Paschos Mandravelis opined,
So what was the student uprising at the Polytechnic all about? Was it an expression of universal resistance by the Greek people to the military junta established in 1967? Of course not, because there was no universal resistance.... [I]t was only a small minority which resisted the junta.As Jim Hougan noted at the beginning of 1973,
Resistance, however, is difficult. Contrary to the junta’s propaganda machine, Greece is a police state.To give some context for the events of the 17th of November, 1973, I have excerpted some of Third World Traveler's excerpts from William Blum's (1995) killing hope: U.S. military and CIA interventions since World War II:
One-third of the population lives under martial law five years after the coup. Sixty Constitutional provisions remain under suspension. People are, in fact, followed. Telephones are generally assumed to be tapped, and people are still being arrested for their political views.
There is convincing evidence that torture continues to be used, especially by the military police.... More than 300 political prisoners remain in jail, some of them in the literally medieval dungeons of Corfu. A sophisticated and all-pervasive propaganda network relentlessly extolls "the great strides forward" made by the government.
In this atmosphere it is nearly impossible for politically-concerned Greek students to organize meaningful opposition to the government. The schools are beset by informers and the regime quietly encourages the notion that "the walls have ears."
For students to discuss resistance among themselves is to risk court-martial under the notorious Law 509. Numerous trials, followed by draconian sentences meted out to young people, have adequately established the dangers involved in dissidence.
What is surprising, then, is not that most Greek students avoid politics, but that so many do not.
"It's the best damn Government since Pericles," the American two-star General declared. (The news report did not mention whether he was chewing on a big fat cigar.)G. Bangos (Γ. Βαγγος) reposted leoklouk's concurring script on the Polytechnic (το Πολυτεχνείο - although my computer wouldn't render the original):
The government, about which the good General was so ebullient, was that of the Colonels' junta which came to power in a military coup in April 1967, followed immediately by the traditional martial law, censorship, arrests, beatings, torture, and killings, the victims totaling some 8,000 in the first month.... From this came a[n Amnesty International] report which asserted that "Torture as a deliberate practice is carried out by both Security Police and the Military Police."
Στις 21 Απριλίου του 1967, η ξενοκίνητη χούντα των συνταγματαρχών Παπαδόπουλου, Ιωαννίδη και Παττακού ύστερα από στρατιωτικό πραξικόπημα που έκαναν, κατάλυσαν το δημοκρατικό πολίτευμα, ανέστειλαν το Σύνταγμα, διέλυσαν τα κόμματα και τη Βουλή και εγκαθίδρυσαν ένα στυγνό φασιστικό καθεστώς.Blum continued:
[On April 21, 1967, after it had held a military coup, the foreigner-backed junta of Papadopoulos, Ioannidis and Pattakos abolished democracy, suspended the Constitution, dissolved the parties and the parliament and installed a brutal fascist regime.]
The coup had taken place two days before the campaign for national elections was to begin, elections which appeared certain to bring the veteran liberal leader George Papandreou back as prime minister. Papandreou had been elected in February 1964 with the only outright majority in the history of modern Greek elections. The successful machinations to unseat him had begun immediately, a joint effort of the Royal Court, the Greek Military, and the American military and CIA stationed in Greece....Richard Clogg observed that:
In July 1965, George Papandreou was finally maneuvered out of office by royal prerogative. The king had a coalition of breakaway Center Union Deputies (Papandreou's party) and rightists waiting in the wings to form a new government. It was later revealed by a State Department official that the CIA Chief-of-Station in Athens, John Maury, had "worked in behalf of the palace in 1965. He helped King Constantine buy Center Union Deputies so that the George Papandreou Government was toppled....
Of the cabal of five officers which took power in April, four, reportedly, were intimately connected to the American military or to the CIA in Greece.... The catchword amongst old hands at the US military mission in Greece was that [Colonel Georgios] Papadopoulos was "the first CIA agent to become Premier of a European country"....
The United States ... provided the junta with ample military hardware despite an official congressional embargo, as well as the police equipment required by the Greek authorities to maintain their rigid control.
In return for American support the regime was careful to avoid giving offence to its NATO allies, particularly after the regime had suffered [diplomatic] humiliation over Cyprus.... Greece suffered further humiliation two months later in November, after Grivas had launched a bloody attack on two Turkish Cypriot villages....In 1973, Greece was still a police state that employed torture and martial law to maintain power. In January, first the University of Athens' civil engineering, then its architecture and chemical engineering students had gone on strike. I am confused, but I believe that, on the 5th of February, Polytechnic students began a strike and, on the 13th, in retaliation, the junta revoked students' right to defer military service and began drafting what it deemed to be "subversive students".
Following mediation.... [s]ome 10,000 Greek troops, who had been [illegally] infiltrated into the island since the breakdown of the constitution in 1963, were withdrawn to the mainland, as was Grivas, who had been sent back to the island by George Papandreou in 164.. Relations between Athens and Nicosia were never to recover from this humiliation....
