Greece’s divisive former finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, admitted on Monday that Greece made mistakes over its bailout negotiations, but he continued to lay the preponderance of blame for the Greek woes on the country’s creditors.
“We made mistakes, there’s no doubt about that,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in his first international TV interview since stepping down earlier this month. “And I hold myself responsible for a number of them.”
“But the truth of the matter, Christiane, is that the very powerful troika of creditors were not interested in coming a sensible, honorable, mutually beneficial agreement,” he said, referring to the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission.
“I think that close inspection is going to reveal the truth of what I am saying: They were far more interested in humiliating this government and overthrowing it, or at least making sure that it overthrows itself in terms of its policies, than they were interested in an agreement that would for instance ensure that they would get most of their money back.”
“It’s very hard for me, however much I would like to, to take responsibility for a policy over which I resigned.”
Greece last week accepted terms for a third bailout that many say was on harsher terms than the potential deal that was on the table earlier this year.
Varoufakis’ casual style, leather jackets, and motorcycle riding won him newspaper covers, but his negotiating style grated on his counterparts.
He made sure to emphasize that he “resigned,” and was not “dismissed.”
He stepped down on the night of a controversial referendum, introduced by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, in which the majority of Greeks rejected the harsh austerity the government would later accept.
“The people voted ‘no’ to this extending and pretending, but it became abundantly clear to me on the night of the referendum that the government’s position was going to be to say yes to it.”
Despite his resignation of conscience, Varoufakis said he had sympathy for his former boss.
“He was faced with a choice: Commit suicide or be executed.”
“Alexis Tsipras decided that it [would] be best for the Greek people for this government to stay put and to implement a program which the very same government disagrees with.”
“People like me thought that it would be more honorable, and in the long term more appropriate, for us to resign. This is why I resigned. But I recognize his arguments as being equally powerful as mine.”
Even economists with sympathy for Greece’s cause, like the Nobel-Prize winning Paul Krugman, have expressed some dismay at the Tsipras government’s handling of the crisis.
“They thought they could simply demand better terms without having any backup plan,” Krugman told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria. “So, certainly this is a shock.”
“But, you know, in some sense it’s hopeless in any case … I mean, the new terms are even worse, but the terms that they were being offered before were still not going to work. So, I, you know – I may have overestimated the competence of the Greek government.”
Varoufakis said he agreed entirely with Krugman, “however shocking that may sound to you.”
“It’s not true we did not have a Plan B. We had a Plan B.”
“We, in the Ministry of Finance, developed it. Under the egis of the Prime Minister, who ordered us to do this, even before we came in the Ministry of Finance.”
“Of course, you realize that these plans – Plan Bs – are always, by definition, highly imperfect, because they have to be kept within a very small circle of people, otherwise if they leak, a self-fulfilling prophecy emerges.”
That plan, he said, was not for Greece to leave the Eurozone, a Grexit, but rather for the government to create “euro-denominated currency” – in other words, for the government to print its own, temporary currency, pegged to the value of the euro.
“The fact of the matter is that that Plan B was not energized – I didn’t get the green light to effect it, to push the button, if you want.”
That, he said, was one of the “main reasons why I resigned.”