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25 September 2023

The new face of the Greek left

Stefanos Kasselakis, a former Goldman Sachs associate, has won Syriza’s leadership race.

By Wolfgang Münchau

Greece is Europe’s cradle of philosophers and mythology. The quick ascent from nowhere, and final victory, of Stefanos Kasselakis as the new leader of the left-wing Syriza party last night (24 September) has the quality of a Greek epic. Yet he must prove that he can complement his Homeric heroism with the philosophical acumen to take the party through its internal battles without losing momentum.

The Greek weekly newspaper To Vima described Kasselakis’s success as the result of his capacity to go with the flow of favourable circumstances. Thanks to a short campaign with lots of uplift through social media, he was elected as the new party leader with 56 per cent of the votes, beating his opponent Effie Achtsioglou. No one had seen this coming. Nor does anyone really know what politics he stands for. Perhaps that was the refreshing part of his campaign, at least for a younger generation of supporters. No politics, no divisions, no pain. Just being left wing is enough.

But what does this left mean? Clearly, it is not class-related. As a former Goldman Sachs associate and ship-company owner, he will likely ensure that the modern left is no longer defined by grudges against the better-offs. He has the credentials to spearhead campaigns for minority rights. But that does not by itself define a fully-fledged agenda. We have yet to see what the economic and foreign policies will become under his leadership.

His ascent was cinematic. Kasselakis was campaigning in Greek flood zones earlier this month not as a politician but as a sort of Captain America who can stir things up and put things right. He showed his physical might but also moral strength throughout the campaign. It looked more like a Hollywood movie than real life.

But politics will be what defines his success now that he is the party leader. Will Kasselakis seek to balance the different factions in Syriza, or is he ready to break free from the past and move towards the centre? What will his leadership team look like? Will he recruit from inside or outside the party? The answers also depend on Achtsioglou and her supporters. They did not seem to take Kasselakis’s victory as a defeat, and are likely to press forward for their rights inside the party.

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The elections may have created a current, and put all those who fought against opening up the party on the defensive. Backed by a large influx of new members and strong participation in the elections, Kasselakis has a legitimate mandate to change people and ideas.

Myth and reality met to elect Kasselakis. But this is not where it stops. As a newly elected hero, he faces challenges. If he can overcome them, his appeal increases. If not, he will be remembered for a flashy campaign that initiated a downward spiral for Syriza.

This piece originally ran on Eurointelligence.

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