room only at the Lonsdale Street headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria on Tuesday, as political economist Yanis Varoufakis shared his thoughts on the Greek crisis, why no such thing existed, and by the way – how to escape it.
The lecture – based upon Varoufakis’ contention that the eurozone is in its final death-throes amidst a wider global economic conflagration – was fittingly the last event to be presented at GOCMV’s current headquarters, before it too succumbs to the bulldozers.
For those who have followed his many utterances as a TV news analyst and online in recent years, it was vintage Varoufakis – eloquent, strident claims of the imminent destruction of the eurozone, within an overarching narrative of the drastic shortcomings of globalised capitalism.
Greece is a sideshow – a victim of disreputable bankers propped up by the EU which for Varoufakis is a fatally flawed institution, without the internal systems – and more importantly without the political will – for member states with surpluses to support other states who have deficits.
To begin, he asked his audience to reflect on whether the current economic and social problems in Greece should be described as a crisis at all. He pointed to the winter of 1941-1942, when over a hundred thousand Greeks died of starvation, and the 1974 invasion of Cyprus, as crises worthy of the name. “Greece is experiencing an existentialist catastrophe” he said.
“It would be just as silly to talk about the Greek crisis today, as it would be to speak of ‘the Tasmanian crisis’ in the 1930s. “The Greek people today are part of a general crisis, of which Greece is but an interesting, sad and tragic part,” said Varoufakis.
He spoke with few notes, repeating an agenda he has been espousing for some time: how the Greek, eurozone and global economic crises should be viewed as a kind of wooden Russian doll – each the offspring of the other.
“But we Greeks were one million percent responsible for Greece being the first domino to fall,” said the former advisor to PASOK, admitting that a large chunk of responsibility for the current situation lay with Greece’s political elites over decades.
Varoufakis, who worked for George Papandreou between 2004 and 2006, said the question was not whether Greece would or should leave the euro, but rather, when would Germany make up its mind, if Germany itself wishes to remain in the euro?
The EU’s demand for austerity measures to be fulfilled – in order for Greece to continue to receive bailout funds – was torture, a case of “waterboarding” he said. “Germany knows the austerity measures will not work, but it applies them because it is making its own mind up about whether it wants to remain in the euro. “I say to Germany, make it up,” said Varoufakis to widespread applause.
Then it was over to Q and A’s. The audience was largely warm and referential to the former University of Sydney lecturer, with only one or two dissenting voices, suggesting that the globe-trotting economist might be prone to “a selectivity of facts”. According to his critics, Varoufakis’ “modest proposals” as he refers to them, are based on his beliefs which some say are a mix of utopian socialism and a cautious neo-Keynesianism.
His most vocal detractors accuse him of being light on concrete suggestions for development, and too often when talking about Greece, deliberately choosing to avoid the immense dysfunctionality of its economy and the reasons for it.
He did offer three suggestions for escaping the crisis and saving the eurozone. “You don’t need federation, and you don’t need to torture people [with austerity],” said Varoufakis defiantly.
“What you do need to do is get rid of the national banking systems, make the European Central Bank take part of the debt of member states – debts which can’t ever be serviced – and make this debt disappear, and an investment policy is needed to resuscitate the [European] economy.”
As audience members filed down the dimly-lit stairs of the GOCMV building (the lift had decided not to function properly on the last, busiest night of its existence), each reflected on Varoufakis’ analysis and wish-list for action, hoping that the GOCMV building and Greece, will rise from their respective ashes, phoenix-like in the not too distant future. If only the reconstruction of a nation’s economy was as simple as laying bricks and mortar.