This week in 1973

2011 November 13

For those of you who don’t know much about post WWII Greek history, Thursday of this week will mark an important anniversary in the Greek psyche.  November 17th, 1973 marked the culmination of the series of events known as the Athens Polytechnic Uprising against the military dictatorship (Regime of the Colonels, or Juda, as it’s known in Greece).

The events began days earlier when students at Athens’ Polytechnic University began protesting against the dictatorship and went on strike. Because of its nonviolent nature, the authorities initially allowed the protest and strike to continue.  The dictatorship was also well aware that its recently professed desire to return to political rule of the country and away from military rule was being put to the test.  The students, who called themselves the “Free Besieged,” barricaded the main gate of the campus and constructed a radio transmitter out of laboratory parts.  The radio station repeatedly transmitted the lines, Here is Polytechneion! People of Greece, the Polytechneion is the flag bearer of our struggle and your struggle, our common struggle against the dictatorship and for democracy!” As word of the protests spread, speakers rallied the people of Athens with the improvised radio station.  Moved by the speakers, citizens (mainly the young and the working class) began to converge on the Polytechneion in support of the strike and protests.

In the early hours of November 17th, the government hastily decided the time had come to end the protests (which by that time, were not only against the ruling military dictatorship, but also the United States because of her role in supporting the Colonels in their coup of 1967). Accounts differ, but the general memory is that protesters attempted to prevent authorities from entering the university campus by clinging to the closed main gate, even in the face of a tank sent by the dictatorship to gain entry.  Eventually, orders were given for the tank to gain entrance to the campus, crashing through the main gate of the Polytechneion.  It is unclear if any students were still holding on to the gate at the time the tank entered.  Again, conventional memory of the Greek people says that there were students crushed between the tank and the gate, although officially, there were no casualties in this event.

The events culminating in November 17th would mark truly the beginning of the end for the dictatorship and it would fall in the Spring of 1974.  The events of that week are remembered each year in Greece, with wreath-layings, solemn gatherings and, traditionally, a protest march which begins on the campus of the Polytechneion and ends at the United States Embassy. The memory of the events are so seared into the Greek consciousness that a Greek militant revolutionary group took as its name, Revolutionary Organization 17 November.

This year’s remembrances could become especially “boisterous,” given the current sentiment among the Greek people, the ongoing austerity and financial crisis, the recent instability within the elected government of Greece, and the pressure from Europe at large to institute quickly still more harsh spending cuts, layoffs, and tax increases.  The knowledge I have on the ground in Greece suggests that this is going to be a long, cold winter for the general public, with no real alternative to avoid it.  While certainly, the vast majority of any demonstrators who appear this week to remember the uprising, and its costs, will be solemn and peaceful, there will always be that small, radical element, which wishes to spark large clashes with the authorities.  A little knowledge of history will help us to understand why patience will be especially important this week in Athens.


Find the original article here: Four Days Hence

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