Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Yanis Varoufakis: The man who could do nothing right (according to the UK mainstream media)

In July 2015 a number of stories appeared in the UK mainstream press (from the supposedly left-leaning Guardian to the hard-right Daily Telegraph) slamming the former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis for his admission that he had set about making arrangements for a parallel payments system in an effort to prevent the Greek economy from descending into absolute chaos should the EC-ECB-IMF Troika have decided to eject Greece form the Eurozone.

As it turned out the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras caved in to the hardball tactics from the Troika and agreed to push on with imposing even more of the asset stripping and harsh austerity measures that have kept the Greek economy in a perpetual state of crisis for so many years, meaning that Varoufakis' parallel payments "Plan B" wasn't necessary.

The tone of the articles were severely critical, even suggesting that Varoufakis should be arrested and tried for treason for daring to make preparations in case Greece ended up being driven out of the Eurozone. Many would argue that his decision to prepare for such an eventuality was the only sane course of action, especially given the way the ECB took the incredible decision to starve the Greek economy of liquidity during the referendum process in a desperate attempt to intimidate the Greek people into voting the way the Troika wanted them to.

However pragmatic such a "Plan B" might seem, especially given the behaviour of the Troika, the UK mainstream media have tried to create the narrative that Varoufakis was behaving like some kind of treasonous rogue element who now deserves severe punishment for his actions.

One of the main thrusts of the case against Varoufakis is the fact that he made these preparations in secrecy, but only a simpleton would think that such a process should have been conducted openly. What on earth would the Greek population and the global stock markets have made of an announcement that Greece was making official preparations for going back to the Drachma? The idea that there should have been full public knowledge of such a contingency plan is ludicrous.

Aside from the widespread panic that such an announcement would have triggered, there's also the claim that the Troika had control of the Greek tax system at the time, meaning that any request for access to their own citizens' tax records by the democratically elected Greek government would have alerted the Troika to the their contingency plans.

As far as I'm concerned, the only legitimate criticism of Varoufakis' "Plan B" is that it was so small-scale that it surely never would have worked effectively. The idea that a team of five people could come up with a system to keep an entire economy of 10.8 million people afloat if their currency was suddenly discontinued was over-optimistic to say the least. Such a scheme might have mitigated some of the worst economic chaos of a forced Eurozone exit, but the idea that such a limited programme could have ensured a relatively smooth transition is complete fantasy.

Returning to the coverage in the UK mainstream media, it's easy to imagine the utterly outraged reaction if Greece had been ejected from the Eurozone and Varoufakis hadn't made any plans whatever for a parallel payments system to keep the economy alive. He would have been slammed as reckless and incompetent. It seems that whatever Varoufakis might have done, the reaction from the UK press would always have been extremely critical. The overarching narrative was always going to be that Varoufakis is a bad/dangerous/criminal man who deserves to be severely punished.

The reason for this overarching narrative is pretty obvious. Varoufakis is one of the very few politicians who has dared to criticise ideological austerity and the asset stripping schemes that are being forced onto the people of Europe in the strong terms that they warrant. It's admirable that some UK political groups (the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Green Party and the Corbyn faction of the Labour Party) have criticised ideological austerity as the economically incoherent gibberish that it is, but Varoufakis has gone much further, accusing the Troika of economic terrorism against the people of Greece.

The established paradigm in the vast majority of the UK press is that there there is no alternative to ideological austerity, and that the bizarre assumptions, historical revisionism, misleading propaganda and outright lies that underpin the ideological austerity narrative must not subjected to critical scrutiny. The fact that Varoufakis has stepped well outside of the accepted spectrum of debate makes him an obvious target for condemnation. 

 In taking such a strong stance against ideological austerity and the asset stripping of whole nation states Varoufakis has made himself very popular, which means that the pro-austerity mainstream media see it as their job to take him down, hence all of the headlines and articles accusing him of "treason".

It's pretty easy to see why the Daily Telegraph and other elements of the right-wing press are so keen to turn Varoufakis into a totemic hate figure (he dares to question their beloved ideological austerity agenda), but the reason for the supposedly centre-left Guardian to take a similar stance is a little harder to fathom. It's either that the Guardian has moved so far to the right over the years that they now actively support the continued devastation of Greece by a bunch of ideologically driven unelected right-wing ideologues, or they're so chronically understaffed these days that their so-called journalists are just doing "churnalism" by reworking articles they've read in the Daily Telegraph or wherever, without subjecting any of the underlying assumptions to the slightest amount of critical scrutiny.

As far as I'm concerned Varoufakis is far from perfect. He's an interesting and intelligent guy who is prepared to speak his mind, but like all of us, he's not without his flaws. One thing I am sure of though is that if he's so hated by the unelected technocrats of the IMF and the unelected bankers at the ECB that they refused to negotiate with him, and the right-wing dominated media in the UK are so obviously determined to turn him into some kind of frightening totemic hate figure, then he can't be all that bad can he?

 Another Angry Voice  is a "Pay As You Feel" website. You can have access to all of my work for free, or you can choose to make a small donation to help me keep writing. The choice is entirely yours.

Austerity is a con
Greece as Sissyphus: The use of figurative language in political analysis
The annihilation of PASOK in Greece
George Osborne has created more debt than every Labour government in history combined
How Ed Balls' austerity-lite agenda ruined Labour's election chances
The Tory ideological mission
Anti-austerity = Epic Win / Austerity-lite = Massive Fail
Margaret Thatcher's toxic neoliberal legacies


Sarah Saad said...

Sarah Saad said...