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Who is Alexis Tsipras?


If his party wins the January 25 snap parliamentary election in Greece, and he himself succeeds in forming a government, then Alexis Tsipras, the 41-year-old firebrand leader of the Coalition of the Radical Left (or Syriza) party, will not only become Europe’s currently youngest prime minister, but, Cyprus apart, also the first leader of a hard-left government in the Continent.

As his populism does not bode well for the country’s badly harmed liberal institutions and his promise to tear up Greece’s bailout agreement and write off some of its debt has revived fears of a Greek exit from the Eurozone, the question is: who really is politician Alexis Tsipras and, given the circumstances in Greece, what is his leadership potential?

Born only four days after Greece’s transition to democracy on July 24, 1974, in a middle-class social milieu, his early life years were largely unexceptional. While in high school, he joined the Greek Communist Party youth, where he met his current partner, and excelled in school occupations.

As a student of civil engineering at the University of Athens, he became an active member of the student union. After that, he followed the typical career of political apparatchik. He joined the Synaspismos (meaning, coalition) party, then a merger of radical leftist forces, and served consecutively as political secretary of the party youth and an elected member of its Central Committee. In the 2006 municipal elections, the party chairman, Alekos Alavanos, proposed the 32-year-old Tsipras as a candidate mayor of Athens, thus elevating him to national prominence.

It was at that time that Tsipras also made a brief, ill-fated attempt towards a professional career as an engineer, but, according to his own admission, the technical firm he helped establish was not particularly active, and even incurred some losses. In early 2008, Alavanos stepped down from the leadership of the party, which had been renamed Syriza, and was replaced by Tsipras, who now fully dedicated himself to his party and national politics. That was exactly when Greece entered its own political, and subsequently economic, whirl.

In the political crisis that commenced in Greece in December 2008, after the police shooting of a schoolboy in Athens and led to three weeks of violent mass rioting across the country, Syriza actively championed street mobilizations. Although many young people began to identify with the party, its electoral support still remained low: in the 2009 parliamentary elections it gained a rather poor 4.6 percent of the national vote.

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