2013-02-15 17:28:25

Ode on a Grecian Radical

hen I met Alexis Tsipras in late January at a small gathering in The Nation’s New York offices, it was immediately clear he is no ordinary politician. The 38-year- old former civil engineer and current leader of Syriza, the main opposition party in the Greek parliament, intro- duced himself uncertainly to the room of journalists before pouring some cof- fee into a plastic cup, which he held un- comfortably for a few moments before someone dashed to find him a better- insulated paper cup. Not the smooth- est of initial impressions. Tsipras, who rides to parliament on a BMW motor- cycle, would be ill-suited for the baby- kissing pageantry of American politics.

Nor would he be comfortable with the vague platitudes commonplace here. Tsipras came across as intelligent

and well-rounded, impressing even the conservatives in the room with his grasp of the economic situation and the balance of political forces in his country. To the pleasant surprise of some, and the disappointment of others, Tsipras didn’t present a revo- lutionary platform, but rather a new social democratic common sense—a Left alternative to austerity that could serve as a guidepost for other nations in Europe’s periphery.

The movement wasn’t exactly on the ascent in the late 1980s, but Tsip- ras joined the Communist Youth of Greece when he was in high school anyway. At the time, the Greek Left was concentrated in Synaspismós, an elec- toral coalition between the hardline pro-Soviet Communist Party of Greece and reformers in the Communist Party of Greece (interior). The latter

was formed in the 1960s, by socialists inspired by the example of the Italian Communist Party, which advocated more democratic forms of social trans- formation in Western Europe free of the “Soviet model.”

Following the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, Synaspismós came to be domi- nated by these reformers. When, in 2004, Synaspismós came together with other small parties to form an alliance called the Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza), Tsipras was there with them. An unfailingly charismatic leader, he quickly rose through the ranks.

Today, he is poised to become the youngest prime minister in the Euro- pean Union.

The terrain was fertile. Greece has a radical past, with even the unabash- edly Stalinist Communist Party of Greece (KKE)—which refuses to work 

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