Photographs of Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis in his beautiful Athens home in a French celebrity magazine caused a storm on social media Friday as his ministry admitted it may raid the country’s social security funds to stave off bankruptcy.
Varoufakis is seen in Paris Match at a piano in his living room, and dining in some style on the roof terrace of his “love nest at the foot of the Acropolis”, while telling the magazine how he abhorred the “star system”.
“There is always a relationship between a democratic deficit and a deficit of values,” he added.
Paris Match also revealed that Varoufakis and his wife, the glamorous artist Danae Stratou, are about to move from their present home in the fashionable Plaka district to a larger apartment, which is owned by her industrialist family.
The reaction on social media was instant and unforgiving of the finance chief in Greeces new hard-left Syriza government which has described the country’s financial plight as a humanitarian crisis.
Financial Times economics editor Chris Giles tweeted: “The humanitarian crisis in Greece… Un-put-downable… Highlight of the morning.”
Varoufakis’s fellow economist Benn Steil, of the US Council on Foreign Relations, joked, “Lifestyles of the rich and famous, Syriza edition”, while Eric Maurice, of the European Journalists Association, also tweeted, “Varoufakis has a good lifestyle but very bad PR.”
The article in the glossy weekly came days after Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said he had asked his flamboyant finance chief and other ministers not to give so many interviews and focus on getting things done.
The debt-wracked country faces repayments of 6 billion euros ($6.4 billion) in the next two weeks alone and, with its bailout frozen, the finance ministry is asking parliament to allow it to raise money from the reserves of the pensions and social security system.
The timing of the photographs could not have been worse for the self-styled “erratic Marxist” economist, whose first speech as finance minister lacerated the culture of bling which had helped sink Greece into debt.
The new radical left Syriza government, he insisted, heralded a return to the restraint of the ancients. “We are in favour of austere life. Growth does not mean having Porsche Cayennes on narrow Athens streets,” he said. “Greeks created when they were austere: they didn’t have loans and overdrawn credit cards.”
There were noticeably fewer negative reactions to the photos on social media in Greece than from the rest of the Europe. And his French publishers, Editions du Cercle, were quick to come to his defence on Twitter: “I find the Varoufakis report in Paris Match absolutely wonderful. But there are always idiots who will spit their venom!” Last week the Syriza daily Avgi warned Varoufakis to step back from toxic “overexposure” after he was widely ridiculed in Greece for his omnipresence on TV.
“Yanis, don’t overdo it,” the paper said. “Because… it’s about being frugal with words too.”
The Paris Match shoot, apparently done last weekend when Athens was looking its best in spring sunshine, has the finance minister also flicking through one of his own books, and opening his family photo album to show that he was not always the matinee idol that has made him a sex symbol even in Germany.
With no reaction as yet from Varoufakis — his last tweet on March 1 was “dedicated to muck-racking journalists” — another Greek user of the network, versendaal, attempted to predict his reaction. “Tomorrow Varoufakis will claim to have been misled by muckraking Paris Match journos. ‘I thought I was talking to Le Nouvel Observateur’ (the French political weekly).”