Yanis Varoufakis Explains The EU Crisis Through Pictures Of Yanis Varoufakis

The former Greek finance minister was at the heart of last summer’s Eurozone crisis and has just released a book about the EU. BuzzFeed News asked him to explain what happened through pictures of himself.

1. When Varoufakis was appointed finance minister in Alexis Tsipras’s government and had to take the fight to Brussels.

Yves Herman / Reuters

"This was at the beginning. I believe it was the first meeting with Christine Lagarde. It went brilliantly well. If you want, this is the calm before the storm... With this gentleman here [he points to Jeroen Dijsselbloem, president of the Eurogroup of finance ministers] it was never good... This guy doesn’t agree with me. He doesn’t like what he is seeing. Christine agreed with me.”

It was Brussels in early February, and it was “bloody cold”. Varoufakis never thought the scarf would become the big issue that it did. Not much seems to have changed in Greece’s relationship with its creditors and European friends since he resigned from government nine months ago.

“The Greek people feel like small mice while elephants are tusking and fighting one another."

He still thinks the infighting and different personalities should have been used to Greece's advantage: "The threat of the whole thing crashing is the only language they understand."

2. When Varoufakis visited German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble for the first time and the meeting didn’t go too well.

Fabrizio Bensch / Reuters

“I visited Schäuble in the old Göring air ministry. A wonderful building. The meeting began very badly with him refusing to shake my hand, but then he and I warmed up... We had a one-and-a-half-hour discussion. It was warm, friendly, and amicable. It didn’t get us anywhere. It was the opening sparring sequence... For Schäuble, Grexit was not a threat, it was a programme. He wants a smaller European Union.”

However, Varoufakis's disagreements with Schäuble appear to be mostly academic compared with those he had with German chancellor Angela Merkel. For the former Greek finance minister most of Europe’s current problems, including its handling of the more recent refugee crisis and the rising popularity of populist parties, lead back to 2008 and to one explanation: "Mrs Merkel’s spectacular failure to deal with the failure of the euro project."

He predicts that the EU will eventually collapse, just like the USSR – even if takes an intervention from space.

"Italy is a very important battleground. [The] country is suffering unnecessary damage from the inanity of the design of the euro. Greece has always been a cesspool of corruption, inefficiency... Italy is not a basket case."

However, the current Italian government's attempts to turn the country "into little Germany are doomed," he says.

"This doesn’t mean I can predict that Italy will be where the flare will occur. Imagine we were now in 1980 and we were discussing the Soviet Union, which was another awful economic design, also not sustainable: Would you be able to predict what event would bring it down?

"So when foundation's rotten anything can destabilize the whole thing, a random event a little meteorite."

3. When Varoufakis turned up at Downing Street to meet George Osborne for the first time.

Lauren Hurley / PA Archive/Press Association Images

“George is very pleasant. I don’t think we disagreed on anything. At the European finance ministers’ meetings we would escape into a corridor, just the two of us, to have a chat. There was never a disagreement... I come from the left, he comes from the right, but so what? I am best friends with some of his mentors, and I think that makes a difference on a personal level. Norman Lamont, Michael Howard – these are the people he looks up to, and they tell him, 'Be good to Yanis, he’s our mate.'

“George and I can sit here and have a long debate about the merits of expansionary contractionism, I don’t believe in it. You can maybe stabilize British GDP with it, and maybe unemployment, but you will never be able to invigorate industry and rise the levels of investment and productivity essential for growth.

"But, when you compare your situation to mine in Greece where we are in a great depression, and the troika [the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Commission] are imposing on us contractionary contractionism I think you can we agree with me that it is just bonkers. 'Yeah, of course it is,' George replied. From that moment on, we were on common ground.”

"After Corbyn became leader of Labour party, he made some snide remarks which I think backfired on him. He said I was an advisor which is not true [and] said 'the only thing you have in common with him is you all lost your marbles'."

"I tweeted 'our marbles were stolen'! I don’t want him to apologise. Just banter."

On the issue now dividing Osborne’s party – the upcoming EU referendum – Varoufakis cites his "Hotel California" dictum: “You can check out when you want, but you cannot leave.”

