It has been only three weeks since Alexis Tsipras was thrust into the international political limelight after leading the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) party to a shocking second place in Greece’s May 6 election. Major media in Europe and the United States have been hosting a slew of articles about him in an attempt to piece together a coherent profile of the man.
The 38-year-old leftist party leader is being portrayed as a rising political star and a gifted public speaker, a youthful charmer, who shuns neck ties and calls Europe’s bluff on austerity being the only path for Greece if it intends to remain in the Eurozone.
His image, his rhetoric and his clear leftist philosophy have resulted in media calling him the “new Andreas Papandreou,” the PASOK founder who in his early days occupied Tsipras’s place at the left-center of the Greek political scene. Yet there’s a significant difference between Tsipras and Papandreou and it is neither political nor philosophical. While Andreas Papandreou had been a restless womanizer with a string of marriages and divorces who had an illegitimate child and countless mistresses, Alexis Tsipras has stayed faithful to his high school sweet heart for the past twenty years.
How they met
Peristera , whose name in Greek means “dove” met Alexis in 1987. They were schoolmates at Ampelokipoi High School, and both became members of the Communist Youth of Greece. It was during the time when the students of Athens revolted against unpopular education reforms and took over their schools, living and sleeping inside them for weeks. Alexis and Peristera were among the leaders of the movement.
No ring on her finger
Today, they have been living together for the duration of their relationship. They have one son and Peristera is eight months pregnant with their second child. Unconventional and almost allergic to social norms, Tsipras preferred to take advantage of the cohabitation law that has been in effect since 2009 rather than get married at the courthouse or the church. In fact if Mr. Tsipras becomes Greece’s next PM, he and Peristera will be the first unmarried couple to occupy the Maximos Mansion following close on the heels of the new president of France Hollande and the German president, Joachim Gauck. That these arrangements provide no bar to office is a sign of how European attitudes about families have changed.
However, just as the case in France and Germany, some raise concerns about protocol — how Mr. Tsipras and Peristera will travel together to places like Saudi Arabia and other very conservative countries such as, Indonesia and India, not to mention the Vatican where unmarried cohabitation is not accepted. In these countries the protocol regarding the prime minister’s companion could become a controversial issue.
A tough cookie
Thirty-eight-year old Betty comes from Thessaly and specifically from Karditsa . She’s an electrical engineer, graduate of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Technology / Computer, University of Patras. According to descriptions from her fellow students from the University of Patras, Peristera is not the low-key , calm woman everyone sees at first glance. She is strong-willed, militant and dynamic; she did not hesitate to drag one of her professors to court when he tried to undermine her work for her doctoral thesis–a personality that perfectly fits the profile of the prospective Greek PM. She’s not the type of woman who spends hours shopping, she doesn’t pay regular visits to the hairdressers and she doesn’t spend money on clothes.
She avoids exposing her personal life to the media and, although her acquaintance with Alexis Tsipras is now at 20 years and counting, the couple is quite reclusive, with few public appearances. In fact, while the Greek media have started a ruthless hunt for the past weeks in order to capture Peristera ,the only photo they actually managed to take is her with Alexis Tsipras and their son at a wedding in Karditsa.
Yet even if Tsipra’s companion wishes to convey a public persona almost diametrically opposed to the glamorous, camera-friendly ex- Greek first ladies like Natasha Karamanli or Anta Papandreou, if Tsipras wins the elections on June 17 and given the enormous publicity he has received the past months, the engagingly independent Peristera will garner more attention from both the Greek and global press, not to mention public, than any other Greek first lady, whether she likes it or not.