With his opponents waiting for the tiniest faux pas, Alexis Tsipras led the Radical Left party SYRIZA to a long-waited victory on January 25, 2015. “The verdict of the Greek people ends, beyond any doubt, the vicious circle of austerity in our country. The verdict of the Greek people annuls today, in an indisputable fashion, the bailout agreements of austerity and disaster. The verdict of the Greek people renders the Troika a thing of the past for our common European framework”, he declared the night of the elections from the podium, when the counted votes secured an undoubted victory.
Scaring to many, senseless to others and promising to the majority of the rest, Tsipras’ words inaugurated a whole newborn era for the Greek society, with him to lead the sloping boat. The rise of Syriza imposes a challenge to Europe’s German-led economic policies of austerity, and the new Prime Minister is the chosen one to renegotiate with its creditors the harsh terms of Greece’s €240bn financial bailout.
Tsirpas was born in Athens in 1974, three days after the fall of the seven-year military junta in Greece. From an early age, he proved to be politically aware and in the late 1980s he joined the Young Communist Society. A few years later his name became known to the public as he participated in the uprising against a controversial educational law imposed by the New Democracy (former leading party in Greece), where almost 70% of schools were occupied, including Tsipras high school. At that time he gave a TV interview where he supported: “we want the right to judge for ourselves whether to skip class.”
Tsipras continued his studies at the National Technical University of Athens and graduated from the department of civil engineering. Later he worked as civil engineer in the construction industry running a technical office along with his brothers, but without ever giving up his passion about politics.
Young tie-less and pioneer
Tsipras is used to be nominated with the title of the first and the youngest in many of the new titles he acquires. In 2008, at the age of 33 when he became head of Synaspismos, the largest party in the SYRIZA coalition, he automatically became the youngest leader of a political party in Greek history.
On January 25, 2015 when SYRIZA won the Greek snap general elections receiving 36% of the vote and 149 out of the 300 seats in the Parliament, he became the country’s first left-wing prime minister, and the youngest in over 150 years.
Since he won the elections, international media have devoted many pages about his loose dressing style. Standing unabashedly against necktie tyranny, Tsipras doesn’t follow the dress code of the old establishment. His non-stereotypical appearance reflects daring position towards the Titan European partners. While debt forgiveness remains an explosive issue, he declares that he will put a tie on when Greece will get a haircut (debt reduction). What does this mean for him? I will play your game, when you follow my rules.
Tsipras has faced a longstanding criticism due to his “radical” ideas regarding police operation. “We need better policing, the police to face and prevent the crime but we do not want a police state”, he said at an open discussion-interview organized prior to the elections through twitter by a left-wind newspaper.
The left leader has paid the price of his ideas in the past. In 2008, a few months after becoming leader of Synaspismos, massive youth unrest broke in the country when a police man shot dead a schoolboy in Athens. The incident led to three weeks of violent mass rioting across the country with SYRIZA actively championing street mobilizations. The party was accused to give political backing to thousands of anarchist youths. During the parliamentary elections in 2009, SYRIZA gained a rather poor 4.6 percent of the national vote.
When the financial crisis hit Greece in 2010, the public started changing its mind about the once insignificant left-wing party. Tsipras continued to believe that public and politicians shouldn’t be detached. The night of the elections he asked the police forces to be reduced in the centre of Athens and the periphery of the parliament. The next day the Athenians where caught into surprise when the barricades surrounding the major governmental building – that had been in place since anti-government protests broke out as a result of the crisis- were removed. The erstwhile fortified Athens is now barrier-free.
A few days later, Tsipras asked to loose the 24-hour police security outside of his residence, an apartment in a common building in the overcrowded inner-city area of Kypseli. The same happened with many other members of SYRIZA’s cabinet that refused to change their habits and travel with bulletproof vehicles.
It’s been only two weeks since Tsipras stormed to power and he has already showed that he is neither the politician European Union could approve nor the one Greek society is used to. It feels like challenging the system is an end in itself. In a country where religion is deeply embedded into culture, Tsipras refused to follow the tradition and take religious oath as Prime Minister.
His ideas are clearly against austerity policies. He shows disobedience to accept a plan based on the old bailout programme while he calls it a “fiscal waterboarding”. By leading the first party replacing the PASOK- New Democracy bipolar of power, Tsipras has what we call a clean background so far and that’s his biggest advantage.
He claims to be driven by a burning passion to dump the old policies that brought a humanitarian crisis in Greece. He claims that he wants to fight tax fraud and dissolve the client state. He is a fierce critic of the powers of oligarchy, but he is not a eurosceptic. He wants to keep the country in the euro while negotiating more fair terms of the bailout.
The pressure over the new government increased last Wednesday, when the European Central Bank cut off direct funding to Greek banks, forcing them to rely instead on emergency loans from the country’s own central bank. The decision was taken after a tense meeting in Frankfurt between the central bank’s president Mario Draghi, and Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s new finance minister. It signalled a hard line in negotiations over debt.
“We won’t be blackmailed, we’re not afraid, we won’t submit” screamed thousands of Greek citizens in a spontaneous rally on Thursday in the capital’s central square of Syntagma. It was the first demo organized in the post-crisis era in support of the leading government, in support of anti-austerity government’s efforts. While corrupted mainstream media in Greece keep looking on the other side, the message of the public is clear: we want to put an end to the humiliation era, to the era where saving banks is more important than people’s quality of life.
Mr Tsipras with his casual look and his transparent background represents the hope for a nation stuck in the point zero for too long. His party is responsible for the resurrection of a country being punished, as a naughty student, to seat alone on the very back of the classroom. He is responsible for putting into spectrum the long-questionable EU policies. If he succeeds, EU will have to rethink its priorities. If he fails, Greek citizens have to be ready to rethink their votes.
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