May 2012, Week 4


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Sat, 26 May 2012 16:04:31 -0400
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Is Alexis Tsirpas a Danger for Europe?

    The leader of Greece's leftist alliance SYRIZA
    is the new bright hope of Greek politics.
    Steering a course between pragmatism and the
    rhetoric of class warfare, he has unsettled
    Berlin, and not just those who back Angela
    Merkel's austerity policies.

By Jan Pfaff
Der Freitag Berlin (Germany)
May 25, 2012


Alexis Tsirpas's visit to Berlin this Tuesday, fresh
from Paris, can be seen as a show of his new self-
confidence. Invited by the Left Party, he is out to
recruit followers for his ideas in the country that has
been by far the most unswerving on the austerity

The CDU hastily signalled in advance that there was no
need to meet the rising star of the left. The SPD
wavered. It was enough to get Tsipras the attention he
wants. As he approaches the Reichstag cameras he
flashes a broad smile, one that seems a little too big
for everyday life but one that comes across very
engagingly on the screen.

Tsipras utters polite thanks for the reception. He
speaks of solidarity among the German and Greek peoples
and urges them not to allow themselves to get played
off against each other. "We are fighting this fight for
the German workers too."

If he wins office, the first thing he will do is stop
the debt payments and declare the laboriously
negotiated austerity package null and void: that's
Tsipras' promise to the Greek voters. He will also, he
has declared, write off much of the Greek debt entirely
and nationalise the banks. For his critics, he's a
left-wing populist. For the proponents of austerity,
that makes Alexis Tsipras the "most dangerous man in

The right place at the right time

In Greece, though, where a large part of the population
has been pushed to the limits of their endurance by the
crisis, he is hailed as a hero. Tsipras is good-
looking, and the voters love his youthful charm and the
straightforward declarations. He is what the Greeks
call a "Pallikari", a brave boy who bends his knee to
no authority.

Born in 1974 in Athens, Tsirpas was already attracting
notice at the age of 17 by organising student protests.
Not only was he professionally massaging the media, he
was also negotiating hard-headedly with the Minister of

In a photograph from his student days Tsipras sits on a
hill, shoulder-length hair blowing forward over his
face, and laughs into the camera with the unshakeable
optimism of a young man who is firmly convinced that
the world is just waiting to be saved by him.

With the help of the political pull of his father,
Alekos Alavanos, his political career moved ahead fast.
In 2006 he was elected to Athen's City Council, where
he made a name as a politician for the people.
Following his election as Syriza party leader in 2008,
he moved up into parliament in 2009.

Tsipras' rise is explained in no small part by the fact
that he happened to be in the right place at the right
time. Last year, when the Greeks had not yet been so
demoralised by austerity, Tsipras' radical demands
still alarmed many voters. But that's not the only
thing that has changed. The political climate in Europe
as a whole has shifted - and it's become particularly
visible in Fran├žois Hollande's victory in France.

Pleads for understanding

In an interview he gave before leaving for Berlin,
Tsipras stated that Merkel has become "extremely
isolated" by her austerity policies in Europe. In the
New York Times he advised her to follow the example of
the "expansionist approach" of America. It's part of a
broad international media campaign that is helping
Tsipras prepare for possible re-negotiations.

After his brief appearance in the German Left Party's
parliamentary group, the agenda skips briskly forward.
Party leader Klaus Ernst and parliamentary leader Gysi
want to introduce their guest to the capital's press;
the desire of the faltering German left to scoop up a
little of his glamour is palpable. Posed against the
blue wall at the National Press conference, Ernst and
Gysi position Tsipras between them. It looks a little
like a group of football club managers announcing the
signing of a new superstar. "I am not a hero," Tsipras
begins humbly. "My party is not the hero either. The
hero is the Greek people."

The impact of the austerity package has been a
disaster, and a catastrophe in Europe must be averted.
"We're asking for the solidarity of the peoples of
France and Germany," he says. For him, it's not about
asking for more money, but arguing for a different

What would become of the reforms in Greece, then, if he
were to win office? He wants to make the tax system
fairer and generate higher revenues.

Tsipras pleads for understanding; referring to the
Germans as "big brothers", he invites them to visit
Greece on their summer vacations - but on the core
issues he stands his ground: no paying back the Greek
debt under the current conditions. After nearly an hour
the question period ends, and Tsipras hurries with Gysi
to the limousine waiting at the door. Time is short:
Sigmar Gabriel (SPD party leader) has just declared his
readiness to meet.

Translated from the German by Anton Baer


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