We speak with former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis about the rise of the far-right Golden Dawn party in his country and how their policies “have infiltrated the mainstream” in European politics, including anti-immigrant measures similar to those proposed by Trump. Varoufakis says Trump’s vow to crack down on immigration after the attack in New York City will only inspire more attacks, noting that ”ISIS loves Donald Trump.”
AMY GOODMAN: We continue our conversation with Yanis Varoufakis, economist, author of the new book, Adults in the Room: My Battle with the European and American Deep Establishment. Yanis Varoufakis served as finance minister in Greece in 2015, before resigning from the Syriza government, famous for his negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and the European Union as he dealt with Germany and other countries, later launched the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025, known as DiEM25. So, the subtitle of your book, Adults in the Room, is My Battle with the European and American Deep Establishment. What is that?
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well, it used to be, in the United States—remember President Eisenhower—it used to be the military-industrial complex, the medical-industrial complex. In Europe, it was the cartel of big business, heavy industry. Recall the first name of the European Union. It was called the European Community for Coal and Steel. So it was like OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. It was a cartel for big business.
But then, with the collapse of the Bretton Woods period, after the Nixon shock in 1971, you have the rise of the financial sector. Banks start becoming absolutely significant, far more significant than industries like carmaking, like steelmaking, like coal. So, financialization created a new deep establishment that included the revolving doors. Remember in the 1990s when people from Goldman Sachs—well, what, the 1990s, it’s happening today as we speak. People from Goldman Sachs took over the Treasury, and then the people who were in the Treasury retired and went to Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan.
So, now we—the deep establishment comprises primarily the banking community, their connections through the revolving doors with the administration in Washington, D.C., in this country, in Brussels and various centers of government, particularly Germany and Paris, in Europe—and the way that they have coopted the systemic media and journalists, who acquire inside information only to the extent that they become functional to the interests of this deep establishment.
AMY GOODMAN: So, explain. Let’s go back to 2015—
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —to what happened. I mean, you became this famous figure who was clashing with—I mean, the picture on the front of the book, you have Merkel, you have Hollande in France, and you have President Obama. Merkel looks surprised. President Obama is smiling. Talk about your dealings with these leaders.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well, this is not a book about villains and heroes. This is—the way I conceptualized it, especially after I was out of those corridors, once I had resigned, I conceptualized it as a genuine tragedy, a Shakespearean tragedy, because, you know, when you watch King Lear or Macbeth, you realize that these extremely, supremely powerful people, characters that you encounter on stage, are exceptionally powerless at the same time. So, I remember my conversation—one conversation I had with Barack Obama, he was extremely supportive of what I was trying to do, and yet completely powerless to do anything about that. Jack Lew, the U.S. treasury secretary, was absolutely straightforward on this. Yes, I was right, but, no, America did not have what it took anymore, or the interest, to intervene.
AMY GOODMAN: What were you trying to do?
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well, I was simply trying to get our people out of debtors’ prison, which is what the Puerto Ricans now deserve, an escape from a permanent debt prison.
To put it very briefly, Amy, in 2010, the Greek state went bankrupt. Let’s not get into the reasons as to why it happened. It’s a fact, just like Puerto Rico. And the great and the good decided to conceal, fraudulently, that bankruptcy. And the only reason—the only way you can conceal a bankruptcy is by giving a very large loan. So we got the largest loan in human history—not for the Greek people, of course. All of that money was given to us so that we can bail out, we can give it back to the German and the French banks. And this was done fraudulently, because the German and the French leadership, and the Greek leadership, went to the Parliament and effectively said that this was an act of solidarity with the people of Greece, when it was an act of solidarity with the bankers. But, of course, they never told the parliamentarians that this was an act of solidarity with the bankers. And they promised the people—in the German parliament, for instance, Angela Merkel promised the German parliament that this was a loan that was given to Greece for solidaristic purposes, and the Germans would get all their money back, with interest. That was never going to be the case, because when you give a huge amount of money to a bankrupt entity, on conditions of austerity that shrink that entity’s income, there’s no way you’re going to get your money back, not because the debtor doesn’t want to give it, but it is absolutely impossible to pay it back, like Puerto Rico today.
