LIFE

‘Last Bluff’ a ‘stunning chronicle’ of make-or-break 2015 Athens-Brussels talks

XENIA KOUNALAKI

TAGS: Books, Politics, EU

The presentation of Eleni Varvitsioti and Viktoria Dendrinou’s book “The Last Bluff” (published by Papadopoulos) took place on Monday evening in a packed amphitheater at the Benaki Museum annex on Pireos Street, south of central Athens. Kathimerini's executive editor Alexis Papachelas, who coordinated the event, expressed his conviction that the book is significant “because it could lead to the creation of a ‘truth commission’ to determine what happened in 2015, but also earlier, how we got to bankruptcy.”

“Tonight we are talking about Hamlet without the prince,” he remarked, prompting laughter from the audience. Presenting the speakers, former Eurogroup Working Group head Thomas Wieser, Financial Times journalist Peter Spiegel and Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras, Papachelas spoke of “an association of veterans of the Greek crisis.”

Varvitsioti described the emotional moment when she and her co-author saw the “Plan B” for a Greece outside the eurozone. She also stressed that the book seeks to highlight the significance of interpersonal relationships in influencing the future of Europe.

The authors spent a year and a half writing the book, often wondering how many readers it would attract, apart from a handful of people including friends and relatives.

In the end, “The Last Bluff” became one of the biggest best-sellers of recent years.

Dendrinou explained that the aim of the book was to provide a sober account and point of reference for the Greek crisis, “a camera in the closed meetings of the Eurogroup.” And she revealed that the decision to write the book was taken in June 2015, during those emotionally charged hours when then prime minister Alexis Tsipras announced the referendum.

Wieser – “the anonymous European official,” as Papachelas described him in a reference to his frequent “leaks” to reporters covering the crisis – shot down the myth of Greece being a special case. He acknowledged, however, that a narrow approach focusing on economics was inadequate, and that social and political parameters would have to be taken into account in interpreting the crisis. “We had one excellent book about the crisis, ‘Game Over’ by George Papaconstantinou,” he said, referring to the former Greek finance minister who attended the event. “Now we have two.”

There were excellent officials in successive governments who sustained friendly fire from their own administrations, Wieser said in response to a question from Papachelas. Greece found itself on the edge of the abyss twice – in 2012 and 2015 – and the plan was ready from the first time. It was, after all, a response to how much then German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble wanted Greece out of the eurozone. And he revealed that even though Schaeuble had been against Greece’s exit in 2012, he saw in 2015 how much the Greek government itself wanted to leave the eurozone and changed stance.

Stournaras, for his part, described “The Last Bluff” as “a historic book, a stunning chronicle.” He praised the work of the two writers, noting that there has been not one attempt to rebuff any points made in the book. “It will go down in history because it writes history,” he said.

He also outlined the erroneous conviction of the Greek government in 2015 that it could succeed in a clash with the country’s creditors – the “last bluff” that the book describes – although Europe had already fortified itself against a possible Greek exit.

Stournaras estimated the cost of that period at 47 billion euros, though the more fundamental problem, in his view, was the international community’s loss of trust in the country. He added that when he realized there was a chance a change of currency could be approved in Parliament, he informed the president, who told him, “Don’t worry, I won’t sign anything like that.”

Spiegel criticized both European officials and successive Greek governments, describing Schaeuble and Yanis Varoufakis, who was Greece’s finance minister from January to July 2015, as “two sides of the same coin.” Reviewing the mistakes that were made by Athens over the duration of the crisis, he said that former finance minister Evangelos Venizelos (2011-12) needed an hour and former conservative premier Antonis Samaras (2012-15) a week to understand the mistakes they had made, while Tsipras needed seven months.

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