Greek Left-wing leader mocked after claiming ‘divine’ cross appeared during baptism

Stefanos Kasselakis, the 36-year-old head of the Syriza party
Stefanos Kasselakis, the 36-year-old head of the Syriza party - Nicolas Koutsokostas/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

Greece’s Left-wing opposition leader has been mocked for claiming a divine cross appeared during his baptism as an infant.

Stefanos Kasselakis, the 36-year-old head of the Syriza party, claimed this week that the oil in his baptismal font had magically coalesced to form the shape during his christening service decades earlier.

The mystical sign meant that he was destined to “either become a priest, or very important”, he said his parents were told at the time.

He achieved the latter – first making a fortune as a banker with Goldman Sachs, then becoming a shipowner and finally emerging from relative obscurity last September to win the leadership of Syriza, Greece’s main opposition force.

Comebacks from political rivals were swift.

Nikos Androulakis, the leader of the socialist Pasok party, joked that when he was christened, a green sun – the symbol of his party – was seen to form.

Euclid Tsakalotos of the New Left party also weighed in, saying that a hammer and sickle had been sighted at the baptism of his party leader.

Mr Kasselakis’ comments also raised eyebrows within his own party, parts of which are uncomfortable with his banking past and close ties to the US, where he lived for more than 20 years. They feel he is sharply at odds with the party’s gritty, Leftist traditions.

“This reference to miracles was slightly shocking,” prominent Syriza member Giorgos Tsipras said. “The (Greek) Left never had miracles in its political discourse. Someone who is rationalist does not talk about these things.”

Damaging split

The alienation felt by some Syriza members led to a damaging split in November when 11 MPs abandoned the party to form a rival group.

The Left-wing faction accused Mr Kasselakis of abandoning its core ideology and instead embracing “Trumpian practices and Right-leaning populism”.

Mr Kasselakis was elected the leader of Syriza after the party suffered a humiliating loss in a general election last summer. The election was won by the governing New Democracy party, led by Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Mr Kasselakis has said he wants to build the equivalent of the US Democratic Party in Greece and has frequently made pro-business statements.

He has also claimed credit for a landmark new law legalising same-sex marriage and adoption passed by the government in February.