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Yanis Varou­fakis's retelling of the Greek debt crisis will galvanise Eurosceptics

Adults in the Room: My Battle with Europe's Deep Establishment also reveals a curious bond between the former Greek finance minister and Norman Lamont.

Halfway through this book my mind drifted to Arthur Dent, the hapless hero of Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. Seeking enlightenment, Arthur is directed to a half-blind crone battling giant flies in a cave. She gives him a pile of paper and tells him to photocopy every sheet. Confused, he asks if this is her advice. No, she replies – it’s the story of my life. Do the exact opposite of what I did, and then you won’t end your life in a smelly old cave.

It is tempting to interpret Yanis Varou­fakis’s account of his tempestuous period as finance minister of Greece in the same vein. The “erratic Marxist” spent his brief time in office, in the first half of 2015, locked in battle with Greece’s eurozone creditors as he vainly attempted to convince them to release his country from “Bailoutistan”, the debtors’ prison it had occupied since 2010. Confronting his adversaries with grand reforms and exotic debt-swap proposals, Varoufakis encountered a dogmatic refusal to engage. He resigned amid capital controls (not yet lifted), a chaotic referendum and the Greeks’ final capitulation. Some will see his gambit as an honourable attempt to restore dignity to a nation battered by years of austerity. But few could argue that his efforts amounted to anything other than ignominious failure, though he finds little room here to interrogate his own decisions.

It is hard to gainsay Varoufakis’s critique of the bailouts. The fiscal measures they entailed sucked demand from a shrinking economy and saddled Greece with unpayable debt. But if Varoufakis was a reasonable economist, he made for an appalling politician. As his minutely detailed accounts of meetings of the Eurogroup (the 19 eurozone finance ministers) indicate, he treated the gatherings as quasi-academic exercises, in which he would subject his counterparts to hectoring. It is hardly surprising that few were minded to play along. Greece’s perilous situation – Varoufakis took office just a few weeks before the bailout was due to expire – left him with little time for the patient coalition-building that is the only way to get business done in Brussels. But a good negotiator calibrates his approach to the circumstances. Varoufakis merely lectured.

How could Varoufakis, representing a nation worth just 2 per cent of eurozone GDP, have hoped to win his detractors over? First, by the power of his arguments; this is not a man crippled by self-doubt. But if that failed, he had in his back pocket credible threats he thinks would have forced Germany, the European Central Bank and, by extension, the rest of the eurozone to offer Greece better terms. (One wacky scheme involved an electronic payments system that could have served as a temporary parallel currency, should the ECB have shuttered Greece’s banks.) Whether his outlandish plans would have brought Angela Merkel to her knees we will never know. Ultimately Varoufakis’s humiliation lies in the treachery of his own side: notably Alexis Tsipras, the prime minister, whose early promises to support him crumble, we are told, in the face of looming default and Grexit.

It is Tsipras’s referendum, on a final offer made by the creditors as a hard deadline approached, that does for Varoufakis. Outside observers saw clearly that the referendum was a gun pointed at Greece’s own head. No electoral mandate, however thumping (over 60 per cent of Greek voters followed their government’s suggestion to reject the bailout proposals), will nudge the other side into compromise if they hold the better negotiating hand – as Theresa May will soon learn. Greece’s mighty Oxi (“No”), celebrated by Varoufakis, led directly to Tsipras’s capitulation at an all-night summit in Brussels in July 2015, and the signing of a third bailout on worse terms than the creditors were previously prepared to offer. (A fourth is now heaving into view.)

It’s not clear what audience ­Varoufakis has in mind for this carefully written but overlong book. Its value as a record for historians hinges on the minister’s often-questioned reliability as a narrator. The blow-by-blow accounts of his battles with the hated “troika” (the IMF, ECB and European Commission) are of nostalgic interest only to the small number of us who were immersed in the drama in 2015. Eurosceptics, at least, will find much to confirm their hunch that the EU is a bureaucratic monster incapable of brooking democratic dissent. And one curiosity of the book is the enduring bond Varoufakis forms with Norman Lamont, today a gung-ho Brexiteer. It is also fun to see Emmanuel Macron, then France’s economy minister, make the odd cameo as a pro-Greek rebel powerless to shape events.

