Wednesday 18 September 2019

'Rock star' Yanis uses subtle stiletto on Government at packed Kilkenomics

Yanis Varoufakis (right) with Kilkenomics founders David McWilliams and Richard Cook at Butler House in Kilkenny last night
Yanis Varoufakis (right) with Kilkenomics founders David McWilliams and Richard Cook at Butler House in Kilkenny last night

Lise Hand

'Have you a spare ticket to sell? I'll pay premium price, €50," said the hopeful fan standing outside the venue just before showtime.

Not an unusual occurrence at concerts and the like, but this fan was an elegant, impeccably-dressed older woman, and the gig she was desperately seeking to get access to was an interview with an economist.

Yanis Varoufakis arrived into St Canice's Cathedral at the Kilkenomics Festival like a rock star. The former Greek finance minister's fall from grace may have been as precipitous as that of Icarus, but in the grey-suited economics industry Yanis is serious box-office.

His speaking engagements around Europe are sell-out affairs - the 700 tickets for his Kilkenomics session flew out the door like 1D tickets.

Better still, he waived any fee for the engagement, perhaps in solidarity with another austerity-riddled country which has had its collar felt by the Troika.

Yet there seemed to be precious little brotherly solidarity between the Irish and Greek finance ministers last summer when Greece was fighting for its survival in the muddy trenches of Brussels. In fact, all that Yanis and Michael Noonan appeared to have in common were baldy heads. And sharpshooting Yanis was never averse to taking pot-shots at his fellow finance ministers, including our own.

But last night at a press conference before the public session, he wielded a more subtle stiletto. He's an exceedingly polite assassin, unleashing a charming smile as he slid an elegantly-worded knife into the guts of the Irish government.

He explained that he hadn't really been disappointed that Ireland hadn't stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Greece when he and prime minister Alexis Tsipras were desperately seeking a deal on the country's crippling debt.

"I don't think I ever said I was disappointed in the strategy or behaviour of the Irish government or of Michael Noonan," he explained. "The reason I wasn't, was because disappointment only comes if you have expectations which have gone unfulfilled," he added before smoothly unsheathing the stiletto.

"And the reason I didn't have expectations was because this government has adopted what I describe as the strategy of the model prisoner - we're going to do everything we're told, and one day we hope to be released."

Ouch. That's gotta hurt. Especially given that it pretty much nails the decision by two successive Irish governments to swap pinstripes for suits festooned with arrows in order to get the country out of jail. In fairness, the country did its porridge, and there are now unmistakable signs we've been sprung from the worst ravages of the recession.

But at what cost, asked of the former Greek minister - who may be bloodied after his exit from the last government, but definitely not bowed.

Nor did he think that the travails of Greece and Ireland are particularly similar. "Compared to the implosion of Greece, Ireland is an example of a great success story - but only compared to the Greek implosion," he added, expertly damning with faint praise.

"To elevate the Irish case into the pantheon of macro-economic success is to stretch credulity too much."

Yanis was never going to fit into the bureaucratic netherworld of Brussels, with his rock and roll ways, and is clearly more comfortable embarking on a solo tour. And last night, the crowd in the Cathedral were hanging off his every witty word.

He wants to stay in the game, maybe start a whole new grassroots pan-European band.

"I like to believe in myself as a political animal," he mused, adding learnedly: "In the Aristotelian sense of an animal." Golly, just imagine Michael Noonan coming out with a line like that.

Irish Independent

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