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A Bold New Prime Minister Sends Ripples Through Greece's Old Political Order

Caption: "Political analysts highlight the danger of a possible attack of Godzilla in Athens, if SYRIZA wins the elections" Meme tweeted by @kgougakis

Caption: “Political analysts highlight the danger of a possible attack of Godzilla in Athens, if SYRIZA wins the elections” Meme tweeted by @kgougakis

Greek social media users have been tweeting in overdrive for a month but they've been on fire since January 25, the day of national legislative elections in Greece, which paved the way for the country's new bold 40-year-old prime minister Alexis Tsipras. 

Tsipras, a self-described atheist, has made history by politely shunning Greece's traditional religious oath of office from the country's Archbishop. He has also become the youngest prime minister in Greek history since 1865.

That's not all. For the first time in 40 years, Greece's two big political parties PASOK or New Democracy are not in the new government, and many “traditional” families with a long history in modern Greek politics are finally out of parliament.

The backstory

It all started with the unprecedented failure of the previous parliament to cast enough votes to elect a new president as head of state, which is a mostly ceremonial role. Their move triggered early general elections. The opposition accused the government of sowing fear to win support for the presidential vote and avoid elections, while former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras warned that “the country risked a catastrophic return to the depths of its debt crisis if the government fell” and claimed that “denial to agree on presidential selection is political blackmail”. Τhere was constant fear-mongering by the government and its allies in mainstream media that it would be the “end of the world” if SYRIZA came to government, as speculated by this article on a popular news portal in December 2014:

Και όλα δείχνουν ότι θα πορευτούν με ασκήσεις πολιτικής τρομοκρατίας, του τύπου κι επιπέδου, «ο ΣΥΡΙΖΑ θα μας οδηγήσει στη χρεοκοπία», «ο ΣΥΡΙΖΑ θα μας βγάλει απ’ το ευρώ», «με το ΣΥΡΙΖΑ θα αδειάσουν τα ΑΤΜ», «θα μας τινάξουν στον αέρα» και τα λοιπά, συναφή και λίγο-πολύ γνωστά!

Everything shows that [the government] will proceed with activities of political terrorism, such as “Syriza will lead us to bankruptcy”, “Syriza will get us out of Eurozone”, “ATMs will run empty, if Syriza wins”, “they will blow us apart” etc. – everything quite similar and known as before!

After the general elections, his party Syriza gathered only 149 out of 151 seats needed for a majority in a parliament of 300, so Tsipras agreed to share power with the populist rightwing party Independent Greeks (who only got 4.74% votes). Analysts are waiting to see how the two parties are going to cooperate; besides their opposition to Troika, they have totally different agendas. 

In a post titled “Greece wakes up to a different world”, blogger Teacherdude eloquently summarizes the coalition between Syriza and Independent Greeks:

The choice of Independent Greeks has surprised many observers, especially those abroad who find it hard to comprehend a partnership between a radical socialist party and a conservative nationalist one, Yet for Syriza this constitutes the least worst choice given the options available. The most obvious candidate for coalition partner would have been the Greek Communist Party (KKE) but anyone even vaguely aware of Greek politics would have known that such an alliance would have been impossible as KKE would never compromise on its own leftist principles which include leaving the European Union, the Eurozone and NATO.

So, in the end Independent Greeks who are often painted as a collection of right wing conspiracy theorists and borderline racists […] made the cut […]. However, the party led by Panos Kammenos repeatedly made clear its opposition to Troika imposed austerity measures and its participation will perhaps assuage more conservative Greeks that issues such as defence and policing will not be solely decided by a bunch of “wild radicals”. […]

Record-setting Tsipras

Back to the unconventional nature of the new Greek Prime Minister, this article summarizes the many “records” of Tsipras”:

1. Youngest Prime Minister (40 years old). [correction: youngest PM of Modern Greece]
2. First PM born after “Metapolitefsi” [1974]
3. First atheist Greek PM
4. First unmarried Greek PM; he has only made cohabitation agreement.
5. First Greek PM who hasn't baptised his children, but has made a civil naming ceremony. 
6. First Greek PM who takes a civil oath instead of the traditional religious oath.
7. First PM to attend swearing-in ceremony tieless.
8. First PM to originate from middle social class and not from traditional “political families”.

In Greece, where Church and State still move hand-in-hand, “every senior office-holder, from socialists to right-wing dictators, has assumed the post with a ritual involving Bibles, crosses and often holy water”. But this year, Alexis Tsipras politely informed the Archbishop that his services wouldn't be required and that a junior cleric would be invited for those who wished to take a religious oath. A breakthrough like this couldn't pass unnoticed in Greece's Twittersphere:

The first official press release of New Democracy as an opposition party was simply its disapproval of the new government's secular oath:

A very bad start for Mr. Tsipras.

He shows off ignoring a long tradition of the Hellenic Nation, whose course is interwoven with Orthodox Christianity.

Tsipras’ first week as Prime Minister

After his inauguration, Tsipras visited the National Resistance Memorial in Kessariani to honour Greeks killed by Germany and her allies in WWII:

Eternal memory to you, brethren, who fell at your honest struggle

The event took place on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz, German Nazi concentration camp:

Some netizens did not welcomeTsipras’ bold moves:

Civil oath, wreath dedication to Greek Resistance fighters’ place of sacrifice. This is not a Greek Prime Minister.

Another political tradition in Greece is the welcoming of the new prime minister by the former one in Maximos Mansion, the official seat of state. But the event wasn't attended by outgoing prime minister Samaras. The event was gravely criticized even by conservatives, including ex-government spokesman Antonaros:

This is a problematic behavior, exposing the entire political party. Grandeur in defeat is the big difference that defines a great leader.

The worst PM after Metapolitefsi [1974] finishes his term as suited: with pettiness. 

Antonis leaves…

A popular Facebook page with daily Greek quotes and memes shares following image:

“First party [Syriza]: indignation. Second party [New Democracy]: convenience and comfort. Third party [Golden Dawn]: uneducation. The three characteristics of Greeks. Source: Facebook page “Frappe Ministry”

Last but not least, all eyes are on the far-right Golden Dawn's third place in the Greek Parliament. Seventeen MPs from the party were elected. 

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