My tribute to the Polytechnic Uprising
on 17 November 1973
Every November, our hearts and minds are there, at the Athens Polytechnic, at the heroic uprising of students, young people and the whole of Greece against the Junta, in November 1973.
The Polytechnic uprising (Politechneio, Πολυτεχνείο in greek) symbolises not only the heroic struggle but also the unity of all democrats.
The November struggles are the highest expression of the seven-year fight against the dictatorship, and one of the most important moments in the fight for freedom of the Greek people and especially Greek youth.
The ideals of freedom, independence, peace, love of life and mankind, remain alive and will stay current and unalterable, no matter how many years pass from that rising.
The Events of the Polytechnic Uprising
Despite the harsh repressive measures of the military Junta during the seven-year dictatorship of 1967-1973 in Greece - the imprisonments, displacements, mass trials in emergency courts-martial, torture, mock executions and murders - popular demonstrations against the regime continued throughout the dictatorship, with young people always playing a leading part.
Popular indignation against the Junta began to be forcefully expressed from early 1973, with the sit-ins at the Law School in Athens in February, the demonstration on 4 November on the occasion of the memorial service for George Papandreou, at which there were arrests, and the demonstration by 3,000 students the next day in support of those arrested. Demonstrations also continued at the universities.
The political upheaval which broke out in Athens lasted from 14 to 17 November 1973. The upheaval began with the sit-in at the Polytechnic by students, peaked with the pan-Athenian mobilisation against the regime, and concluded with military intervention.
The Polytechnic Uprising begins with the general meetings of the students’ unions on the morning of Wednesday 14 November, which result in the rejection of government measures concerning the planning of student elections. On the same afternoon, the students, who have gathered at the Polytechnic in the meantime, decide to occupy the building under the control of a Coordinating Committee. By the evening, the slogans have become clearly political.
The Cretan singer and fighter against the regime Nikos Xylouris enters the Polytechnic to encourage the students. Despite the large police presence, more and more people enter the Polytechnic to stand by the students.
The slogans shouted and painted on banners in the Polytechnic are no longer concerned with education alone but turn against the regime: “Papadopoulos, you fascist, take your washerwoman wife, take Despina and go, the people don’t want you”, “Bread, Education, Freedom”, “People break your chains”, “US Out” and “Down with the Junta”, “FREEDOM”, “Today Fascism dies”, “This’ll be another Thailand” (a reference to the student uprising in Thailand in July 1973, which had contributed to the fall of a forth-year military dictatorship in October of the same year).
The students gathered inside the Polytechnic set up an occupation committee. The doors are shut and the first meeting of the Coordinating Committee takes place at 8:30 that evening. The first manifestos were scattered in Patision Avenue, which is blocked by crowds of people.
Thursday 15 November 1973. The sit-in draws the people of Athens, who start to flock to the Polytechnic. By 9:30 p.m. the sit-in is packed, while the crowds in the surrounding streets shout anti-American and anti-Junta slogans. The crowds remain there all night to express their support of the Polytechnic students.
Friday 16 November. The Polytechnic radio station starts broadcasting the message of the struggle to the whole of Athens, which is watching events with bated breath. “Polytechnic here! Polytechnic here! This is the Radio Station of the free fighting students, the free fighting Greeks. Down with the Junta, down with Papadopoulos, Americans out, down with fascism, the Junta will fall to the people. People of Greece, come out on the streets, come and stand by us, in order to see freedom. The struggle is a universal anti-dictatorial, anti-Junta struggle! Only you can fight in this struggle. Greece is governed by foreign interests! The dictator Papadopoulos is trying to hide behind a mask of democracy with the fake government of Markezinis and the fake elections it is proclaiming.”
Polytechnic uprising: Appeal to the foreign press
At 9 a.m. the first barricades are raised and two mass demonstrations form in Panepistimiou and Stadiou Avenues. At midday a farmers’ committee from Megara, protesting against the expropriation of their land, visits the Coordinating Committee and the radio broadcasts: “The people of Megara promise to stand and fight at the side pf the students and workers... This is a common struggle... It is not just for the town of Megara or the Polytechnic... It is for Greece. For the people of Greece who want to determine their own lives. To walk on the path to progress. The basic requirement is the overthrow of the dictatorship and the restoration of democracy.”
The people gathered outside the Polytechnic singing the traditional Cretan revolutionary song “Pote Tha Kanei Xasteria” (When Will the Sky Be Clear Again).
Nikos Xylouris: "Pote tha kanei xasteria"
By the afternoon thousands of demonstrators have gathered, including many workers.
At 6 p.m. clashes between police and demonstrators begin, with many injuries.
At 7 p.m. a mass march heads for the Polytechnic and the police choose this moment to strike. Police armoured cars appear and the first shots are fired.
There are running fights all along Solonos, Kaningos, Vathi, Aristotelous and Alexandras Avenues and Amerikis Square.
At 9:30 the police declare a curfew in the centre of Athens until further notice.
At 11 p.m. the radio station and loudspeakers ask people not to leave. The area around the Polytechnic is shrouded in choking teargas.
Saturday 17 November 1973. The first tanks appear shortly after midnight, while more and more dead and injured are taken to the makeshift hospital in the Polytechnic.
By 1 a.m. the Polytechnic has been surrounded by tanks. The radio station and loudspeakers call, “Don’t be afraid of the tanks”, “Down with fascism”, “Soldiers, we are your brothers. Don’t become murderers”.
At 1:30 the tanks set off with their headlamps on.
The students cling to the gates, singing the national anthem and calling to the solders, “We are brothers”.
