A Hip Finance Minister and His Indebted Country

Lesson one in gaining the upper hand: take your enemy by surprise. If you can’t overpower him, divert his attention. This week Yanis Varoufakis has shown exactly how it’s done. Greece’s new finance minister has been touring European capitals sporting a leather coat, no tie, and flashy one-liners perfect for viral distribution. Google “Varoufakis” and “coat” or “financial waterboarding” and you’ll see what I mean. But adopting the demeanor of a rock star, Varoufakis turned himself into a political celebrity, cleverly managing to distract the EU public from the fact that the purpose of his European tour was to beg Greece’s lenders to forgive some of its debt.

With his sartorial strategy, Varoufakis also managed to (almost) bury another uncomfortable fact: for several years now, his leftist Syriza party has been maintaining close connections with the Kremlin, most crucially with the extremely influential nationalist ideologue Alexander Dugin. The bearded intellectual promotes Eurasian unity at the expense of the transatlantic kind, and that’s why men like Varoufakis and his boss, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, present a frightening prospect for NATO: What if their poor but loyal partner in the Mediterranean becomes a national fifth column within their alliance? Given that NATO decisions have to be taken unanimously, the Baltic states in particular can be forgiven for worrying about what might happen if Russia sent a few green men and NATO was unable to intervene because of a Greek veto.

But Varoufakis came, was seen in his leather coat, and earned the rock star label. We residents of open societies love such diversions. Is our naïveté aiding the enemies of the open society, of which Karl Popper so memorably warned?

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