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German Media Want Greek Finance Minister’s Head Over ‘Fingergate’

MARCH 16, 2015

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    By ROBERT MACKEY

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    Speaking to a small group of Croatian radicals in 2013, an obscure Greek economist suggested that Greece should have simply defaulted on its debts in 2010 and told the German government to deal with the consequences. For emphasis, he used a crude expression and extended his middle finger, in an ancient gesture considered obscene even in the days of Diogenes.

    Two years later, that economist is Greece’s new finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, and video of his gesture found on YouTube by the German news media has made him into a lightning rod for populist anger in Germany over the increasingly acrimonious debt negotiations between the countries.

    Mr. Varoufakis tried and failed to quell the uproar during an interview on German state television on Sunday when he was confronted with the video and claimed that the footage had been “doctored” and that he had never made the gesture.

    Video professionals were called in and witnesses consulted as Bild, Germany’s most popular tabloid, tried to prove that Mr. Varoufakis had been caught lying about “Fingergate.”

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    In BILD spricht der Mann, der während der Rede Varoufakis neben ihm saß. #Fingergate http://t.co/egA1d9hTIp pic.twitter.com/9fFGOnQ1oz

    — BILD Politik (@BILD_Politik) March 16, 2015

    Mr. Varoufakis, who came to office after the triumph this year of the leftist Syriza party, suggested that it was “an honor” to have made an enemy of Bild, a right-wing newspaper.

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    “It is an honour to have Bild trying to undermine me. The more they do it, the better I sleep at night". Sure, nice try to spin #varoufakis

    — Charlotte Reed (@charlottereed14) March 16, 2015
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    Varoufakis on his way out, says @BILD: "Wurde Varoufakis entmachtet?" — http://t.co/FIh8NEwNLZ pic.twitter.com/BOhf7f1gHv

    — Robert Went (@went1955) March 14, 2015

    The video recording of the talk was confirmed as authentic on Monday in a statement posted on Facebook by its Croatian organizers, who nonetheless attacked the German news media for distorting the context and meaning of the gesture made by Mr. Varoufakis. He was aiming his criticism not at the German people or state but the government in Berlin, the Croats said, “which was at the time and today the main representative of disastrous austerity policies” in the European Union.

    Late Monday night, Mr. Varoufakis seemed to change tack, posting a link on his Twitter feed to an interview with Srecko Horvat, the Croatian philosopher who arranged the economist’s address to the Subversive Festival in Zagreb in 2013. Mr. Horvat argued that, while the gesture had been made, its meaning had been taken out of context.

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    Anyone interested in the truth? Here is the account of the May 2013 conference's organiser http://t.co/H2AsNOW5nX

    — Yanis Varoufakis (@yanisvaroufakis) March 16, 2015

    The finance minister followed suit by posting a link to the full video of the talk, and suggesting that by “doctored” he simply meant the clip had been edited out of its original context.

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    And here is the 'undoctored' by the unscrupulous media's video: https://t.co/WZ3ixfKHC5

    — Yanis Varoufakis (@yanisvaroufakis) March 16, 2015

    The incident suggested that Mr. Varoufakis — whose Twitter biography says that he was “quietly writing obscure academic texts for years, until thrust onto the public scene by Europe’s inane handling of an inevitable crisis” — is struggling with the intensity of the media glare coming from the rest of Europe.

    The attention has not been uniformly negative. Last month, the German satirist Jan Böhmermann scored a viral hit with the off-color song “V for Varoufakis,” which turned on the premise that his nation was terrified by the primal sex appeal of the radical economist, known for wearing a leather jacket and riding a motorcycle.

    Mr. Varoufakis even invited a Paris Match photographer into his home in Athens recently, a decision he said he regretted as soon as the images were released and critics accused him of living the high life at the foot of the Acropolis while pressing Europe to bail out Greece.

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    #YanisVaroufakis - A l’ombre du #Parthénon il se prépare à affronter #Bruxelles et ses diktats http://t.co/3zG0QKUU9u pic.twitter.com/krivrNI91q

    — Paris Match (@ParisMatch) March 13, 2015
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    When seeking easier EU bailout terms, try avoiding glossy spread in @ParisMatch #Varoufakis http://t.co/sf82BKi62J pic.twitter.com/UeVh1Ko2TY

    — Tom Buerkle (@tombuerkle) March 13, 2015
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    Λιτός Βίος τάδε έφη yanis #varoufakis #parismatch #litosvios #Syriza pic.twitter.com/sIj9HADPo6

    — Tsaprrr News (@tsaprrr) March 13, 2015
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    Mr & Mrs Varoufakis lifestyle photo op for @ParisMatch. White wine socialism under the Acropolis. pic.twitter.com/8q6lkMeYfk

    — Yannis Koutsomitis (@YanniKouts) March 12, 2015
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    Life's good! #Varoufakis #parismatch pic.twitter.com/NpJDLAZaDf

    — Berlaymonster (@Berlaymonster) March 13, 2015
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    - What are you reading sweetheart? - MY BOOK #GREXIT #Greece #Varoufakis #LOL pic.twitter.com/ghSqU6dajg

    — Apostolos Kasapis (@akasapis) March 13, 2015

    After the Paris Match photographs were posted online, and Mr. Varoufakis was roundly mocked online, he walked out of an interview with CNBC when asked if the images had made him “a liability” for his government.

    Yanis Varoufakis walking off in the middle of an Interview with CNBC International. CNBC International, via YouTube

    #auto

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