Tsipras the new Pa­pan­dreou for vot­ers of Kyr­i­aki

In this in­dus­try-de­pen­dent vil­lage in Vi­o­tia, 58.9 per­cent of the lo­cals voted for SYRIZA, and its leader in par­tic­u­lar, back in Jan­uary

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY YIAN­NIS PA­PADOPOU­LOS

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 rightwing 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.”

Drachma re­turn

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.”

at an al­ti­tude of 860 me­ters, Kyr­i­aki is cooled by strong winds even dur­ing a heat wave. Here the lo­cals don’t care so much about SYRIZA as they do about its leader, Alexis Tsipras.

Lo­cated on Mount Elikonas

Thana­sis For­to­sis is con­cerned about the mem­o­ran­dum but has faith in the PM.

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