And then, of course, once you commit that crime against logic and you lie to your parliament, like Angela Merkel did in the Bundestag, the federal parliament in Berlin, then you’re like Macbeth: You commit one crime, you have to commit a second crime to cover up the first crime, and then a third crime. Or, to put it in financial terms, if you try to repay a mortgage by means of a credit card, then you need a second credit card to repay the first credit card, then a third to the second. And I was just trying to get Greece out of that spiral to desertification.
AMY GOODMAN: Why did you quit?
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Because my prime minister surrendered to the creditors, and I was not prepared to do the same.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking about the Greek Prime Minister Tsipras.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Alexis Tsipras.
AMY GOODMAN: So, in 2016, the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, said he was surprised Donald Trump had become the leading contender to win the U.S. presidential race, and said he hoped, quote, “what this nomination marks, the ideas it represents, the appeal it reaches and the threat to become even president—I hope we will not face this evil.” And then you had—just a few weeks ago, there was the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, standing with President Trump at the White House. When Trump was asked about what he had said, because he had some nice words for Tsipras, he said, “Oh, I guess I should have been informed of this before I had those nice words.” What about what happened in the White House two weeks ago, when Tsipras came? And can you talk about your split with him and what you feel needs to happen? You say Greece was the beginning of Brexit.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: I have no doubt it was. I campaigned in Britain against Brexit. I gave speeches in 13 towns and cities, before Brexit, against Brexit. And the good people, mostly left-wingers, who came—and progressives—to listen to me would come to me afterwards and say, “Look, we really like you. We really agree with you, with your analysis. But we cannot vote to stay in the European Union after the way you were treated.” So, you know, this was a very paradoxical situation to find myself in. And look, remember, Brexit won with 1.8 percent of the vote. If only 3 or 4 or 5 percent of those who voted in favor of Brexit were motivated by the crushing of our government and of our democracy—you know, we are in Democracy Now!, Amy. Our democracy was crushed, like Puerto Rico’s democracy was eliminated. Our democracy has been eliminated. My friend, former comrade, Alexis Tsipras, is the prime minister of Greece. He has less power than the mayor of a small town in the United States, because, you know, sovereignty has completely shifted to a group of bailiffs called the troika of lenders.
By the way, to go back to the White House, the sight of my former comrade bowing his head to Donald Trump, after everything he and I used to say about Donald Trump and about the “alt-right” and about the rise of xenophobic populism, was an extremely sad moment for me. And it was also against the national interest of Greece, because hobnobbing with the Donald is not going to help Greece in any way. The Donald is not going to do anything to—Obama did not do anything to intervene to get our people out of debtors’ prison. And, you know, the only thing that they actually did was to sign a two-and-a-half billion dollar or euro deal to refurbish the Greek Air Force’s American-sourced planes, which, of course, Donald Trump really liked. In a country where people are finding it difficult to put food on the table, where we have refugees that are living in conditions that are despicable and a scourge and a blight on the integrity and soul of Europe, to spend money now refurbishing airplanes, in order to satisfy, to some extent, fleetingly, Donald Trump, is an abomination.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you, quickly, earlier this year, members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party held a torchlight parade in Athens, Greece, calling for a ban on migrants entering Greece. Among those marching was Golden Dawn Parliament member Ilias Panagiotaros, who praised President Trump’s ban on Muslim refugees and immigrants.
ILIAS PANAGIOTAROS: We just see tens of thousands of illegal immigrants in our country, and hundreds—thousands others that have already come to Greece years ago. And our country is an open field. Everyone can come whenever they want, and they can leave whenever they want. We would like to follow a policy like Donald Trump is doing in the States right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Golden Dawn is the third-largest party in the Greek Parliament. Its members have been arrested for assaulting and murdering immigrants and political opponents. The group’s emblem is a red-and-black flag resembling a swastika. In October, the party endorsed Donald Trump in the U.S. election. You’ve been personally threatened by the man whose voice we just played?
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well, yes, he threatened any progressive minister that was sitting opposite him in Parliament. This is one of the worst aspects of it, to see these Nazis. They’re not neo-Nazis. There’s nothing new about them. They’re fully fledged, old-fashioned Nazis. But, Amy, you know what is the worst aspect of it all? The only good thing about them is that they are thugs, so their proportion of the vote is not rising very fast. But their policies have infiltrated the mainstream, not just in Greece. Think of the new Austrian government. Their number one priority is to erect taller borders, to fence the refugees out. Think of the AfD, the Alternative für Deutschland. It’s spreading throughout Europe. The worst aspect of the rise of Nazism today is that their policies are winning independently of whether they are winning government.