Instead he compares the choice facing British voters on 23 June to being in a burning building and wants them to vote to remain: “If you try to get out it might collapse while you escape, so you stay and try to put the flames out.”

4. When Varoufakis wore this fantastic shirt in the Greek parliament while serving as an MP.

Yiannis Kourtoglou / Reuters

"Don't you like my shirt? I bought it in the early 1990s. It was a very hot August day and this is a beautiful linen shirt. And it happened to be the last one in my cupboard that was clean, so I picked it out and put it on. I never thought it would be an issue."

Basically Varoufakis is of the belief that every time the media spoke about his dress code, his wife, or his transport, it was because they didn't want to discuss the issues. He says there is nothing he could have done.

"If a tsunami hits you, even if you could see it coming, what can you do? Suppose I was a minister of finance meeting with Dijsselbloem and, like all my predecessors, had signed on the dotted line all these unsustainable loans, would we be having these discussions?"

The former minster appears to be particularly annoyed by the infamous photo of him playing his childhood piano at home. He has owned the instrument since the age of 6.

"Brussels-based journalists like Peter Spiegel [of the Financial Times] who work very intimately with people like Dijsselbloem are fed lines by them... So when they attack your dress code, your wife, your motorcycle, you know that they [journalists] – the main players that give the signals to all the second-raters – simply don’t want to discuss the issues. All the other journalists just then copy because they are lazy.

"The reason this photo is in your portfolio is because I was targeted. I was not targeted because I am clever or heroic; they found a minister of finance who was saying no to them and they were incensed by this. It was a character assassination."

5. When Varoufakis rode his motorcycle to visit the prime minister.

Jean-Paul Pelissier / Reuters

“I have had this bike since 2010. Let me tell you something about the bike: It is a sign of the character assassination. When I walked into the ministry, I found two armour-plated BMWs recently purchased by the previous ministry. Total cost €750,000. I said, 'I don’t want them. Sell them.' We sold them. The money went to charity. Instead I used my motorcycle. From my house to the ministry was a three-minute ride via bike, 25 minutes away by car.

"Why would I want two cars to come and pick me up? I did it once or twice, forced to by the security service. I said to them, 'Never come and pick me up again. I will come to the ministry how I want to, when I want to. I will pay for the petrol. Get off my case.' When I would go to the prime minister’s office from my office it was a five-minute drive. That moment was a little bit of recovery. Being back in normal life. It was therapeuti”.

“I lived in Britain in the 1970s and the 1980s and was riding a motorcycle everywhere in the rain. I should have been taken to task if, once becoming a minister, I suddenly started to wear a tie and drive a BMW, not a motorcycle but an armour-plated car”.

Varoufakis’s favourite place to ride a bike in Britain is the "western coast of Scotland", which is “fantastic, the best riding road”.

6. When he met shadow chancellor John McDonnell for the first time and started talking about the future.

Neil Hall / Reuters

"My friend John. After my resignation a trade union invited me to give a talk in Brighton with John. We got on well, we exchanged views, we carried on discussing what should happen in Europe, what should happen in Britain, on the economic front. And ever since we are in communication.

"Usually a shadow chancellor or chancellor gets a team of experts together, locks them in a room, and says, 'OK, produce my policy.' ... That's not John's approach... The problem with this top-down way of doing things is that you don't learn from the experiences that don't happen to be part of your team of experts... He believes that to avoid the pitfalls of the past, the new leadership should start the process of collaborative participatory budgetary policymaking."

Varoufakis is optimistic about Jeremy Corbyn's chances of winning an election. He says that David Cameron and Osborne are doing a magnificent job of making Corbyn's life easier. It's the rest of the Labour party who are impeding his way to No. 10.

"[What] I have been telling them is to escape into the future, to stop wasting their energy at a level of bickering within the Labour party. And the way to escape into the future is to put forward a vision of a society that is returning to the forefront of innovation and invested in high-tech technologies. If you can do that, you can escape."

He is, however, not optimistic about Britain's future: "The EU is a disintegrating mess... Brexit would speed up the disintegration of Europe, this would create a black hole, and Britain would be sucked in even if it voted to leave."