Combative Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis left his government post Monday in his trademark way — by sparing no words hitting back at the euro-zone governments he accuses of trying to break the back of his economically embattled country.
In a blog post more akin to a war cry, Varoufakis, a 54-year-old Greek-Australian economist, said Greece’s referendum Sunday on E.U. bailout terms will go down in history as the time when a “small European nation rose up against debt-bondage.”
He acknowledged the little-disguised fact that euro-zone finance ministers wanted him out of any future discussions on Greece’s future in the euro, and he said he was leaving his post to help Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
He said defiantly, however, that he would wear “the creditors’ loathing with pride.”
“We of the Left know how to act collectively with no care for the privileges of office,” blogged Varoufakis, who has described himself as a “libertarian Marxist.” He called Greece’s struggle against European Union creditors a “superhuman effort” that is only “just beginning.”
More than 60 percent of Greeks participating in Sunday’s referendum voted “no” to the continuing austerity being demanded by European creditors, a resounding victory for the “no” side and a higher percentage than expected.
Varoufakis, a flamboyant man who favors leather jackets, has become known for his outspoken style and frequent media appearances since joining Greece’s new left-wing government after its formation in January.
Although mobbed by Greek crowds like a rock star, Varoufakis has also deeply annoyed many of the euro zone’s finance ministers during Greece’s strained debt negotiations.
Varoufakis won over an austerity-drained country by accusing the euro zone of terrorism against his country, once saying that the zone’s other members were trying to “get milk out of a sick cow by whipping it.” Sympathy for Athens is running out among European governments.
His surprise resignation suggests that Tsipras is determined, however, to seek a last-ditch compromise with European leaders. Greece’s economic fate is primarily in the hands of the European Central Bank and of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while on the streets of Greece, banks are closed and cash machines are running out of money.
“The mandate you gave me is not the mandate of a rupture with Europe, but a mandate to strengthen our negotiating position to seek a viable solution,” Tsipras said following Sunday’s referendum.
Varoufakis was replaced Monday with another government insider, Euclid Tsakalotos, an Oxford-educated economist who has taken a leading role in the bailout talks in recent months.
The European Central Bank’s governing council was due to hold a conference call Monday to decide how long to keep struggling Greek banks afloat following the country’s overwhelming rejection of the bailout terms. Greek banks could collapse without a further bailout.
Varoufakis studied economics at both the University of Essex and the University of Birmingham in Britain, receiving his doctoral degree at the former. He has taught economics at the University of Texas in Austin, the University of Sydney in Australia and for many years at the University of Athens.
The fiery, fluent English-speaking minister, arguably the most colorful character to come out of the Greek economic crisis, said in an interview with CNN in January that the problem with membership in the euro currency was “just like the Eagles’ song ‘Hotel California’ — you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”
Shortly after Tsipras’s Syriza Party won the Greek election in January, Varoufakis told The Washington Post that Germany was not interested in Greece.
“They consider us to be insufferable grasshoppers,” he said at the time. “We were being sacrificed on the altar, and we’re not going to allow ourselves to be sacrificed anymore.”