NEW YORK – Four members of the Greek community who actively participated on the Committee of the Panhellenic Struggle Movement (PAK) in New York spoke to The National Herald about their personal experiences from the period of the anti-dictatorship struggle within the Greek Diaspora, which was a source of opposition to the regime of April 21.
George Karavitis, Panos Stavrianidis, Ioannis Kaltsas, and Tasos Kokaliaris reveal facts that show the climate that prevailed in the Greek-American community during the dark period of seven years, where the shadow of the regime that monitored and recorded them and their actions, ready to retaliate against the fighters or members of their families in Greece, was sometimes visible and sometimes hidden in the dark, even in the faces of so-called "comrades."
Nevertheless, the emotional support of a large part of the Greek Diaspora is still etched in their memory, which was expressed either through participation in the events, or through financial aid, or through the provision of a communication step, during the period when the state-controlled Greek press kept its distance, or took a hostile stance.
Finally, they express their indignation at the tendency of certain centers and individuals to identify the Greek community of the time with the supporters of the regime, recalling the presence of personalities such as Andreas Papandreou and Melina Mercouri at the events of the Greek community movement.
George Karavitis: In the end we won
“It was a difficult struggle in which we had many against us. But I can say that we won and they lost, in the sense that the junta fell. Our struggle during those seven years was not lost,” said George Karavitis, a leading member of the Committee for Freedom and Democracy in Greece, which was associated with the PAK, noting the sense of justification that the young expatriates felt in 1974, when democracy was restored in Greece.
“It was a seven-year race, but it was not only in New York, but also in other areas, such as Tarpon Springs, California, Chicago, Boston, Baltimore, and Washington. We joined forces and organized large marches, both at the Consulate and the Greek Embassy,” Karavitis recalled.
"The Commission's offices were in Manhattan, at 8th Avenue, directly opposite the Port Authority. We met there at least once a week, we kept each other informed about the news we were learning, while we also organized events,” he told TNH.
According to Karavitis, the struggle of the expatriate students – and not only – against the junta was not paved with rose petals. He had obvious and hidden enemies, but he also had companions, some of whom acted discreetly and did not reveal themselves. Typical cases are the radio producer Theodosis Athas, but also the publisher of the weekly Greek community newspaper Kampana, Konstantinos Athanasiadis, who stood up against the junta.
"Athas was progressive and anti-dictatorial, but he was discreet enough not to appear to be taking part in the activities. Athanasiadis was a tireless fighter and a very progressive man. From the Greek community media, The National Herald had held a better position. On the contrary, Atlantis was moving to the extreme right,” Karavitis noted.
Referring to the case of Atlantis, but also to that part of the Greek Diaspora that fought against the anti-dictatorship struggle, Karavitis reveals that a photographer of the newspaper (he has since passed away) photographed people at the demonstrations and sent the material to the junta, in order to identify the "dissidents" while he had caused an incident at an event with Andreas Papandreou at the Hilton, claiming – falsely – later that the members of the "Commission" sent him to the hospital.
"Some young people who were students here, were banned from entering Greece from one moment to the next," said Karavitis, who recounted an incident in which, baited by a woman, junta supporters attempted to set up a deadly ambush for a member of the "Committee" and later government minister, Theodore Stathis.
“The later commander of the Greek National Intelligence Service Kostas Tsimas, Tasos Meimaroglou, and I were at a table and pretended to be drunk. In the same tavern was Stathis with the girl, who was bait, and at another table three junta supporters, who intended to attack him and kill him. Stathis left through the back door, those three men followed him, but we came out, too. I do not know if they recognized us. However, I have the impression that Tsimas was carrying a weapon.”
Karavitis participated in the anti-dictatorship fight to the end, defying potential personal costs. In fact, it is suspected that a member of his extended family, a police officer, who worked for the junta, traveled to New York just to record his activities.
“He admitted, years later, that he had come to gather information about the Movement. He did not say anything specific about me,” Karavitis noted.
Panos Stavrianidis: Struggle at all lengths
Recalling names and events in his memory, the well-known community member Panos Stavrianidis, emphasized that the organized action of the Greek-American community against the junta had as its main feature the participation of people with different ideological and political views, but only one goal: the restoration of democracy in Hellas.
"We were people from different political party affiliations. I and some other people, such as Antonis Diamataris, did not belong to a specific ideological space. However, you could meet members of the Left – which most of them were- and mainly of the KKE, even supporters of the EPE or Karamanlis, who was exiled in France,” Stavrianidis told TNH.
Regarding the way the majority of the Greek Diaspora faced the struggle, Stavrianidis pointed out that, to a certain extent, there was a skepticism from the most conservative, who identified the movement with the Left.
"Most of them were sympathetic to our efforts. Of course, there were also those who insulted us. As I have said repeatedly- with humor- we have taken a lot… getting spit on, while some were beaten. In no case, of course, did we experience what the young people experienced at the Polytechnic, with bullets and the attack they received,” he noted regarding the issue, but added that the struggle was massive and intense.
“The struggle we waged was at all lengths and breadths, but more in the streets and with various events that we did trying, among other things, to initiate other Greek community members, but also to inform American politicians. We also raised money for political prisoners. As in the screening of the film 'Z', in a cinema on 60th Street, where we were on the street and selling badges for this purpose,” said Stavrianidis, while according to Karavitis they managed to collect $24,000.
Regarding whether the junta had willing "well-wishers" within the Greek Diaspora and the role they played, Stavrianidis noted that everyone was prepared for this eventuality, even if people were involved beyond suspicion.
