Thursday, February 19, 2015

Yanis Varoufakis: The Greek-Australian finance minister in charge of saving Greece's economy

By Daniel Smith Thursday 19 February 2015

Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis Photo: Greek-Australian Yanis Varoufakis faces the challenge of righting Greece's economy. (Reuters: Francois Lenoir)

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Map: Greece

Yanis Varoufakis, the newly minted Greek finance minister and a dual Australian citizen, has courted controversy with both his anti-austerity economic policies and his fashion choices.

His leftist party Syriza came to power in the debt-stricken country in January and made headlines after it vowed to reverse austerity policies and end inspections by its lenders, the International Monetary Fund and European Union.

Mr Varoufakis's dress sense also grabbed plenty of attention, when he attended high-level talks with the British finance minister in Downing Street wearing a leather jacket and bright blue shirt.

Despite saying that his greatest fear was that he "may turn into a politician", the Greek-Australian is now at the centre of renegotiations of Greece's bailout, the result of which could end with the country leaving the Eurozone.

However Mr Varoufakis, a self-proclaimed "libertarian Marxist", was not always a political minister intent on reversing Greece's economic woes.

Born in Athens in 1961, the colourful economist studied in Britain from 1978 after his parents became concerned that he might become the target of paramilitary forces in Greece.

He subsequently taught in the universities of Essex, East Anglia and Cambridge before moving to Sydney where he taught at the University of Sydney's economics department.

George Osborne greets Yanis Varoufakis Photo: Yanis Varoufakis raised eyebrows with his unconventional style for a meeting at Downing Street. (AFP: Justin Tallis)

Mr Varoufakis spent more than a decade in Australia, where his research mainly focused on game theory, the mathematical study of decision-making and of conflict and strategy in social situations.

He taught at the University of Sydney until 2000, when "a combination of nostalgia and abhorrence of the conservative turn of the land Down Under" and a dislike of former prime minister John Howard, who he described as an "awful little man", resulted in his return to Greece.

Mr Varoufakis became a professor of economic theory at the University of Athens and established a doctoral program, before moving to the United States and teaching at the University of Texas after the global financial crisis.

Although he now lives in Greece, Mr Varoufakis's daughter remains in Sydney, meaning he still retains close ties with the city.

"For reasons that I now recognise as legitimate, her mother decided to take Xenia to Sydney and make a home for her there, permanently," he wrote on his blog.

"Xenia's loss left me in a state of shock ... she has been living since then in Sydney, thus guaranteeing the longevity of my relationship with Sydney."

Mr Varoufakis said he was "saved" by meeting and forming a relationship with artist Danae Stratou, and that "as the years go by, and Xenia grows into an autonomous person, the pieces of my life that were so violently separated in 2005 are coming together".

Audio: The plan to save Greece: Yanis Varoufakis (Late Night Live)

Late last month he was appointed Greece's finance minister by prime minister Alexis Tsipras, who also convinced him to return to Greece.

After Syriza's election victory, Mr Varoufakis took to his blog to paraphrase Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

"Greek democracy today chose to stop going gently into the night, Greek democracy resolved to rage against the dying of the light," he wrote.

However recent talks in Brussels, aimed at reaching a new funding deal for Greece and easing its economic pressures, broke up after less than four hours, and Mr Varoufakis now faces the challenge of resolving the deal before the deadline of February 28.

"It is a great challenge, but the challenge is how to minimise social costs which are unnecessary throughout Europe," he said.

Yanis Varoufakis: The Greek-Australian finance minister in charge of saving Greece's economy - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)