Skip to main content
Part of international coverage of

Greeks fearful of what will follow U.S. elections

By Yanis Varoufakis, Special to CNN
October 9, 2012 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
As U.S. voters prepare to head to the polls, Greeks remain in the dark over whether European bailout plans will allow them to remain in the euro. As U.S. voters prepare to head to the polls, Greeks remain in the dark over whether European bailout plans will allow them to remain in the euro.
Election 2012: Postcard from Athens
Election 2012: Postcard from Athens
Election 2012: Postcard from Athens
Election 2012: Postcard from Athens
Election 2012: Postcard from Athens
Election 2012: Postcard from Athens
Election 2012: Postcard from Athens
Election 2012: Postcard from Athens
Election 2012: Postcard from Athens
Election 2012: Postcard from Athens
Election 2012: Postcard from Athens
  • Greeks believe U.S. has no sway over Europe's economic crisis, says Varoufakis
  • Many are worried the ECB could plan to kick Greece out of euro after U.S. election
  • Varoufakis: Crash of 2008 robbed America of much of its global authority

Editor's note: Yanis Varoufakis is professor of economics at the University of Athens, visiting professor at the University of Texas, Austin and author of "The Global Minotaur: America, the true causes of the financial crisis and the future of the world economy."

Athens, Greece (CNN) -- My first memory of anything to do with a U.S. presidential election lurks in the mists of my Athenian childhood.

It was a warm June evening. My mother had taken me for a walk around the ancient stadium where the first modern-era Olympics were staged in 1896.

Suddenly I saw her eyes fill with tears after hearing a newsboy screaming, at the top of his voice, that someone called Bobby Kennedy was dead.

Yanis Varoufakis
Yanis Varoufakis

It was 1968, a year into the dark ages of our military dictatorship. I still recall her explanation of those tears: "He was our last chance," she lamented.

When in the months and years that followed members of my family were arrested by the secret police, when the streets of Athens caught fire following the student uprising of 1973, when, indeed, war broke out over Cyprus in 1974, it was not hard to imagine that our calamities must have had something to do with the fact that three well aimed bullets had kept a good man out of the White House.

Jerusalem postcard: Mitt Romney walks fine line

It was 1976 again when a U.S. presidential campaign snuck into my then-teenage imagination. I recall my schoolmaster's enthusiasm for a certain Mr. Carter -- who would, in his estimation, put human rights on the map, impose an arms embargo on Turkey and, thus, reward the recently re-democratised Greece with the bargaining power it craved so as to reverse Cyprus' occupation, and thus liberate us Greeks from the need to spend an unseemly portion of our national income on defence.

While the embargo was indeed introduced, it was not long before my schoolmaster and every other Greek I knew were deeply disappointed by the president from Georgia.

Looking back, every U.S. election of that past few decades incited expectations amongst my fellow Greeks that were, quite quickly, dashed -- although this was more a reflection of our unrealistic expectations than on anything that occurred in Washington.

Thankfully, this pattern seems to have been broken. Today, no one I know casts a longing eye on the White House. Even though Greece is needier than it has been for a long while, Greeks are not looking to Washington, D.C. for rays of hope.

Havana postcard: Should U.S. raise fist to Cuba?

If anything, Greek public opinion is wary of what might happen after the election is over, fearful that Germany and the European Central Bank may be delaying any attempt to amputate Greece from the eurozone until after the political dust has settled in the United States.

My hunch is that Greeks have the impression that America no longer has either the interest or the capacity to influence our modus vivendi.

They saw the contempt with which the inane European finance ministers treated Tim Geithner, the U.S. Treasury Secretary, in the fall of 2011, when he visited them in Poland to impart advice on how to address the euro crisis.

From this and other sad incidents, Greeks have surmised that the U.S. no longer holds sway over our European destiny; at least not the way it used to.

Delhi postcard: Why India longs for U.S. election

Where once we would intensely study every little sign coming from Washington for clues of what might befall or grace us, now the Greek antennae are trained anxiously toward Frankfurt, Berlin and Paris.

Six-day work week in Greece?

While these lines are being written, my wife and I are preparing for our move to America; in effect, postmodern refugees from our hideous crisis. A job offer as chief economist for a video game company, and a visiting professorship at University of Texas, at Austin, plus an opportunity for my artist wife to work and exhibit in the West Coast, offered us escape pods from the misery of Greece, indeed from Europe's inanity.

As we prepare, our friends, strangers who stop me in the street, waiters in restaurants, everyone asks us about America. And most have something to say about the presidential election.

The Greeks I speak to would rather Mr. Obama won. But they do not fear a Mitt Romney administration. Interestingly, they tend to think of the U.S. as a country which, powerful as it may still be, is just as impotent in the face of the forces of global recession as we are.

More: Get latest updates at CNN's Election HQ

And here lies the difference from the past: Athenians exhibit a new and unexpected form of national unity when discussing the U.S. election!

Whereas in the past we were divided between Left and Right, between pro- and anti-Americans, nowadays America is being seen by almost everyone here as a kindred spirit; a nation that understands what the Greeks, the Irish, the Portuguese etc. are going through in the hands of a German-dominated austerian Europe; a continent that has lost its way.