Greece was the first sign that all was not well in the eurozone, and it remains the last country in the sickbed today (though Italy is looking a little green). Its detractors say that its governments never tried seriously to tackle Greece’s deep-rooted ills of clientelism, corruption and tax evasion. Their critics, like Varoufakis, argue that the crushing austerity forced on Greece made it impossible to do anything other than struggle to stay afloat. Lost in the middle are the millions of Greeks dumped into poverty or forced to emigrate by an endless recession in which GDP slumped by a quarter after 2008. Varoufakis’s input is useful in weighing the balance of blame for Greece’s woes. But when it comes to negotiating, his is an example of what not to do. 

Tom Nuttall writes the Economist’s Charlemagne column

This article first appeared in the 18 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Age of Lies

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Skam, interrupted: why is the phenomenally popular teen drama ending before its peak?

The show has been building towards high school graduation – but now it’s ending before its lead characters finish school.

“Have you heard they started their bus already?”
“No!”
“One month into high school – and they started their bus.”

This Skype conversation between Eva and Isak comes early in the first episode of Skam. The phenomenally internationally successful series follows teenagers at a high school in Oslo. The “bus” they're discussing is a key plot point and concern of the students' lives. That’s because, in Norway, graduating high school students participate in “russefeiring” – it’s a rite of passage into adulthood, a celebration of completing high school, and a farewell to friends departing for university or jobs around the country.

Students gather into groups, give their gang a name, wear matching coloured overalls, rent a big car or a van, and spend late April to mid May (17 May – Norwegian Constitution Day) continuously partying. They call it the “three week binge”. It’s a big fucking deal. 

Skam, with its focus on teens in high school, has therefore spent a lot of time thinking about “russ”. The show, which is set at the exact same time it airs, has followed its four main characters Eva, Noora, Isak and Sana (who each have a season of the show written from their perspective, a la Skins), as well as all their friends, from their first few weeks at school in September 2015. In other words, preparations take years, and we’ve heard a lot about the plans for their russ bus.

In season one, Eva has fallen out with her best friend, and is hurt when she hears she is moving on and has formed a new bus, with new friends, called Pepsi Max.

We meet one of the show’s most prominent characters, Vilde, when we see her trying to get a bus of girls together. The show’s five main girl characters, Eva, Noora, Vilde, Chris and Sana, become friends because of her efforts: they bond during their “bus meetings” and fundraising attempts. They flirt with a group of boys on a bus calling themselves “The Penetrators”.

The latest season follows Sana’s struggles to ensure the bus doesn’t fall apart, and an attempt to join buses with rivals Pepsi Max. The joyful climax of season four comes when they finally buy their own bus and stop social-climbing, naming themselves “Los Losers”. Bus drama is the glue that keeps the show together.

But now, in June 2017, a whole year before the characters graduate, Skam is ending. The architect of the girls’ bus, Vilde, has never had her own season, unlike most of her friends. Many assumed that Vilde would have had her own season during her final year at school. Fans insist the show’s creator Julie Andem planned nine seasons in total, yet Skam is ending after just four.

The news that Skam would stop after season four came during the announcement that Sana, a Muslim member of the “girl squad”, would be the next main character. The show’s intense fandom were delighted by the character choice, but devastated at the news that there would only be one more season. “I can’t accept that this is the last season,” one wrote on Reddit.

“I'm so shocked and sad. It’s honestly just...weird. It doesn’t make sense, and it’s not fair. It’s not fair that we’re not getting a Vilde season. Most importantly, it’s not fair that we’ll never get to see them on their russ, see them graduating, nothing. It seems like such an abrupt decision. It doesn’t serve the storyline at all.”

No one has given a concrete reason about why the show ended prematurely. Ina, who plays Chris, said in an interview that “we all need a break”.

Some fans went into denial, starting petitions to encourage Andem to continue with the show, while rumours abound suggesting it will return. 

