Challenge for new kid on the block

Alexis Tsipras is making headlines again, following a surprise decision by Alekos Alavanos not to run for the presidency of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) party this coming January. Citing personal reasons, the head of SYRIZA let it be understood that he would keep his seat in Parliament but would also seek a younger successor from the party ranks to succeed him as party leader. Born in 1974, Tsipras seems to be Alavanos’s chosen one and, if elected, will become the youngest party president in modern Greek history. The crucial question, however, is whether Tsipras will «act his age» and advance a modernist and radical agenda. What is certain is that if we were to conduct an informal poll and ask 10 citizens what SYRIZA’s pre-election platform was last September, chances are that most respondents would remember just one policy: the non-privatization of higher education. This has been Alavanos’s persistent refrain since 2006 – that is when he realized that, unlike the PASOK socialist party, he was in a position to capitalize on the discontent among the country’s youth triggered by certain decisions of the Education Ministry. This was indeed something which he achieved, without having to counter the ministry’s decisions with any proposals of his own about how best to improve tertiary education. All he had to suggest was increased funding, as though money was at the root of the myriad problems dogging the education system – lifelong students, professors refusing evaluation, mismanagement of funds and the inability of police to enter campuses which simply provides a refuge for vandals and other miscreants. SYRIZA officials refuse to address these problems. They also avoid condemning the acts of violence of the vandals, in the name of tolerance for all legal forms of protest. In fact, in the wake of the extensive vandalization of a school in Pangrati (to the tune of over 1 million euros), Alavanos not only failed to see the need to condemn the vandals, but called on the government to stop «shedding crocodile tears,» charging that it behaved in a similar manner itself. Tsipras has yet to be tried and tested in the political arena. His excellent communication skills earned him the support of 10.5 percent of Athenian voters when he ran in mayoral elections. It is not up to him to choose whether he will, at age 33, lay claim to the presidency of a party that has, for the past few years, expressed the futile and backward-looking opinions of those who want to see nothing change, or whether he will represent a new alternative for the future.