Greece’s departing Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis resigned Monday with the same dramatic flair with which he served.
The brash, outspoken leader, who frequently showed up at meetings on his motorbike, had many fans among the anti-austerity movement in Greece. He also had many critics among those he had to negotiate the country’s economic future with.
At the heart of the bitter dispute is a disagreement about what to do with Greece and its debt — estimated to be more than 300 billion euros ($332 billion).
Varoufakis vehemently opposed any proposal that did not include debt relief or restructuring, even saying he would cut off his arm rather than sign an agreement without them. He felt Greece was caught up in a crisis of Europe’s own doing. Lenders, however, were pushing for agreement that included austerity measures and might limit how much they lose in bad loans to the country.
The relationship between Varoufakis and his peers in the eurozone has been deteriorating for some time, as many other finance ministers had grown irritated with his staunch position. Things had grown so tense that Varoufakis said he would quit if citizens voted in support of the creditors’ bailout package.
Greeks voted against the referendum Sunday, but Varoufakis quit Monday all the same, saying that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras felt it might “help achieve a deal” for the country. The departing leader was told that some of the other eurozone finance ministers and the country’s other creditors would appreciate his not attending the minsters’ meetings.
“I shall wear the creditors’ loathing with pride,” he said.
Varoufakis’ sharp-tongued style has led him to near rock-star status in Greece. Many Greeks praise him for restoring what they see as their lost sense of dignity during five years of a bitter financial crisis. A Facebook fan page titled “V for Varoufakis” has nearly 72,000 likes.
Some praised him for going head-to-head with Germany, an economic powerhouse and major creditor. And Varoufakis called the vote against the referendum a “unique moment when a small European nation rose up against debt-bondage.”
He was unfiltered and unconventional – he never wore a tie, didn’t tuck in his shirt and would keep one hand in his pocket when greeting foreign dignitaries. He was also very public in his position, frequently making bold comments in the news, on Twitter or on his blog.
Despite his perceived rabble-rousing, Varoufakis said Monday that he fully supports the prime minister and the government and said it’s crucial there is a “proper resolution” involving debt restructuring immediately.
Greece and its creditors will meet again Tuesday to discuss how to keep the country in the euro. Hopes for an agreement have improved since his resignation, with belief that his replacement — who has yet to be announced — may help unblock discussions.