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Still no adults in the room

When the Greek PM and his former Minister engage in a public game of 'he said/he said', like a divorced celebrity couple

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Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras chats with the then Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis during a Presidential vote in Athen back in 2015. Photo: AAP via AP/Petros Giannakouris

31 July 2017

When Yanis Varoufakis' latest book, Adults in the Room: My Battle with Europe's Deep Establishment was published, a couple of months ago, we predicted that it would be the best-seller of the season, a book destined to land on any beach towel in Greece worth its . . . well, sand.

It was an easy prediction, of course, and it just as easily came true. Two months after the initial wave of commentary and debate it stirred around Europe (or rather, in the UK press, where most of Varoufakis' fans are based), it was time for a new wave of the same - this time in Greek. There are two reasons for this. First, because it is finally time for the Greek summer - and the aforementioned beach towels - and second, because, this is how long it takes for a book to be translated into Greek.

Now that it has, people are talking about it - and by 'people', we mean politicians, journalists and social media junkies.

In both cases, the ability to talk about Varoufakis and his book did not necessarily mean having actually read it. In both cases, people were expected to form opinions based on excerpts published in the media. Specifically, in Greece, it was three Sunday papers that printed the excerpts, offering their readers the perfect material to go with the racket - and - backgammon fests that are Sunday outings at the beach.

The difference was that, while international media had focused on the standoff between the flamboyant minister and his arch-nemesis, German Minister of Finance, Wolfgang Schauble, Greek media were interested in another love-affair-gone-wrong: that between Varoufakis and his boss, PM Alexis Tsipras. The Greek public sphere wanted to read all the dirt and the former Finance Minister delivered, describing Tsipras as a "good kid, but unfit to be Prime Minister." The book offers a wide selection of anecdotes, from the one where Tsipras, completely unaware of the international banking and financial system, is entertaining the thought of using Euro notes which were out of circulation, to the one where, upon realising that there is a cache of European Central Bank funds in Athens, tries to get his hands on it, only to be prevented by Varoufakis. "You can't do this"; "You can't do that"; "You should learn English". The book is full of examples of people trying to groom the PM into his role. Tsipras himself, for all his facade of defiance, is described as being constantly terrified, either from the possibility of a coup, or from being accused of treason.

Suddenly, Varoufakis, so despised by the opposition in the past, became its latest darling. Not to the extent that they stop asking for him to go to high court for his actions, accused for devising a plot for Grexit (he wasn't, by the way; Varoufakis was a firm believer in EU and the Euro; his 'parallel currency' plan only meant for the state to issue IOU notes for part of its fiscal policy). No, the opposition suddenly embraced Varoufakis because he's now an enemy of their own - Tsipras.

The PM himself had to react. And he did. With an interview in the paper which has always been the friendliest to him: The Guardian. The interview was not on account of Varoufakis, of course, but on the occasion of Greece finally returning to the markets with the sale of a 5-year bond for €3 billion, the first sign of exit from the crisis. It is not the first time this has happened. Observers may have had a case of déjà vu, remembering how it was Tsipras' predecessor, Antonis Samaras, who managed the same, albeit in a bit worse environment. Echoing Samaras, Tsipras proudly stated to The Guardian: "The worst is clearly behind us. We can now say with certainty. That the economy is on the up . . . slowly, slowly, what nobody believed could happen, will happen. We will extract the country from the crisis . . . And in the end that will be judged."

Yes, but what about Varoufakis, the imaginary people in the arena yelled.

"I have made mistakes . . . big mistakes," Tsipras answered, adding that his biggest error may have been "the choice of people in key posts."

Trying to dismiss Varoufakis - but not too harshly, he practically identified him with the people Greeks see as their worst enemy: Schauble.

"I think he was his alter ego," the PM said of his former minister and his German peer. "He loved him. He respected him a great deal and he still respects him."

One can almost taste the bitterness of this delivery, similar to someone seeing their lover in bed with another person.

People held their breath in anticipation, and they could count on Varoufakis sparing them from suffocation. The feisty economist reacted like an old British army veteran: with a strongly-worded letter to the paper.

"Either I was the right choice to spearhead the 'collision' with the troika of Greece's lenders because my plans were convincing, or my plans were not convincing and, thus, I was the wrong choice as his first finance minister," he answered with equal bitterness.

"Arguing, as Mr Tsipras does, that I was both the right choice for the initial confrontation and that my Plan B was so vague it wasn't worth the trouble of even talking about is disingenuous, albeit insightful, for it reveals the impossibility of maintaining a radical critique of his predecessors while adopting the TINA (There Is No Alternative) doctrine."

Oh yes, Hell, as they say, hath no fury like that of a former minister scorned. We're just glad the pair had no children.

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