Greeks even seem to have developed a sophisticated feel about the divisions within the United States, between those struggling in the current recessionary climate and the notorious 1% who have never had it so good. And they can map these divisions onto the divisions that are burgeoning in Europe between the "core" and the '"periphery."

Paradoxically, it may be that the crash of 2008 simultaneously robbed America of much of its global authority and endowed my fellow Greeks with a better feel of the Americans' struggle to keep democracy alive in troubled economic times.

Part of complete coverage on
Get all the latest news in Campaign 2012 at CNN's Election Center. There's the latest news, a delegate counter and much more.
From Cuba to South Africa to Japan, people on five continents tell CNN what they're looking for in a U.S. president.
November 7, 2012 -- Updated 1640 GMT (0040 HKT)
The dead-even U.S. election race reflects the nation's deep political chasm across the country. CNN brings you the best election day pictures.
As Americans head to the polls Security Clearance takes one last look at some of the most pressing foreign policy issues facing the candidates.
They represent a sliver of the electorate, yet their choices on Election Day could make a difference.
November 7, 2012 -- Updated 0259 GMT (1059 HKT)
The Chinese artist and political dissident says the American system has flaws -- but that China's system is "inhuman."
October 10, 2012 -- Updated 1053 GMT (1853 HKT)
Afghans fear the silence over the bloody 11-year-old war during the U.S. campaign means it is no longer a foreign policy priority.
October 26, 2012 -- Updated 0928 GMT (1728 HKT)
Memories of his father may be fading in Kenya -- but from the clubs to the teeming barrios for which Nairobi is notorious, his son is widely admired.
November 6, 2012 -- Updated 1105 GMT (1905 HKT)
A look back at CNN's election night coverage, going all the way back to 1980.
October 24, 2012 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Hugo Chavez has endorsed Barack Obama, calling him a "good guy." Is there hope for a fresh start between the U.S. and Venezuela?
Predict which candidate will win each state and see who reaches 270 electoral votes first.
November 5, 2012 -- Updated 1343 GMT (2143 HKT)
CNN's Tom Foreman explains how the Electoral College works and what would happen if there were a tie.
October 24, 2012 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Nigerians were thrilled when a "son of Africa" won in 2008. The luster has worn off, but has any of it found its way to Romney?
November 5, 2012 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
If there's one thing that would have struck a chord with Hong Kongers, it was Barack Obama and Mitt Romney using China as a political punching bag.
October 23, 2012 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
China bashing has taken center stage in the U.S. election, where everyone seem bent on casting China as the bad guy.
Christian Amanpour says the chance to transform Afghanistan is slipping away -- and that the election won't make a difference.
October 17, 2012 -- Updated 0937 GMT (1737 HKT)
Obama's "Yes we can" message has long faded away amid plummeting relations between the two countries, writes Masud Alam.
See where the nation stands on one of the tightest races for the White House in years. Follow the numbers as Americans flock to the polls.
November 6, 2012 -- Updated 2120 GMT (0520 HKT)
With the months-long campaign finished and the presidential election under way, CNN brings you the best pictures from the campaign trail.
October 12, 2012 -- Updated 1052 GMT (1852 HKT)
For many in Iraq following the U.S. election, the Republican party remains the party of deeply-despised George W. Bush.
October 11, 2012 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
After months of talking about each other, Obama and Romney finally go toe-to-toe. But do debates actually affect election outcomes?
Use an interactive map to explore the money game and the strategies of the Obama and Romney campaigns.
October 8, 2012 -- Updated 2151 GMT (0551 HKT)
Mitt Romney promises to take the U.S. back to a foreign policy based on exerting global influence through military and economic power.
October 2, 2012 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Brooke Baldwin talks to Erin Burnett about foreign policy being a major component of the 2012 presidential election.
October 9, 2012 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
CNN fact checks Mitt Romney's claim that Barack Obama was 'silent' when anti-regime protests broke out in Iran in 2009.
October 9, 2012 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Yanis Varoufakis says some Athenians fear Europe is waiting until after the U.S. election before cutting Greece loose from the euro.
Get the latest political news, campaign stories, and Washington coverage from CNN's team of political experts.
CNN's Security Clearance experts take a country-by-country look at the differences between the candidates' approach to foreign policy.
October 9, 2012 -- Updated 1308 GMT (2108 HKT)
Whoever wins the upcoming U.S. election will find Cuba in a state of flux, says Nobel Prize nominee Yoani Sanchez.
July 29, 2012 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem tell CNN which U.S. presidential candidate is better for their cause.
July 21, 2012 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
People in London step up to CNN's Open Mic and deliver their messages to the U.S. and its presidential candidates.
May 22, 2012 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
Award-winning novelist Manu Joseph says there must be something about human nature that divides the species into Democrats and Republicans.
June 1, 2012 -- Updated 0604 GMT (1404 HKT)
Mexicans step up to CNN's Open Mic and offer their messages to the U.S. presidential candidates.
April 24, 2012 -- Updated 1038 GMT (1838 HKT)
The U.S. election race conjures up images of mud flying through the air for many Japanese.
March 5, 2012 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
With the amount of campaign spending in the U.S. projected to exceed $6 billion, we look at how this compares to other countries.