Greece's tie-less, jeans-wearing, blunt-talking new government is a break with the past

A sartorial shift in gear is among the most obvious changes with Greece's new government, as seen at Friday's meeting between untucked Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis (above right) and the sharp-suited head of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem (ab
A sartorial shift in gear is among the most obvious changes with Greece's new government, as seen at Friday's meeting between untucked Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis (above right) and the sharp-suited head of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem (above left). -- PHOTO: EPA

ATHENS (AFP) - With its tie-less ministers, blunt talk and relaxed security, Greece's radical new government has adopted a style that is a deliberate break with the country's ousted political class.

A sartorial shift in gear is among the most obvious changes, as seen at Friday's meeting between Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and the head of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem.

While the Greek wore his blue shirt untucked, the Dutchman appeared sharply dressed in a suit and tie.

The open-necked shirt is also embraced by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, whose hard-left Syriza party took office this week with a promise to end the old way of doing things and take aim at a wealthy elite who until now have called the shots.

The first break with the past was when a tie-less Tsipras was sworn in on Monday in a civil rather than a religious ceremony - a first in a country where the Christian Orthodox church and the state are closely intertwined.

"The significance and the symbolism of the civil service was taboo-breaking in a society that is essentially conservative, although it changes little on the actual separation of church and state," Manolis Alexakis, political sociologist at the University of Crete, told AFP.

In other symbolic moves, the government has withdrawn the barriers around the monument to the unknown soldier in Syntagma square, the location of major anti-austerity protests during the height of the crisis in 2012.

Meanwhile, near Maximos House, the seat of government in the centre of Athens, the police presence has been scaled back and the surrounding roads were left open during visits by senior European Union officials this week.

'CALL ME NADIA'

The dark suits and shirts worn by Tsipras, at 40 the youngest prime minister of Greece for 150 years, and his ministers are a "style which marks the change in politics", said Thomas Gerakis, the head of polling company Marc.

He recalled a similar presentational shift when the socialist Pasok took power in 1981 after years of right-wing politics, and prime minister Andreas Papandreou became known for his roll-neck jumpers.

"People were used to seeing Syriza politicians without ties because they were in opposition, and it doesn't seem shocking now - they're more concerned about the outcome of negotiations with Europe," Gerakis said.

But the change is not just about image. The Prime Minister's entourage, including long-standing advisor Nikos Papas and government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis, who is often in jeans, travel around Athens by foot, not car.

Their language has none of the classical oratory of the previous government - although the lack of diplomatic niceties has not so far endeared them to Greece's international creditors.

One of the first and most symbolic acts of the new government was the reinstatement of the cleaning ladies who had been laid off from Greece's finance ministry as part of the austerity forms.

On meeting them, deputy finance minister Nadia Valavani said: "Call me Nadia."

The government has nethertheless been criticised for failing to name a single woman to a senior ministry post - although it expected to name Zoe Konstantopoulou for the post of parliament speaker.

"We are living in historic times... but for the moment, there is no equality," said academic Antzela Dimitrakaki.

"I want to know why there are only men in the government."