This Week in Greek History

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras smiles as he arrives for a summit of heads of state and government at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, July 11, 2018. NATO leaders gather in Brussels for a two-day summit to discuss Russia, Iraq and their mission in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

July 28: On this day in 1974, Greek politician and incumbent Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was born in Athens. His family hails ancestrally from Eastern Thrace, which is now Turkish-held. His father, Pavlos, was born in Epirus and owned a company that dealt with large-scale public works projects. His mother was born in Eleftheroupoli in Thrace. In the late 1980s, while still a student at his high school in Ampelokipoi, Tsipras became an active member in the Communist Youth of Greece and was instrumental in various student demonstrations and lockouts. He wouldn’t earn his bachelor’s degree in engineering until 2000.

In 1991 Tsipras shed his role and affiliation with the Communist Party of Greece and joined the leftwing party Synaspismos, which would later turn into the leftist coalition of SYRIZA. During his time in the youth organization of Synaspismos, Tsipras was often regarded as a moderate that helped to weed out the radical left and right wings of the organization. His steady rise within the party saw him become secretary of Synaspismos’ youth branch and then he moved on to the senior organization.

Tsipras made waves in 2006 when he ran for Mayor of Athens under the Synaspismos ticket called “Anoixti Poli” at the time. He garnered a highly respectable 10.51% of the vote, which was good for third overall in the contest. For his position in the race he won a seat on the Municipality of Athens City Council, where he served his full term instead of immediately running for parliament in the 2007 national elections.

On February 10, 2008, Synaspismos leader Alekos Alavanos stepped down as leader of his party and Alexis Tsipras was nominated and elected to take his place at the 5th annual congress of the party. At age 33, Tsipras became the youngest party leader in Greece since 1931. In the 2009 national elections, Tsipras was elected to Parliament from the Athens A district and subsequently became the leader of the Synaspismos parliamentary group.

Following the 2012 national elections, Tsipras led a 22% swing for his party and SYRIZA, as it became, known was the main opposition party. Just three years later, on January 25, 2015 SYRIZA fell two seats in Parliament short in securing an absolute majority in the national elections held on that day. With the victory, Tsipras became the youngest Prime Minister in 150 years and the first one to not take a religious oath, opting for a civil one instead. He did so with his characteristic no-tie look. In order to govern, he formed a coalition with the rightwing Independent Greeks party led by Panos Kammenos.

At the end of 2015, the Greek people were asked by Prime MInister Tsipras whether or not they wanted the country to adhere and continue on a path of fiscal austerity or to negotiate a new financial agreement with international creditors. Despite Tsipras’ support for the “no” vote and though the “no” camp won, Greece was forced to continue austerity in order to make it possible to return to the markets in the short-term future. Shockingly, despite personally overturning the vote of the Greek people in the referendum, Tsipras called for snap elections to solidify his mandate of going ahead of even more austerity measures.

On September 20, 2015, SYRIZA once again came in first place with 35.5% of the popular vote with 145 seats in Parliament and once more forming a coalition government with Kammenos. This year alone three MPs have left the governing coalition and have created a very delicate situation at the highest levels of government with Tsipras not having a strong majority in Parliament, where 151 is needed for absolute majority, and he currently has 152 MPs. Additionally, this year has been a lightning rod for SYRIZA with the FYROM agreement of Prespes regarding the acceptance on his part of the name “Northern Macedonia” for Greece’s neighbors to the north.

Tsipras is an atheist and is not technically married to his longtime partner Peristera “Betty” Baziana, whom he met in school in 1987 and with whom he has two children. His six-year-old son Orpheus’ full name is Orpheus Ernesto Tsipras, so named after his political idol Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Cuban communist revolutionary of the 20th century.

July 29: On this day in 1925, legendary Greek songwriter and composer Mikis Theodorakis was born on Chios, Greece. In addition to his brilliant musical career that has spanned well over a half century, Theodorakis has served his country politically as a government minister and was elected four times as an MP of KKE (communist party of Greece) and center-right New Democracy, respectively. Theodorakis is often regarded as the best living Greek composer and among the pantheon of the all-time Greek greats.

He has achieved rare international acclaim for his works such as the syrtaki song in the motion picture Zorba the Greek, and scores in the movies Z and State of Siege. Theodorakis’ father hailed from Galatas, Crete and his mom from the thriving Greek community of Cesme, Turkey before the population exchanges prior to 1922. Theodorakis’ parents met in Asia Minor just prior to the destruction of the communities there in 1922.

Theodorakis studied at the Athens and Paris conservatories as a young man and was a member of the wartime resistance in Greece when the Axis powers occupied Greece in the early 1940s. In 1967, Theodorakis, as a member of the communist party was arrested by the military junta. He was released in 1970 due to unrelenting international pressure. Theodorakis has composed over 1,000 songs in his long, storied career and remains active despite his advanced age.