It’s almost lunchtime in the village of Kyriaki, in Viotia, north of Attica, just days before Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announces his resignation and call snap elections following a rift in the ruling left-wing SYRIZA party. Giorgos Tsouros takes the last loaves of bread out of the oven in his bakery. Over at the counter, the political talk has already started.
“Who did you vote for?” the baker asks an elderly customer about the last elections, in January, which swept SYRIZA into power. “I voted for Tsipras and I’d vote for him again because he’s lovely and I like him,” she says. “He’s barely been elected and we’re already trying devour him.”
Tsouros nods his head knowingly. “They fought him from abroad but also from the inside, from the Left Platform,” he says in reference to the radical-left faction in Tsipras’s ruling SYRIZA party, members of which broke away last week to form the Popular Unity party.
At the grocery store next door, the discussion is in the same vein. “They betrayed Tsipras. If it wasn’t for him, they’d be nobodies,” says the proprietor’s mother, Loukia Douka, about the lawmakers in the coalition government who voted against the first package of reforms agreed by Tsipras with international lenders.
Located on the western flank of Mount Elikonas at an altitude of 860 meters, Kyriaki is cooled by strong winds even during a heat wave. Here, SYRIZA has the biggest percentage of support in all of Greece. In the January general elections, the party garnered 58.9 percent of the local vote (22 percentage points above the national average) and in the referendum over a new bailout deal in early July, 79.6 percent voted “no” (18 percentage points above the national average). For most of the locals it is about the person leading the party rather than the party itself. They don’t care so much about SYRIZA – “It’s not like we’re married to it” – as they do about Tsipras. Even though most are opposed to the new memorandum agreed earlier this month, they worship the 41-year-old prime minister just as they once worshipped PASOK founder and two-time premier Andreas Papandreou.
“Only two politicians are referred to here by their first names: Andreas and Alexis,” says Yiannis Poulos, a former PASOK supporter who gave his backing to SYRIZA four years ago because, he says, he “didn’t want to become a crutch for New Democracy,” in reference to the conservative party the Socialists teamed up with to form the last coalition government.
The reversal of 81
Election analyst Panagiotis Koustenis says that before 2012, the residents of Kyriaki were split between New Democracy and PASOK.
“Kyriaki was one of the most right-wing villages in Viotia but a big reversal happened in 1981,” Poulos says. Thirty years ago it was his job to tour the area’s coffee shops to convince voters that PASOK would not be putting their livelihoods – “their goats and homes” – at risk. A few weeks ago he toured the same cafes reassuring people that their bank deposits were not at risk from SYRIZA.
Back when Poulos was a young man pasting up posters for PASOK, he was also joined by Thanasis Fortosis, now in his 60s. “We would go wherever Andreas had a speech. We were active in his campaigns.”
Fortosis worked as a welder for 30 years at the nearby Aluminium of Greece factory. He retired five years ago with a pension of 2,000 euros a month, higher than in other sectors because welding is classified as a hazardous profession. State spending cuts have brought his pension down to below 1,300 euros.
“People react when the problem affects their pockets. The burden was not distributed fairly,” he says.
Fortosis voted for SYRIZA in January and “no” in July’s referendum. He expected “a better negotiation” from the government. He says that he is concerned about the new memorandum but still has faith in Tsipras. “I can see that he wants to work.”
Despite the government’s about-face during its negotiations with Greece’s international creditors, the prime minister has not lost any of his popularity in Kyriaki.
Yiannis Lazarou, a 51-year-old construction contractor, speaks of Tsipras fondly in the diminutive even though he is disappointed by developments.
“I voted for Tsiprakos because I believed what he said. Now I’m a bit disappointed. I didn’t want him to adopt new austerity measures. But I want him to fight tax evasion. I would support him again because I don’t see any alternatives. Unless he does another about-face.”
Andreas the hero
Unemployment in Kyriaki is in the single figures. Locals who retired from the bauxite mines in the area now work their olive groves. Every year, the local cooperative’s 360 small-scale olive farmers produce about 400 tons of olive oil under the brand name Oreikarpo. The majority of the village’s 2,000 residents work at the aluminium plant.
“Because of the factory, the people, who were mostly farmers and livestock breeders, developed the mentality of industrial laborers and their politics changed,” says Poulos.
PASOK’s election in 1981 brought better salaries for the plant workers, from an average of 23,000 drachmas a months to over 40,000. Andreas Papandreou became a hero and to this day is put on a pedestal.
Costis Lazarou is 38 and remembers hearing the words “change,” “socialism” and “people power” that were the catch phrases of the early 1980s.
He takes me on a tour of his home, showing me his father’s memorabilia, including a bust of Greek resistance fighter Aris Velouchiotis and photographs of Georgios Papandreou – “the old man of democracy.”
Lazarou’s father was a local official for PASOK but the former took a different direction and has added his own photograph to the collection, one of Che Guevara. In January he backed SYRIZA and helped put up campaign posters, and also voted “no” in the referendum.
In contrast to the prevalent opinion in Kyriaki, he supported the radical Left Platform and its chief, Panayiotis Lafazanis, who went on to form Popular Unity.
Lazarou studied chemical engineering at the National Technical University of Athens and works at a wind farm. In 2013 he was elected to SYRIZA’s regional committee for Viotia. His political activism began in the anarchist camp back in his university days.
Back when SYRIZA could barely muster 2 percent of the vote, he would hand out flyers at the village’s cafes. Locals would wonder how the son of Lazarou senior, who had worked so hard for PASOK, could support a different party.
“I am confused politically, ideologically and as a person. I’m mad,” he says, lighting another cigarette. “Tsipras was supposed to tear up the memorandum and now he’s presenting us with a new one instead. I like SYRIZA but in the way that Panayiotis Lafazanis sees it.”
Some Kyriaki voters are warming to the idea of a Greek exit from the eurozone, which has been championed by Lafazanis and other left-wingers. Lazarou believes that if the country were prepared, he would prefer to see Tsipras return Greece to the drachma rather than bow to creditors’ demands. Ioannis Kakarapis, three decades older than Lazarou, also believed in a return to a national currency.
Kakarapis is a traditional blacksmith in Kyriaki and claims to be a distant relation of the 19th-century bandit Davelis, who is also mentioned in folk songs here. After voting for PASOK 40 years ago, he cast his ballot for SYRIZA in January and also voted “no” in the referendum.
“Europe wants to make slaves of us. We’d be better off with our little drachma,” he says as sparks fly from his lathe. “I support Tsipras. He’s not to blame for anything.”