Many speculated that the show simply became too popular to continue. “I think that the show would have had six seasons and a Vilde season if the show didn’t become popular outside of Scandinavia,” one wrote. “I think the pressure and the large amount of cringy fans (not saying that some Scandinavian fans aren’t cringy) has made making the show less enjoyable for the actors and creators.”

Andem has stayed mostly quiet on her reasons for ending the show, except for a statement made via her Instagram. She recalls how very early on, during a season one shoot, someone first asked her how long the show would last:

“We were standing in the schoolyard at Nissen High School, a small, low-budget production crew, one photographer, the sound engineer and me. ‘Who knows, but I think we should aim for world domination,’ I said. We all laughed, ‘cause I was obviously joking. None of us understood then how big Skam would turn out to be. This experience has been completely unreal, and a joy to be a part of.”

Skam has been a 24/7 job,” she continues. “We recently decided that we won’t be making a new season this fall. I know many of you out there will be upset and disappointed to hear this, but I’m confident this is the right decision.”

Many fans feel that season four has struggled under the burden of ending the show – and divisions and cracks have appeared in the fandom as a result.

Some feel that Sana’s season has been overshadowed by other characters and plotlines, something that is particularly frustrating for those who were keen to see greater Muslim representation in the show. Of a moment in season four involving Noora, the main character from season two, one fan account wrote, “I LOVE season tw- I mean four. That’s Noora’s season right? No wait, is it Willhell’s season??? What’s a Sana.”

Others feel that the subject of Islam hasn’t been tackled well in this season. Some viewers felt one scene, which sees Sana and her white, non-Muslim friend, Isak, discuss Islamophobia, was whitesplainy. 

One popular translation account, that provides a version of the show with English subtitles, wrote of the scene: “A lot of you guys have been disappointed by the latest clip and you’re not the only ones. We do want to finish this project for the fans but we are disappointed with how this season has gone.” They announced they would be translating less as a result.

The final week of the show has been light on Sana. Instead, each character who never received a full season has had a few minutes devoted to their perspective. These are the other girls from the girl squad, Vilde and Chris, and the boyfriends of each main character: Eva’s ex Jonas, Isak’s boyfriend Even, Eva’s current fling “Penetrator Chris” and Noora’s on-off boyfriend William.

It’s understandable to want to cover key perspectives in the show’s final week, but it can feel teasing – we get a short glimpse into characters' home lives, like Vilde struggling to care for her depressed mother, but the scene ends before we can really get into it. And, of course, it takes precious time away from Sana in the show’s final minutes.

Some were frustrated by the characters focused on. “Penetrator Chris” is a particularly minor character – one fan account wrote of his scene: “This is absolutely irrelevant. 1) It sidelines Sana 2) It asks more questions 3) It doesn’t answer shit. This isn’t even Sana’s season anymore and that’s absolutely disgusting. She didn’t even get closure or ten episodes or anything.

“Sana has been disrespected and disregarded and erased and sidelined and that is fucking gross. She deserved better. Yet here we are watching a Penetrator Chris clip. How ironic that it’s not even called just “Christopher” because that’s all he is. “Penetrator Chris”.

It’s been a dramatic close for a usually warm and tight-knit fan community. Of course, many fans are delighted with the final season: their only sadness is there won’t be more. One of the largest fan accounts tried to keep things positive. “I know people have mixed feelings about Skam and who deserves what in terms of screentime this season (etc),” they wrote, “which I totally understand.

"However, everything has already been filmed, so there is nothing we can do about it. I think this last week of Skam will be much more enjoyable for everyone if we focus on the positives in the clips ahead. Skam isn’t perfect. People are allowed to disagree. But let’s go into this week being grateful for everything Skam has given us.”

Some fans choose to look to what the future holds for the show – an American remake. It will keep the same characters and plotlines as the original, and Andem may be involved.

Few think it will be a patch on the current show, but some are excited to have the chance to watch it teasingly as a group regardless. It seems unlikely that the US remake will compare in terms of quality – not least because the original was so heavily researched and tied to Norwegian culture. But for fans struggling to let go of Skam, it can’t come soon enough.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.

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