G. Bangos noted that, '[η] Αστυνομία παραβιάζει το πανεπιστημιακό άσυλο, εισβάλλει στο Πολυτεχνείο και συλλαμβάνει 11 φοιτητές [[t]he Police violate[d] the university asylum, invaded the Polytechnic and arrest[ed] 11 students].' In protest at these arrests and trials, on the 16th of February, students occupied the University of Athens Law School and the Polytechnic Senate resigned.
Then, again, on the 21st of February 1973 (and the 20th of March), students occupied the Law School. 'Επρόκειτο για μια πράξη ανοιχτής πρόκλησης προς το καθεστώς της δικτατορίας. [It was an act of open challenge to the regime of dictatorship].'
Το Βημα (To Vima) relayed the students' oath:
Εμείς οι φοιτηταί των Ανωτάτων Εκπαιδευτικών Ιδρυμάτων ορκιζόμαστε στ'όνομα της ελευθερίας να αγωνισθούμε μέχρι τέλους για την κατοχύρωση: α) των ακαδημαϊκών ελευθεριών, β) του πανεπιστημιακού ασύλου, γ) της ανακλήσεως όλων των καταπιεστικών νόμων και διαταγμάτων.On the 9th of October 1973, Spyros Markezinis was installed as prime minister to oversee the policy of liberalisation promised in the 29th of July constitution and, on the 1st of November, Spyros Markezinis revoked the restrictions imposed upon students, whereupon they made new demands (relayed by Spyros Serafeim (Σπύρος Σεραφείμ)):
[We, the students of the Higher Education Institute, swear in the name of freedom to fight until the end to ensure: a) academic freedoms, b) university asylum, c) the withdrawal of all oppressive laws and decrees.]
α) Κατάργηση του σπουδαστικού τμήματος στη Γενική Ασφάλεια [Αστυνομίας] και του κυβερνητικού επιτρόπου στα Πανεπιστήμια. β) 12μηνη στρατιωτική θητεία για όλους τους Έλληνες. γ) Διεξαγωγή των φοιτητικών εκλογών τον Δεκέμβριο 1973 και όχι τον Φεβρουάριο 1974.Since the aim of relaxation and the illusion of democracy was 'να νομιμοποιήσει το καθεστώς που επέβαλε η χούντα [to legitimize the regime imposed by the junta]', thousands of people objected and the police once again cracked down, which led to students' indefinite occupation of the Polytechnic from the 14th of November 1973, broadcasting pirate radio and 'βομβαρδίζουν [bombing]' (writing) antidictatorial graffiti.
[a) Elimination of the student section in the General Security [Police] and the government commissioner at the universities. b) 12 months of military service for all Greeks. c) The conduct of student elections in December 1973 and not in February 1974.]
Students and youths gathered in and around the Polytechnic, which became a liberated zone that the Polytechnic Senate declared 'αποκλείει επέμβασιν των αρχών [exclude[d] the interference of the authorities]', while the University of Patras and the University of Thessaloniki, too, were occupied. According to Spyros Serafeim, workers, farmers and civil servants joined them to demand 'Εθνική Ανεξαρτησία, Λαϊκή Κυριαρχία και Δημοκρατία [National Independence, Popular Rule and Democracy]'. There were 5,000 people inside the Polytechnic and a further 15,000 on the streets.
The 'Ελεύθεροι Πολιορκημένοι [Free Besieged]' of the Polytechnic established a Steering Committee of students and workers, which maintained the liberated zone and called for the 'άμεση παύση του τυραννικού καθεστώτος της χούντας και παράλληλη εγκαθίδρυση της λαϊκής κυριαρχίας και της εθνικής ανεξαρτησίας [immediate cessation of the oppressive regime of the junta and parallel establishment of popular sovereignty and national independence]'.
Matt Barrett pointed out that students tried to arrange a surrender with thirty minutes to evacuate the Polytechnic, but the security services, clearly negotiating in bad faith and intent upon the violent destruction of resistance, agreed to fifteen minutes, but waited fewer than ten, then attacked. Then, at 3am on the 17th of November 1973, tanks smashed through the gates and into the grounds of the Polytechnic.
Serafeim reminded that the police and the army were supported by 'ελεύθεροι σκοπευτές, ΛΟΚατζήδες, αλεξιπτωτιστές και ΕΣΑτζήδες [snipers, LOK fighters, parachutists and Greek Military Police]'. (The LOK fighters (Λόχος Ορεινών Καταδρομών (Lochos Oreinon Katadromon [Mountain Commandos' Company])) were a British-backed paramilitary and the Greek Military Police (Ελληνικής Στρατιωτικής Αστυνομίας) were an American-backed junta force.)
Athens News recounted that:
Witness accounts disagree as to which end of Patission Street the teargas canisters came from, but the asphyxiating fumes had already started to terrify the crowd into headlong flight even before the first tanks appeared on Patission Street from the direction of Alexandras Avenue, panicking the throngs as the unwieldy vehicles manoeuvred across pavements, their treads screaming in protest.Dozens were killed, hundreds injured and hundreds more arrested.