AMY GOODMAN: So you have Golden Dawn endorsing President Trump. He becomes president. And you’re in this city, in New York City, with this terror attack that just occurred, eight people killed. And President Trump’s immediate response is to try to crack down on immigration. You say that is the response that will actually promote terror. Explain.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well, Amy, ISIS loves Donald Trump. He’s the best recruitment officer for ISIS, because what ISIS wants is they want us, our societies, to turn against migrants, to become xenophobic, to assault them on the streets of our cities, to fence them out of our countries, because that is the way that they will breed hatred within their own communities, of Muslims, for instance, and recruit them to ISIS.
I think that, being here in New York, I have to say that I’m very pleased—because there is good news always, and we should focus on the good news—by the way that the people of New York are responding calmly, democratically, to the tragedy that befell them, without grudges and without Donald Trump’s reaction, which is, yeah—
AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds. I want to touch on Catalonia, massive protests in Barcelona. You’re headed there next week. Many government ministers have now—of Catalonia, have now been jailed by the Spanish government.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: So we now have political prisoners in Europe. This is fantastic, isn’t it? Look, it’s just complete, utter, radical idiocy. Imagine if the London government—remember, two years ago the Scots had a referendum?
AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Imagine if the London government had sent the troops in to beat up voters in the polling stations. Scotland would have been out of the United Kingdom. What is Madrid doing? Trying to get rid of Catalonia?
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. I am in Flagstaff, Arizona, part of our 100-city tour, at Northern Arizona University. Nermeen Shaikh is in New York in the studios with Yanis Varoufakis. He is the former finance minister of Greece, who resigned over austerity. Nermeen?
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, I want to ask now about one of the issues that you raise in the book and also what brings Greece into the news more often now, which is the refugee crisis, an issue you also discuss in the book. You’ve spoken in particular about the Greek grandmother who’s been welcoming refugees into her home in the village of Idomeni. She is an 82-year-old, and her name is Panagiota Vasileiadou. She was featured recently in a video by the U.N.’s refugee agency, the UNHCR.
PANAGIOTA VASILEIADOU: [translated] I have company in the house. I talk, we laugh. Although we don’t understand each other.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: This grandmother also cooks for the refugees every day, and the children call her Mama. In this clip from last July, just over a week after you resigned, a Syrian migrant on the Greek island of Lesbos decried the conditions in the refugee camp in especially strong language.
SYRIAN REFUGEE: [translated] We run from the death, to the death. We find death at each step in our way. We ran from the death in our country to find death in the sea, and when we ran from the death in the sea, to find it here in the camp.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: But at the time, the town officials said they were unable to address the situation, especially amid the country’s financial turmoil. This is the mayor of Mytilene speaking last July.
MAYOR SPYROS GALINOS: [translated] It’s as if the international community, the European Union, the Red Cross, the U.N. have given me a bomb to hold in my hands, and the fuse is burning very slowly. And I am desperately crying for help to blow out the fuse, but they are waiting for the bomb to explode before coming to our aid.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Yanis, can you talk about the refugee crisis in Greece and also the so-called hot spots, the registration centers for refugees there, which you’ve talked about?
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well, George Orwell would be very, very proud of Europe and our capacity for doublespeak and creating new terms by which to hide the awful reality. When you see the word “hot spots,” just translate it to “concentration camps.” It’s very simple. The Greek government has been steadily pressurized by the European Union to, effectively, intern the refugees. Instead of treating them like human beings in need of support, in need of food, in need of medicine, in need of psychological assistance, they are going to be treated, according to Brussels, as illegals, aliens, that are going to be enclosed in those hot spots, concentration camps. And I have it on good authority from within the Greek government that the pressure is tremendous. The Greek government, which is, of course, fiscally completely and utterly impecunious, is being told, “The only way you are going to get money is if you intern them. So if you let them free and loose, even within Greece, you’re getting not a penny in order to help feed them.” So we have a magnificent array of NGOs and volunteers who are looking after the refugees. The Greek state is in a state of disarray, because it just can’t afford even to look after the Greeks, who are suffering a long, seven-year-old—seven year-long great depression. The Greek state is trying to do something, but is being pushed by Europe to treat inhumanely those refugees.
