Meet Yanis Varoufakis, Greece's 'erratic Marxist' finance minister

  • AFP, Athens
  • Updated: Jul 06, 2015 12:55 IST

Despite having secured a resounding victory in the weekend referendum, Greece's finance minister Yanis Varoufakis resigned on Monday. Varoufakis rose to fame and infamy this year for his urban-cool look, his abrasive style and acerbic attacks on austerity.

In a shock announcement just hours after Sunday's referendum results on bailout terms were announced, Varoufakis said he was quitting to help Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in ensuing negotiations with creditors.

"Soon after the announcement of the referendum results, I was made aware of a certain preference by some Eurogroup participants, and assorted 'partners', for my... 'absence' from its meetings; an idea that the Prime Minister judged to be potentially helpful to him in reaching an agreement. For this reason I am leaving the Ministry of Finance today," Varoufakis said on his blog.

During the past five months of negotiations between Athens and its international creditors, the self-described "erratic Marxist" seemed more at ease chatting with unemployed anarchists than with fellow European finance ministers, who often groaned about his blunt negotiating tactics.

European Economic Affairs chief Pierre Moscovici commented that Varoufakis "is a smart person, not always easy, but smart."

His straight-talking style produced notable moments including his characterisation of the austerity imposed on Greece as "fiscal waterboarding".

After negotiations broke down between Greece and its creditors, Varoufakis slammed Europe's governance.

"This is not the way to run a monetary union. This is a travesty. It's a comedy of errors for five years now, Europe has been extending and pretending," Varoufakis said in a BBC interview.

After becoming finance minister in January, there were some growing pains as he adapted to the burning glare of the global media spotlight.

He allowed himself to be pictured in Paris Match magazine at a piano and dining in style with his wife on the roof terrace of his "love nest at the foot of the Acropolis", while telling the magazine how he abhorred the "star system".

Rebellious streak

Though the maverick minister has always taken a stance protecting ordinary Greeks, his background was anything but common.

He is the son of Giorgos Varoufakis, who at 90 still heads one of Greece's leading steel producers, Halyvourgiki. He also attended the Moraitis School, which has alumni including prominent Greek leaders and artists.

His early career was spent at the English universities of Essex, East Anglia and at Cambridge, and he has often been linked with research into game theory.

In 1998 Varoufakis moved to Australia, and he is now a dual Greek and Australian citizen.

He moved back to Greece in 2000 to teach at the University of Athens, and in January 2013 accepted a post at the University of Texas in Austin.

Varoufakis has had a rebellious streak since a young age.

He told the BBC he has deliberately misspelled his name Yanis, writing it with one "n", since a confrontation with a teacher in elementary school.

"I had an aesthetic problem with the double "n"," he said. "So I decided to write my name with one. My teacher gave me a bad grade, which made me very angry and I've kept writing my name with one "n" ever since."

'Cut off my arm'

As finance minister Varoufakis, his head shaved clean, shook up the staid world of EU summits by arriving to meetings in rock-star-style leather jackets and untucked shirts. He was quickly dubbed "Greece's Bruce Willis".

His swagger and penchant for lecturing annoyed some EU counterparts at meetings on Greece's debt and he was eventually pulled from frontline negotiations.

Varoufakis's father Giorgos told the Greek daily Ethnos that his son's critics "want to run him down because he is competent."

"Yanis is a very good boy, and is always telling the prime minister what to do, which is why he adores him," he said.
A prolific blogger, Yanis Varoufakis has written several books, including "The Global Minotaur: America, Europe and the Future of the Global Economy".

Varoufakis has said he believes his shattered country can only recover once it has rejigged the terms of an international bailout, and said early on that Greece's massive debt could not be paid back in full.

The minister said he would step down if disavowed by Greek voters who vote Sunday on whether they accept or reject bailout conditions that are no longer on the table.

In his latest blog, Varoufakis gave reasons why Greeks should vote 'No' in the referendum, one being that the country "will stay in the euro" regardless of the outcome.

He told Bloomberg TV that he would rather "cut my arm off" than stay on as minister in the case of a 'Yes' vote.


After 'No' vote, Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis quits

Greece referendum: Voters stun EU with big 'no' to bailout offer

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