HUFFINGTON POST
01/26/2015 07:56 pm ET Updated Jan 27, 2015

What You Need To Know About Alexis Tsipras, The Greek Leader Who Wants To Change Europe

Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the Greek Coalition of the Radical Left -- best known by its acronym, Syriza -- is the focus of attention in Europe after his party's victory in Sunday's election. Tsipras has vowed to bring change to a country devastated by an economic crisis and strict austerity measures.

After seven years as the president of his party, 40-year-old Tsipras now stands on the threshold of Greece’s presidential palace, ready to create a new government. Tsipras has been preparing for this moment for the past 2 1/2 years, ever since Syriza was proclaimed the second biggest party participating in national elections.

Some in politics would say Tsipras is a “sprinter," since he managed to accomplish in a short period of time what others have worked for their entire lives. While the economic crisis and the indignation of the Greek people have been important factors in Tsipras' rise and the success of Syriza, the Greek Parliament's youngest party leader distinguished himself on the political scene early on. Even today, his political opponents belligerently bring up his political actions as a “kid.”

FROM HIGH SCHOOL TO THE LEADERSHIP OF SYRIZA

Born on July 28, 1974 in Athens, Tsipras stood out as a student at Ampelokipoi Academic High School, and was the face of the mobilizations against educational reforms promoted by the Ministry of Education. He joined the Communist Youth Of Greece at an early age, but left during his undergraduate years studying civil engineering at the National Polytechnic University of Athens. He moved over to the Youth of the Coalition of the Left, where he made his presence known.

Tsipras faced a challenging path and developed an acute instinct for political survival as he rose in the hierarchy of the youth Coalition. Many within the party were critical when Tsipras' predecessor Alekos Alavanos recommended -- or imposed, according to some -- him as a candidate for mayor of Athens in 2006. Tsipras did not win that election.

Tsipras became a threat to even more people within the party in 2008, when he was elected president of the Coalition of the Left with a record percentage of the votes. His relationship with Alavanos, for example, was reportedly very poor at the time. In 2009, shortly before Alavanos resigned and Tsipras was about to become the new leader of the Coalition, the two men did not exchange a word.

THE PEOPLE’S PRESIDENT

Yiannis Dragasakis, editor of the majority of the Program of Syriza and connoisseur of international economics, on the other hand, is one of Tsipras' closest associates. Also by his side is Nikos Papas, a personal friend since the mid-1990s, who returned from Scotland to Greece at Tsipras’ request. Papas became the director of the party’s political bureau and the press usually refers to him as Tsipras' “alter ego.” Panos Skourtelis, the party’s spokesman, is also one of Tsipras' trusted associates.

Those who know Tsipras well say he rarely loses control or focus; he stays on target and he is always calm. They say he rarely gets angry, and even when he does, he does not hold a grudge.

Many associates and members of Parliament refer to him as “cool.” Yet when interacting with citizens, he offers big smiles and intimate gestures.

He is, nevertheless, a man who wants to be in control. One example is the fact that no article or document exits his office before he gets a chance to edit it himself, no matter what is going on.

He keeps constant tabs on the news, and one of his early morning activities is to read through the Greek press, the Financial Times and the international edition of the New York Times. He is briefed on all other issues during the established “morning coffee sessions.”

STRICTLY PERSONAL

Beyond his political career, Tsipras is an ordinary man with a happy family. He prefers to keep his personal life out of the press as much as possible, like most European politicians who want to protect their privacy. Despite the fact that he has been part of Greece’s political scene for more than 10 years, photographers have only managed to capture very few of his private family moments.

His teenage love and partner, electrical engineer Betty Batziana, has made very few public appearances. They met in high school, and soon after both became members of the youth wing of the Communist Party. They led various student protests in 1990 and 1991. Partners in life and social struggles, they chose not to marry but to enter a civil partnership.

The couple’s two sons, 4-year-old Pavlos and 2-year-old Ernestos-Orfeas, are also kept away from the public.

Despite the increasing amount of obligations in recent years, the couple chooses to “escape” as often as possible to Aegina. Numerous former coworkers, including close associate and family friend Alekos Flampouraris, own summer houses on the island.

SMALL WEAKNESSES

With his busy schedule, Tsipras not only had to cut down on family time, but also on soccer. Tsipras was a sport fanatic and played soccer in the past. Nowadays, finding time to go to the stadium is a luxury. He says he is a fervent fan of Panathinaikos FC, and in an interview for Diva magazine in 2007, he playfully stated, “If we don’t win the championship this year, I will stop believing in Santa Claus.”

Tsipras has a weak spot for motorcycles and, until 2012, frequently moved around on two wheels. He now prefers the security of a car.

His new restrictions do not stop there: Going out for dinner or drinks has been limited, and not only because of his workload. “Being a public figure limits your social life, since sometimes you just want to have dinner or drinks with friends without everyone looking at your group,” an associate explained.

Even though he is a music lover, with a fondness for Latin American culture, he is often unable to enjoy it. Events with traditional Greek and folk music, like the festivals of his youth, are now hard to revive.

This piece originally appeared in HuffPost Greece and was translated into English.

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