Thousands March To Remember Junta Downfall

– Andy Dabilis/TNH Staff

ATHENS – In a demonstration bigger than recent years, thousands of Greeks took to the streets on Nov. 17 to mark the 40tth anniversary of a bloody student uprising that led to the end of ruling military dictatorship in 1974.

Previous marches had been marked by riots, but this year’s was peaceful despite growing anger of austerity measures being imposed by the government and the aftermath of the murder of a hip-hop artist for which a member of the extremist Golden Dawn party was charged – and the apparent retaliation killing of two of its members by a new terror group.

According to police estimates, about 10,000 mostly leftist, anarchist and union supporters took part in one march and a similar number of Communist Party supporters paraded separately. They are all opponents of Golden Dawn.

Both marches were to end outside the U.S. Embassy, about 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) from the National Technical University of Athens, the center of the 1973 revolt. Most Greeks still blame the U.S. for supporting the 1967-74 military regime. The revolt was crushed when a tank stormed through the University’s gates in the early hours of Nov. 17, 1973.

In the midst of an economic crisis, rising social unrest and political turmoil, Greece nonetheless paused to recall the dramatic events that occurred in 1973 with the heroic uprising against the ruling military junta by students at the Polytechnic School of Athens.

The events are perhaps lost on today’s younger generations but images being broadcast on Greek television and the words of those who were there to stare down a tank and soldiers, sparking a revolution that brought down the government of dictators in 1974 still abounded.

But ceremonies marking the moment, including the placing of flowers on the spot where a tank broke through a metal gate at the school, setting off resistance that led to a still-uncertain number of deaths, were to take place against the backdrop of workers angry over austerity measures and the government trying to dismantle the extremist Golden Dawn political party.

As the years pass and the memory fades of the event that helped shape today’s Greece, veterans of the defiance remembered what happened and how it has helped form some of today’s actions by students hoping to mimic the Bread-Education-Freedom battle cry of their predecessors.

The stand of Nov. 17, 1973 had its roots six years earlier. On April 21, 1967, a group of colonels, Brigadier General Stylianos Pattakos and Colonels Georgios Papadopoulos and Nikolaos Makarezos, seized power with a coup d’etat.

That came a week the Parliament had been dissolved ahead of scheduled elections with political tension rising. The Colonels turned out to be brutal, imprisoning, torturing and killing dissidents and rivals and going so far as to question school girls for innocently wearing pins on the left side of their clothes, fearing they were leftists.

The government was viciously anti-Communist and put in prison even celebrities such as famed composer Mikis Theodorakis, whose score for the movie Zorba the Greek just a couple of years earlier had become a brandmark standard for Greece.

Other opponents of the government fled the country and railed from exile against the Colonels, who had the implicit backing of the United States, a stain that took decades for the Americans to erase.

Four governments succeeded one another during the seven-year Junta and they were all condemned by the Council of Europe before Greece’s withdrawal, in fear of suspension, that would last until 1974.

The government controlled what people could see and hear and even public gatherings while it conducted a pseudo-referendum its new Constitution, even as many Greeks bristled. But not all. Many Greeks loved being told what to do and having a strongarm government and even today the Colonels are revered by Golden Dawn as heroes for trying to crush Communists and Leftists.

Greek universities were scoured for free-thinking professors who were removed and students who wouldn’t pledge allegiance to the regime was not allowed to attend university. The uprising that ultimately led to the fall of the Colonels Regime, began on February 1973, at the Law School in Athens.

The students took over the University building, because of a new law regulation that enabled the government to revoke military service postponement and conscript them into becoming soldiers of the regime.

On Nov. 14, 1973 after the regime refused to allow the student body election, more than 5,000 students gathered at the Polytechnic School and decided to take it over in an act of resistance.

The crowds swelled, shouting slogans against the Junta. On the 16th of November the Polytechnic School radio station starts emitting in all of Athens spreading the message of the Resistance with a young student, Maria Damanaki, become their voice.

Ironically, today she is one of Greece’s European Union officials and a staunch backer of the New Democracy Conservative-led government which is imposing the kind of austerity measures that was against her ideology when she was young.

The students wanted to bring down the government and reinstate democracy while the U.S. wanted to keep the dictators so they could keep their foot on the necks of Communists and Leftists.

The police issued a curfew that forbids people from being in the center of Athens, placing military tanks in key spots around the School. Around 2:50 a.m. on Nov. 17, a tank moved forward bringing down the gates of the Polytechnic School allowing for Special Police Forces to enter. After a riot that lasted 30 minutes, the grounds were empty.

But the Colonels weren’t content as they wanted to unite Cyprus with Greece and overthrew Cypriot President in 1974, leading Turkey to invade the island, where it still occupies the northern third. It also brought down the Junta for good and its leaders were imprisoned. Papadopoulos died in jail in 1999.