- Conversation in London last Friday opened with comedy and ended with tragedy.
They were a cab ride from a workshop on Walter Benjamin at the Granary building. I went to see Varoufakis close up and in person to look for the “aura” — the bodily performance, clothing and the oratorical style—which had so irritated and incited such resentment in Brussels. Revelation happened in flashes that held the evening in place as book-ends. The time between the first ten seconds and the last thirty seconds in fact was a parenthesis. Mason started even as they were still taking their seats:
Paul Mason: “Yanis, what went wrong in Greece?”
Varoufakis: “Well, it all began with the Persian Wars!”
He laughed and the audience in the packed Great Hall of Westminster followed. Then a “No, seriously…” launched an hour of a superb orator-teacher and political economist offering the analysis of the democratic deficit and his plans and proposals for Europe. This was not a “conversation”; Mason with open palms and dancing hands tried to direct (looked at times like a tele-reiki) and contain Varoufakis offering analysis which he has sounded before many times in lectures, in blogs, and interviews; venues which are Varoufakis’ natural domain as public intellectual.
But not too long ago Varoufakis accepted a critical post as the finance minister at a world historical moment for Greece and Europe.
At the end of the hour, Mason solicited questions from the floor, three at a time, for a Varoufakis who thrives in responding with precision; has made a trade mark in distinguishing himself from politicians who dodge questions with well rehearsed mantras. Mason has just ended the interview when an uproar from a section of the audience interrupted: “One question was not answered.” A Greek woman had asked that one.
Paul Mason: “Yanis, the question quickly was ‘what would you have done differently?’”
In fact this was the question that Mason had not asked: “What did you do wrong?”
In response, Varoufakis began with an evasive anecdote about a conversation with Larry Summers. And only then, he said this: I would do two things differently: 1. Watch the members of my team better; 2) I had thought before that shaking hands on an issue would be enough, and people would honor their word. They don’t.”
Varoufakis, took the job of the finance minister of Greece at a world historical moment with neither the ability to control his team, nor even the most rudimentary understanding of practical politics. And that is tragic.The tragedy was even worse than what a quadcopter would cause.
Plato, a Greek philosopher Varoufakis is keen to quote famously said that there is a fine line between tragedy –of the last lines– and comedy –of “It all began with the Persian Wars.” A California based Iranian comedian understood this when he offered that Persians at an investment bank put together the financial package that qualified Greece to join the EU as a payback for losing the Greco-Persian war. That financial package was their Trojan horse, but it wasn’t free; they charged for it. Angela Merkel liked to think of it as a scandal.
The kernel of the truth in the scandal comes in flashes out of ‘cracks’ opened by comedy and tragedy.