EDITOR’S NOTE: This article includes the four installments of #ThisIsACoup, a documentary in four installments, directed by Theopi Skarlatos and produced and narrated by Paul Mason. #ThisIsACoup is a partnership with The Intercept's Field of Vision.
Yanis Varoufakis is pacing the marble hall, cellphone to his ear. In the Maximos Mansion, where the cabinet is about to meet, there’s a “spy room” for secure communications. But by June 21, Varoufakis—hunched against a statue—no longer needs it.
If the Germans are listening, they need to hear what he is planning to do. With nine days to go until the Greek bailout program ends, Varoufakis is about to offer a significant compromise to the lenders. Pensions will be cut, and taxes hiked—hitting the fiscal targets demanded by Europe. That’s Plan A. If it doesn’t work, there is a Plan B, which he explains almost in a whisper:
“My very strong suspicion is that the powers that be, at least within the Eurogroup, have made up their minds to give us an offer we can’t possibly sign up to, and that as a result, there’s going to be bank closures on Tuesday.”
Are you ready for that? I ask him. “Of course not,” he says. “Nobody is ready for Armageddon.”
“The big question is this: Once the banks close their doors, are we prepared to do what it takes—and respond to this aggressive act by the [European Central Bank] and the Bank of Greece aggressively—by haircutting the €27 billion of SMP bonds we owe to the ECB?”
Varoufakis knows defaulting on the ECB would be like dropping a financial atom bomb. We store the only copy of the interview in a safe and wait for Armageddon. But it doesn’t come.
If Syriza had gone to Brussels and provoked the showdown, scrapped €27 billion worth of debt to the ECB and mobilized the vast network of support it enjoyed in Europe, it might have stood a chance. Instead, Greek negotiators spent the next week pursuing the same strategy of compromise that had got them nowhere for months.
On Friday, June 26, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras walked away from the negotiations and called a referendum; but it was never backed by the kind of action Varoufakis proposed.
By July 13, Greek resistance to austerity was over: With the economy close to collapse, Tsipras was forced to sign a new bailout deal, handing economic sovereignty to Brussels. The first left-wing government in modern Europe had been effectively destroyed. The delight of the European elite was summed up by Slovak Finance Minister Peter Kazimir: “tough for Athens” he tweeted, “because of their ‘Greek Spring.’”
Syriza’s clash with the eurozone holds lessons not just for the left but also for any politician who wants to enact a break from neoliberal economics. With filmmaker Theopi Skarlatos, I spent six months watching the dream fall apart. We filmed on condition that the interviews would be broadcast only after the crisis was over.
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January, 25, 2015: As he returns to Syriza’s HQ on election night, Alexis Tsipras knows he’s going to be prime minister. He will need a coalition with a small party of right-wing nationalists, the Independent Greeks, to form a working majority. But he will be free of the trap prepared for him by the political center—an enforced grand coalition with remnants of the pro-austerity parties