But more generally, look, this should not be a problem. Europe is large enough. It is rich enough. We should be able to handle this refugee crisis humanely, efficiently, without this even being something we discuss. Let me remind our audience something that most people have forgotten. When the Iron Curtain came down in 1991, Greece, which is—which was never a rich country, a country of 10 million people, we accepted 1 million refugees within a few months. Half of Albania moved to Greece. Do you know what happened? Nothing. It was all fine. They still live there. Their kids come to the university where I teach. They are amongst some of my best students. Greece has become enriched. Our culture has become stronger. Our food has become even better. And if a small, middle-, lower-middle-income country like Greece can accept a 10 percent influx of refugees in a few months and do quite well out of it and actually be stronger as a result of that, Europe, which is aging pathetically, should accept these refugees, like Angela Merkel initially said in September, October. I think she was vetoed by her own party and her own supporters.
So, what we have is, the European Union is disintegrating under its postmodern 1930s. This is what we’ve been experiencing the last 10 years due to the economic crisis. The foundations—
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you, Yanis Varoufakis—
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Yes. Yes, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: —is Greece being used as an example by Germany, a kind of warning to France?
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Oh, in the economic realm, there’s absolutely no doubt about that. Amy, one of the wonderful aspects, few wonderful aspects, of having served for five, six months sitting on that electric chair of the finance minister of Greece was that for the first time in my life I didn’t have to theorize about these issues. I was told. German officials of the highest rank answered your question in the affirmative. They said to me explicitly, “How can we let you off the hook, when we want the troika to go to Paris and to rein in the French national budget?” So, a proud nation like the Greeks’ is being used as collateral damage. Its misery is being used as a signal to France that it cannot have its cake and eat it. By that, what I mean—and the Germans, the German elites, have a point of sorts. The French elites always wanted to rule over Europe, to determine the—to be the administrators of Europe, using German monetary credibility to do so. And the Bundesbank and the German government wants to smack them for this. Unfortunately, they are smacking them by smacking Greece and pushing the Greek nation into an awful, frightful recession.
Now, when Europe uses whole populations as instruments for the pursuit of 19th-century-like power politics, you know there is something deeply rotten in the kingdom of Europe. And then, when you add the refugee crisis on top of that, the centrifugal forces, the freeloading attitudes, the not-in-my-backyard kind of mentality that the economic malaise and the economic conflict has caused, then transfers itself onto the realm of dealing with the refugees and treating them as a bad that needs to be thrown off one’s backyard and onto somebody else’s backyard, and the result is a complete loss of Europe’s integrity and soul.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Yanis, very quickly, before we conclude, you’ve talked about the rise of right-wing parties—and in Greece, Golden Dawn, in particular—as becoming worse as the economic crisis worsened. So could you talk about the impact of Golden Dawn and its recent expansioning power—expanding power?
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: It’s not just Golden Dawn. It’s everywhere in Europe. We have a neofascist government in Hungary. We have Marine Le Pen, who’s going to top the presidential race next year in France. I mean, you just have to state this to panic. You have UKIP, the United Kingdom Independence Party, in Britain. You’ve got Austria; in Vienna, the beautiful city of Vienna, 42 percent voted for a neofascist party in the last municipal election—and last week, in the presidential—
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We have 30 seconds, so, quick, please.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Very simple. Great Depression, national humiliation—put them together, like in the 1920s and ’30s in Germany, and you end up with the serpent’s egg hatching.
AMY GOODMAN: Yanis Varoufakis, before we end, I do have to ask you a question about that song we played, Pulp, “Common People.” Was it about your wife? Can we settle this once and for all?
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: You may very well say this. I couldn’t possibly comment.
AMY GOODMAN: Say that again?
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: You may very well say this, but I couldn’t possibly comment.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I thank you so much for being with us, Yanis Varoufakis, former finance minister of Greece, now professor of economic theory at the University of Athens. His new book, And the Weak Suffer What They Must?: Europe’s Crisis and America’s Economic Future.