Accounts differ as to how many died in the ensuing tank invasion into the Polytechnic area, but if a score were killed in the immediate area of the school a further score are estimated to have been killed in Patission Street by sniper fire from nervous military guards atop buildings and in what sounded like indiscriminate shooting that went on until the early hours of Saturday, November 17.
As Athens News noted,
Photographs of the violent suppression of the November 17, 1973, uprising by the junta's tanks - their obscene armoured treads, stained by the blood of youthful victims, looming incongruously in the forecourt of an academic institution - have long since become revered icons of the anti-dictatorial struggle, familiar to a generation of students unborn when it all happened....Athens Indymedia have two pages of photographs of Greeks' struggle for people power (λαϊκή εξουσία) and for freedom (ελευθερία), where they insisted that 'η γη είναι δική μας (h gh einai dikh mas [the world is ours])' and that 'σήμερα πεθαι νειοφασισμός (simera pethai neiofasismos [neofascism dies today])'.
They demanded 'κάτω η εξουσία (katw h exousia [down with the authority])', 'κάτω η χούντα (katw h xounta [down with the junta])', 'κάτω το ΝΑΤΟ [down with NATO]', 'εξω οι Αμερικανοι [Americans out]', 'κάτω ο Πρύτανις [down with the Rector]' (because the university rectors, like every part of the Greek education system, were under the control of the junta and its General Security Police).
Nora Blond carries a powerful video of photographs set to Giannis Haroulis's "the dream of the warrior [το όνειρο του πολεμιστή]"; Athens Independent Media Center has four more videos on Πολυτεχνείο 1973.
According to Jenna, who was present at the demonstration this 17th November,
It lasted for over an hour, and during the entire time police in full riot gear (including helmets, shields and gas masks) patrolled the sidewalks, marching five-abreast and carrying machine guns, tear gas, and clubs. The marchers themselves walked in blocks (arranged by party or cause), linking arms and carrying red flags on wooden stakes, some even holding motorcycle helmets.Colleagues commented that it could not have been too long or too hard fought a protest, because otherwise we would have been hit by the tear gas seeping into our rooms (which are several floors up and face onto a back street).
At one point a man standing beside us on the sidewalk somehow stepped out of line and was taken by two plain-clothes policemen, who began choking and beating him. The march immediately came to a halt, and the protesters streamed into the sidestreat [sic] where the policemen had taken the man - it was mass chaos.... the violence soon died down.
One of the things that most struck myself and a friend was the sheer number of police on the streets, in gangs on every stretch (strategically stationed next to kiosks (περίπτερα) and cafes (καφενεία), so that they never ran out of cigarettes or coffee).
Another was how public the secret policemen were, as they wore the same "plain-clothes uniform" (indeed, the same as the Turkish secret police) and could be seen and heard on their walkie-talkies, the same ones their uniformed colleagues were using just metres up, down and across the road from them.
As Serpatinas said:
Το Πολυτεχνείο συμβολίζει, όχι μόνο τον ηρωϊκό αγώνα αλλά και την ενότητα όλων των δημοκρατών. Οι αγώνες του Νοέμβρη αποτελούν την κορυφαία εκδήλωση της εφτάχρονης αντιδικτατορικής πάλης και μια από τις πιο σπουδαίες στιγμές των αγώνων του λαού μας και της νεολαίας ειδικότερα για την ελευθερία....The Athens Polytechnic Uprising of the 17th of November 1973 was one point in a massive struggle between people and the Great Powers and between the Great Powers themselves, a struggle that also produced the Greek coup against and Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, both of which could have been prevented by the USA and both of which were permitted by it, because they were part of an American attempt to find 'a modus vivendi between Greece and Turkey'. So, this will have a paired post on democracy, coup, invasion.
Το Πολυτεχνείο ήταν και θα είναι πάντα ένα ζωντανό κάλεσμα για την δημοκρατία, την ανθρωπιά και την ελευθερία. Το Πολυτεχνείο ζει.
[The Polytechnic symbolises, not only the heroic struggle, but also the unity of all democrats. The struggles of November are the sum of seven years of antidictatorial wrestling and one of the most important moments of the struggles of our people - and of the youth in particular - for freedom....
The Polytechnic was and always will be a vigorous call for democracy, people and freedom. The Polytechnic lives.]
(For the Latin-letter spellings of Greek words, I've used the most common transliterations on the internet - so, "pethai" rather than "pe8ai", "katw" rather than "kato", and "exousia" and "xounta" for "authority" and "junta", despite the "x" in "exousia" being a "ks" sound and the "x" in "xounta" being a throaty "h" sound.)
[Updated on the 1st of December 2007.]
I tried to get one or more English-language books on the 17th of December 1973, the Regime of the Colonels and/or the modern history of Greece, but, as Athens' Marxist Bookshop explained, they get all of their English-language academic texts on Greek history from the UK and we don't teach this, so they don't have anything (and they had run out of the standard English-language history of modern Greece by Richard Clogg).