“Certainly there were traitors, some of whom had infiltrated the organization as well. I would not like to mention the names of those we suspected, after all, we had no proof and could not do anything. But we had also taken some precautions. Our disappointment was when some people who were close to us went to Greece and got friendly with the junta, like an artist we knew as a Leftist.”
Experiencing the years of the anti-dictatorship movement in the USA and having felt in person all the tension but also the difficult moments of those years, Stavrianidis is outraged by the idea that specific centers identify the Greek-American community with the extreme right-wing and pro-junta views.
"Those who write such things are irresponsible and have no evidence to support this. The Greek Diaspora is mainstream for the most part and is probably in the center. We do not have many extremists and the few who existed either no longer exist or do not play a serious role.”
Ioannis Kaltsas: "Retaliated" against the slap to the junta
Ioannis Kaltsas, who has been in the U.S. since he was 15, had little contact with the events in Greece and may not have realized exactly what changed in the country after April 21, 1967. But he learned it firsthand on a visit which branded his youthful consciousness and was a major motivator for his joining the struggle against the dictatorship.
"It was 1968, I was on a trip to Greece. I was a freshman then, with sideburns and long hair, like many young people at the time. I had been detained in my neighborhood and when an officer came in to ask us something, everyone stood up except me. When he asked me why I did not get up, I replied that I was not his subordinate. He came close and hit me in the face. He was even wearing a ring and he injured me. He shouted 'get this bum out of here.’ Of course they let me go, they had nothing against me. But I understood very well what dictatorship means. When I returned to America, I vowed to do everything I could to overthrow the junta. That's how I joined the movement,” Kaltsas said.
As he explained, the "American Committee for Democracy and Freedom in Greece" was essentially the "umbrella" of the PAK, which the U.S. government at that time referred to as a communist organization.
“In the period before the events of the Polytechnic, we expected evil to break out somewhere. Melina Mercouri was here and we met with her. Then she said the well-known 'I was born and will die Greek and Pattakos was born and will die a fascist,’” added Kaltsas, who mentioned professors Giannaris, Psomiadis and Lianis, the contribution of Adamantia Polis, but also the journalists Konstantinos Athanasiadis and Theodosis Athas.
"Our president was Theodore Stathis, who taught at Manhattan College, later as a deputy minister and MP. I also remember Dimitris Alexiadis, George Karavitis, Giannis Tsapogas, George Tzouflas, and Kostas Tsimas. It was also Antonis Diamataris, who, like others, helped as much as he could,” he recalled.
Regarding the participation of the Greek Diaspora and how he perceived the attitude of the community, he noted that the majority was supportive or even non-hostile, but the climate of terrorism and the possibility of authoritarian political revenge by the junta made them more restrained.
“The truth is that most were not in favor of the regime, but not everyone participated because they were afraid. They had relatives in Greece, they were afraid that they would lose their visa or some currency that was sent to them. There were problems. But, I repeat, people supported the cause. When we brought Andreas Papandreou for a speech, the hall and the surrounding streets were full. Many helped, with what they could,” noted Kaltsas, who concluded that he will always be satisfied that he did not compromise.
"We did not do what the young people did at the Polytechnic. Personally, however, I will always be satisfied that I did not compromise with the regime, nor was I afraid of it. Most Greeks were against it but feared the consequences. But when it came time to do something, they did. It is also important that we in the organization joined forces for the common goal of overthrowing the junta, regardless of political affiliation. We were not looking at which party one or another would vote for. When Democracy was restored, each of us took his own path,” he said.
Tasos Kokaliaris: When you fight you are not afraid
The honorary president of Panmessenian Federation of USA and Canada and well-known businessman and fur designer, Tasos Kokaliaris, put himself at the service of the movement against the junta, having previously come in contact with important expatriate academics, such as Paul Onor and William Tavoulareas. He came in contact with executives of the "Committee" that belonged to the PAK and made a significant contribution to the demonstrations and events that followed, trying, by exploiting freedom of expression in the United States, to awaken the Greek Diaspora and turn it against the junta.
“I had served in the military and specifically in the Air Force and I could not accept what happened. I could not stand the idea that the dictatorship overthrew Democracy. This is how we got involved in the Movement, with George Karavitis, Antonis Diamataris, and other community members. We formed a large team, which made a dynamic effort. I remember the radio 'Free Voice of Greece' and the fact that the Church at that time was fighting us, like other ultra-rightists,” recalled Kokaliaris.
Despite the difficulties that arose, he noted that the participants in the anti-dictatorship movement were properly organized and had important people by their side.
“We had power and we raised money. People supported the struggle. Among them were Americans, not just Greeks. We also had important people with us, such as the journalist Tasos Vergitsis, a great writer. He was from Constantinople and wrote articles for the Greek newspapers. At the same time, it was an important moment when Melina Mercouri met with us,” said Kokaliaris, clarifying, of course, that there were members of the community who opposed their efforts.
“They also had an office. A Greek doctor and many others participated. They had taken many pictures of us. Let me make it clear, of course, that we were not afraid. When you fight you are not afraid, right? The only concern was for our relatives in Greece,” he said.
Regarding whether he feels justified for the restoration of democracy in Greece, Kokaliaris expressed his sadness for the fact that “the social loafing and the kotzambasides [ruling class] have not disappeared from the country,” while he is also outraged at the stereotype of the "junta expatriate" that some are trying to promote in Greece.
“It is unacceptable! The Greek Diaspora has contributed a great deal to the homeland,” concluded Kokaliaris.