Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis were regulars at a taverna on the isle of Aegina for two years, where the latter’s wife inherited a nice holiday home, pool included. So it was in April 2015 that the two men met again, clinking beer glasses in the name of their political collaboration and whatever budding friendship.
They were not alone. Seated beside Yanis was artist Danae Stratou, the dazzling blonde wife of a man dubbed — often by his own publisher’s PR firm — as the ‘rock star minister’, and the woman rumored to have inspired the song “Common People”.
Peristera (Betty) Batziana was missing – as usual – for obvious reasons. She is the mother of two young children with family obligations, giving her the perfect excuse to avoid politically tinged social gatherings.
Greece’s first lady, however, which the media claims is the woman who ‘radicalized’ the current premier in his youth, has surprisingly never participated in contacts between Varoufakis and Stratou with her husband. Rather than stay at Stratou’s villa, the couple stayed at more modest lodgings of senior SYRIZA minister Alekos Flambouraris.
Batziana’s friends are miles away from the circles of power, with her closest confidants being mainly women she met through her children – ordinary mothers. Unlike Stratou, Batziana views social gatherings as something of a chore. As a couple, the Tsipras and Batziana are world’s apart from Varoufakis and Stratou, in both interest and style.
Not once did the PM’s wife accompany him on outings with Varoufakis, and on official gatherings she chose “the little black dress”, preferring to draw attention away from herself. Betty Batziana is a woman of very few words, preferring whatever actions. People who know her say she is the “male mind of the family”, not one to fly into the clouds and always suspicious of people making big promises that aren’t backed by actions — something critics often say of the current ruling party.
The third bailout dropped on Harmony Street, in the central Athens district of Kypseli, like a huge “political bomb”. If whatever media reports are to be believed, Batziana chose to swallow the latest memorandum as a realist and tells friends: “Alexis is decided on changing many things though nobody may believe it; he will be the first to fight corruption like nobody has until now.”
She silently blames the “apolitical” Varoufakis for the nasty turn in Greece’s negotiations with creditors. She was never a huge fan of the flamboyant economist and visiting professor in the same way her husband was. When in Aegina, she avoided meetings with the couple, and those who knew her were aware that there was a deeper reason than the need to be with her children. There was always a strange distance caused by political differences between her and Varoufakis, although few apparently know what these differences are.
Batziana was also bothered by Varoufakis’ alleged narcissism. It wasn’t just the tight shirts and red lines on his jackets that bothered her, but the need for Yanis always stand out from the crowd and draw attention to himself.
The turning point for the worst came when the Varoufakis’ couple were spotted enjoying strolls on the shores of Lake Como chased by paparazzi, and on the sidelines of a business conference in northern Italy. It was at this moment that she realized that Varoufakis was seriously harming SYRIZA’s image, or so reports claim.
During their joint trip to Paris, the two wives did not sit near each other on the plane. Mrs. Tsipras stayed at the hotel, while socialite Stratou — an industrialist’s daughter — posted photos of herself shopping carefree in Paris on Instagram.
The final blow came with the Paris Match lifestyle magazine photo expose. That was when much of SYRIZA – not just Batziana – realized that Varoufakis was tarnishing the radical leftist party’s reputation. Of course, Yanis’ popularity remained high amongst SYRIZA voters, but then again, phrases about opinions are ageless.
Varoufakis’ attraction to Tsipras as a valuable mentor was never the same for Batziana. She could see the points worth admiring but was never totally swayed. Tsipras, however, was apparently charmed because he felt “trapped” between State Minister Nikos Pappas and reserved but very well-regarded Giannis Dragasakis, a veteran Greek leftist. Tsipras ostensibly needed the “erratic Marxist” because he was not from SYRIZA’s inner core.