From The Financial Times' The Big Read 7:05 pm:
As Syriza leader eyes election win, everyone wants to know what really motivates him
They were the biggest student protests since the 1973 Athens Polytechnic uprising that helped bring down Greece’s military dictatorship. Angry at education reforms proposed in late 1990 by Greece’s centre-right government that would have slashed benefits such as free textbooks, students occupied schools across the country. More than 90 per cent of academic institutions were taken over.
To co-ordinate demands, student leaders from all over Athens came to Ampelokipoi high school. At the front of the assembly stood the school’s own delegate, a 16-year-old member of the local Communist youth, Alexis Tsipras.
Many of the students, particularly on the leftist fringes, were pushing for a radical overhaul of the country’s education system. “We didn’t want exams, we didn’t want grades, we wanted an open school,” recalls Matthaios Tsimitakis, an Athens journalist who was one of the student leaders at the assembly.
But not Mr Tsipras. Despite his leftist credentials, Mr Tsipras urged only one demand: withdraw the reforms. Although the protests would grow tense — a teacher was killed in clashes between rival groups in January 1991 — Mr Tsipras, who became one of the main negotiators with the government, held his line. And, three months after they were proposed, the government sacked its education minister and withdrew the reforms. The protests ended.
Twenty-five years later, Mr Tsipras, now 40, is on the verge of becoming Greece’s prime minister as leader of Syriza, the radical leftist party poised to win Sunday’s parliamentary election. If it emerges victorious, Syriza would become the first of the burgeoning populist parties rocking the eurozone to come to power in a national capital since the debt crisis first hit the EU’s common currency in 2010.Those who have worked closely with Mr Tsipras say the qualities he showed during that 1990 political baptism — preternatural maturity, an ability to co-opt and diffuse the demands from more radical rivals, a single-minded focus on the end goal — are the same that have marked every step of his stunning rise.
“What he says is: even if you have the greatest agenda, and the smartest programme, if you’re not powerful enough to form a majority to implement it, it only stays on paper,” says Nikos Pappas, Mr Tsipras’ chief of staff.
But those same tendencies have led critics to argue that rather than the idealistic hero of struggling Greeks he is presenting to voters, Mr Tsipras is really a far more cynical and calculating operative, using his charisma and boyish good looks to present a friendly face as he elbows his way to the top.
“I think he’s very ambitious,” says one former member of the party’s central committee who broke with the group during Mr Tsipras’s rise. “That’s the only thing motivating him. He’d like very much to be the prime minister.”Alexis Tsipras: Greece's radical or realist?
Even Mr Tsipras’s predecessor as Syriza chief, Alekos Alavanos, questions whether the party’s rhetoric matches its intentions. “It has radical left origins, but Syriza now is a moderate party,” says Mr Alavanos, credited by many with orchestrating Mr Tsipras’s rise....MUCH MORE