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Varoufakis: Traitor?

Walter Russell Mead

Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis could stand trial for treason after a recording emerged over the weekend in which he reveals he was involved in a plot to set up a parallel currency to be used if European creditors attempted to shut down the Greek banking system. The Times of London reports:

The legal move against Mr Varoufakis allows parliament to prepare a special congressional committee to examine the allegations. “It can all happen quite fast,” said Anna Asimakopoulou, a leading member of the conservative New Democracy party.

All of those implicated face criminal charges ranging from breach of privacy to operating like a criminal gang with the intent of reverting to a different currency, judicial sources told The Times. Mr Varoufakis also faces charges of high treason and breach of duty — which carry prison sentences of between five and 25 years.

Other non-Greeks, such as economist James Galbraith, whom Varoufakis consulted with in the months during which the plan was being fleshed out, may also see charges brought against them by Greek authorities.

Opposition politicians are trying to put pressure on Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who is said to have authorized Varoufakis to proceed with the plan shortly before Syriza was swept to power earlier this year. “The working assumption was that the government was operating all this time with the interest of keeping the country in the euro”, New Democracy’s Asimakopoulou told the Times. “Learning that it wasn’t is troubling. What’s more, these revelations leave open the question of whether this plan has been scrapped or just shelved. We need to know.” Tsipras, who turned 41 yesterday, currently enjoys a 61 percent approval rating.

Varoufakis may be a Marxist clown, and his grandstanding has gutted his country and left it bleeding and gasping on the floor. But indicting him for treason would be the wrong next step.

Outsiders often underestimate the deep grievances and fissures in Greece. A cruel and barbaric civil war set a totalitarian left and an oligarchic, bloody-minded right at each others’ throats. The terrible situation of the country has rekindled some of these old hatreds on both sides.

All these bizarre stories of secret hacks of government computers, as well as whatever other cloak-and-dagger plans the Tsipras government was keeping in reserve, need an airing. The revelations are sure to bring intense bitterness and despair, especially when experienced while the full cost of Varoufakis’ follies make themselves felt across the country’s already-battered economy.

But a criminal prosecution will not make anything better. There is nothing to be gained—and much to be lost—by stirring old hatreds up even more than circumstances already are.

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