Just who really is Alexis Tsipras?
'But he has nothing on!' said a little child at last.
'Just listen to the innocent child!' said the father, and each one whispered to his neighbour what the child had said.
'But he has nothing on!' the whole of the people called out at last. -- The Emperor's New Clothes, Hans Christian Andersen.
The political scene in continental Europe is one built on diplomacy, on political niceties, on subtlety and on consensus. No leader rides roughshod over another country's feelings. Aggression and obstinacy are frowned upon.
Now, most of the time this system works well, and it has succeeded in keeping the peace in Europe for 60 years. But what if the cosy consensus in Europe turns out to be wrong? Suddenly, the system doesn't work so well.
For the first time since the Second World War, we seem to have reached this point. The European project is in dire trouble, and nobody knows what to do.
In the search for answers, the attention has turned, not to one of the established, mainstream leaders in Europe, but to the leader of a party that was, until recently, at the margins of Greek politics. That leader is Alexis Tsipras.
An explosion of popularity
Tsipras was born in the mid-70s in Athens. He trained and worked as a civil engineer. He became a political activist from his teenage years, and was active in his university's student union.
In the turn of the century he held the leading position in the youth wing of Synaspismos, a coalition of radical parties. By 2009 he had risen to become the head of the Coalition of the Radical Left, the organisation we now know as Syriza.
This party has exploded in popularity recently. In the 2009 legislative election Syriza won a paltry 4% of the national vote. Current opinion polls give the party around a 22% share of the vote, vying with the centre-right New Democracy party to be the leading party in Greece. Pasok, which makes up the current government, lies a very distant third.
It is perhaps not surprising that parties that support austerity have been losing popularity to parties that are against it. The Greek people have suffered terribly, and finally they have found in Alexis Tsipras someone who has given vent to their feelings.
The road to hell
He has described the path of austerity as the road to hell:
"We have never been in such a bad place. After two and a half years of catastrophe, the Greek people are on their knees; the social state has crumbled; one in two youngsters are out of work; there are people leaving en masse; the climate psychologically is one of pessimism, depression, mass suicides.
"We cannot accept that this is the future of a European country. And precisely because we recognise the problem is European, and it will spread to the rest of Europe, we are sounding the alarm bell and are appealing to the people of Europe to support us in an effort to stop this descent into what can only be called social hell."
His message is clear -- Greece cannot go on this way -- something has to change: "All these years we allowed the people who governed us to destroy this country. And we have to stop them."
No more bailouts
He is adamant: he will not veer from his pledges to repudiate the terms of Greece's bailout that has forced such incredible hardship on average Greeks. Such a stance could lead Greece's lenders to withhold further aid and set off a default.
He says that he wants Greece to stay in the euro, just not under the terms of its current bailout. The reality is that such a position could lead to Greece rapidly crashing out of the eurozone.
He is trying to change the game in Europe, and if it means pushing Europe to the brink of Armageddon, so be it.
A change would do you good
But it would be simplistic to call Tsipras some sort of wild-eyed anarchist. Instead, all he is saying is: this system is not working, so let's change it.
He really is like the little child who saw that the emperor's new clothes did not really exist. He is just saying what many have been thinking for months now: Europe cannot go on like this, it has to change. Europe, and particularly Germany, has been ploughing on too long with its policy of austerity at all costs. It's clear we need a rethink.
Perhaps this is summed up best by the graffiti scrawled in blood red letters on a wall in Athens. It says, quite simply, "Wake up".
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