Background info takes over post

I am having a kind of a busy week which means no sketching for the time being. Yesterday the day was even busier because I participated in the annual demonstration for the anniversary of the Athens Polytechnic uprising which ended on November 17 1973 with the army driving a tank through the school’s gate.

To give you some historical context, Greece was under a totalitarian regime, the military junta from ’67 to ’74. I don’t want to go too much into details about modern Greek history because it’s really complicated and really messed up. The military junta is exactly what you’d expect it to be: a period of military rule following a coup d’etat by a group of right-wing army officers. Τhere was no such thing as freedom of speech or freedom of the press. Student organisations were outlawed, congregations of more than five people became illegal, Circulation on the street was prohibited after a certain hour. Certain books became illegal. Having long hair was banned. The Beatles were banned.

When I was a kid, every time my mother would park in the underground garage of the building where she used to work, she would to point to two narrow, iron doors on the wall: ‘ The police used to torture people in here during the junta’ she’d say and I would climb the two steps to reach the small window on the door and try to take a peek into the holding cell. Luckily, there was nothing to see any more.

The student uprising began with an occupation of the Law school months before the events at the Polytechnic. On the 14th of November 1973 the students assembled in the Law school once again and decided to occupy the building of the Polytechnic. On the 16th of November the first clashes with the police forces took place. At that point it was clear that this wasn’t a simple student protest; the students were joined by workers, farmers and people of all sorts. The Greek people were urged to rise against the regime through a makeshift radio station operated by the students in the occupied building.

On November 17th, after midnight, armed forces were mobilized to suppress the uprising, bringing AFVs and snipers along. ‘We are unarmed, we will greet you with cheers’, the voice on the Polytechnic radio station announced. At around 3.00 a.m. three armored vehicles moved towards the building. One of them drove against the front gate of the buildings, on which several students were positioned, bringing it down and crashing some of the students in the process. The armed forces clashed with the students within the building’s courtyard until around 3.30 when the building is reported to have been evacuated. Ambulances were called to pick up the wounded as well as the dead. The fights continued in the surrounding area.

A few hours later martial law was imposed.The uprising at the Polytechnic didn’t bring down the junta on its own. A short Dutch documentary that is projected in one of the Polytechnic’s classrooms each year includes interviews of the students within the occupied building. Some of them said they had been arrested by the police before several times, some had been tortured. ‘Aren’t you afraid this might happen again?’ the journalist asked. The students replied they were aware of the possibility, but there was no other solution. They were asked what they expected to accomplish with this occupation. Did they believe the junta would collapse? The students had realistic expectations. ‘ We expect this to be a good first step’, they said.

Anyway, this post is becoming too long, so here’s some footage from the concert of composer Mikis Theodorakis after the fall of the junta:

I guess I’ll have to write about current events some other time.

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6 thoughts on “Background info takes over post

  1. Glad to hear you took part in the demo the other day. As an outsider I followed alongside in solidarity taking pictures. I hope you stayed safe at night. I took my cue to leave when the tear gas came out near the embassy.

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    • Thank you for your solidarity Steve! I was in one of the luckiest blocks, even though we found ourselves cut out from the main protest body and followed closely by police at some point, we weren’t attacked at all. I hope you didn’t get sprayed too much! Or at least that there was someone on standby to offer the comfort of a Maalox solution…

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      • We didnt’t get sprayed too bad at all. It just caught us off guard. I couldn’t believe they were shooting it off when the streets were full of old people and kids. We could taste it for ages afterwards. It made me really angry, and I feel like it’s woken something up in me. I wish I knew what I could do to help in some way.

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      • I’d say you’ve already helped. I mean, you joined a demonstration in a country that is foreign to you, with 7000 police officers mobilised that day. That’s quite impressive. Your post detailing the events was great as well, and your photos are lovely. You’re offering a perspective-our perspective- that is not really promoted outside of Greece. I was in an embassy in Athens a few days ago during the riots related to the Law School lock down and the attitude of the embassy people was to treat the whole thing as an inconvenience, and claim that it doesn’t happen very often as if it was embarrassing. It’s great to see that there are people more willing to understand, way more than the official representatives who described themselves as ‘philhellenes’ (that word alone makes my stomach turn).

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      • Thank you. Those are nice words. I’m in the country for a bit longer, so will be around for the strike on the 27th, and the commemorations on the 6th December. I admire the spirit of resistance that the Greeks have. I wish we had more of it in the UK.

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