The army gives the people inside 20 minutes’ notice to get out, while a tank takes up position near the main gate. The Coordinating Committee tries to negotiate the students’ safe exit.
2:50 a.m. Saturday 17 November: The commanding officer waves the tank forward. The gates fall and the tank continues up to the steps of the “Averoff” building. It is followed by men of the security forces and the LOK Special Forces.
Shots are fired. Some soldiers help the students escape, but plain-clothes policemen are waiting at the exits.
By 3:20 there is no-one left in the Polytechnic...
The 17th of November 1973 was the turning-point of the 1967 dictatorship. Although the students did not actually overthrow the regime, the intense and persistent reaction, the new voice heard from the Polytechnic and the earlier Law School sit-in, shook the Junta to its rotten core.
Junta In Greece 1967 - 1974
"Fuck your parliament and your constitution. If your prime minister gives me talk about democracy, parliament and constitutions, he, his parliament and his constitution may not last very long." -- President Lyndon Johnson to the Greek ambassador a couple of months before the Greek coup d'etat.
The military junta, known simply as the Junta in Greece (Χούντα στην Ελλάδα), was imposed on 21 April 1967 when army officers, led by Colonel George Papadopoulos, Brigadier Stylianos Pattakos and Colonel Nikolaos Makarezos seized power in a coup d’état.
(The leader of the coup, Georgios Papadopoulos, had been on the CIA payroll for the previous fifteen years)
Having positioned about 100 tanks in the Athens area, the coup leaders made their move at dawn on the 21st of April and first occupied the Ministry of Defence.
They then set Operation Prometheus in action, mobilising all the military units in Attica. The NATO emergency plan was originally intended to impose military rule in the case of a Communist uprising if Soviet forces invaded Greece.
The Junta lasted seven years, during which the military dictatorship abolished all political freedoms, and imprisonments, torture and exile became an everyday phenomenon for every Greek.
The Polytechnic Uprising is considered the peak of resistance to the Junta. The sit-in at Athens University Law School in March 1973 and the uprising at the National Technical University of Athens in November of the same year shattered the climate of fear and contributed to the fall of the regime and the restoration of democracy, mainly through giving hope to the Greek people.
Photo, from left to right: Stylianos Pattakos,
Georgios Papadopoulos and Nikolaos Makarezos
Reactions against the military junta
From 1967 onwards and throughout the dictatorship, demonstrations against the regime were held, protest banners hung in the centre of Athens and bombs set off. However, these expressions of resistance to the Junta were the exception to the rule. The arrests of innocent citizens, just for expressing views opposed to the regime and the lack of freedom, had terrorised the population and people were afraid to speak out in front of third parties. The arrests were accompanied by torture, courts-martial and internal exile to remote island camps. The Greek Military Police (ESA) and its Special Interrogation Unit (EAT-ESA) became bywords for terror and the torture of opponents of the regime.
During this time when everything “was overshadowed by menace and oppressed by slavery”, in the words of the Hymn to Democracy (the Greek national anthem), some events stand out.
In August 1968 Alekos Panagoulis tried to assassinate Papadopoulos with a bomb, and only the resulting international outcry prevented his execution after he was sentenced to death by judges in thrall to the regime.
A few months later, in November 1968, one of the first forms of mass protest against the Junta took place: the 500,000 Athenians who attended the funeral of former Prime Minister George Papandreou yelled slogans against the Junta and sang the National Anthem and the traditional Cretan revolutionary song “Pote Tha Kanei Xasteria” (When Will the Sky Be Clear Again).
The Naval Mutiny against the Greek junta was also very important. Dozens of Greek Navy officers planned to overthrow the Junta by force of arms as early as 1968. More joined the conspiracy over the next few years. The coup was planned for 22 May 1973 but it was put off due to fears and hesitation. The Junta got wind of the conspiracy, many arrests were made and people were tortured by the EAT-ESA. The destroyer HNS Velos followed the original alternative plan in case of failure and sailed to Italy. This incident increased the number of international calls for a free, democratic Greece, but unfortunately these were not accompanied by material aid.
Oppression, autarchy and the lack of democracy and freedom led a large section of the population to believe that the situation could not continue much longer, and demonstrations against the dictatorship began to spread after 1971. The Junta made some moves towards “legitimising” the regime, with an attempt at “democratisation” in order to forestall events.
In mid-1973 there was a general amnesty for exiled and political prisoners, and in October Markezinis was appointed Prime Minister. At the same time, strikes became more frequent and the Junta interfered with the universities in an ever more provocative manner. Both these interventions and the “democratisation” failed to control popular reactions and actually made the situation worse. The struggle against the dictatorship increased, taking on new forms.
The students took dynamic action in 1973. The students at the Polytechnic protested with continuous abstention from classes and demands for education. The Senate’s attempt to control them by closing the Polytechnic led to demonstrations at the Law School of the Kapodistrian University of Athens. There were also demonstrations in Thessalonica and other cities.
In February 1973 the Junta published a law by which the Minister of Defence could suppress the deferment of army service of students participating in the strikes, and a number of students were called up. In mid-February came the first trial sit-ins at the Law School in Athens. At the end of the month students were arrested for anti-dictatorship demonstrations and shouting slogans during the funeral of actress Katina Paxinou. In March the Law School was occupied again and, at the Senate’s request, the police raided the building and arrested many students.
On 21 April, the anniversary of the coup, the students demonstrated in Athens with slogans against the Junta. In May came the Naval Mutiny mentioned above. In June, strikes by many workers expressed the general climate of turmoil and resistance to oppression. The strikes peaked in the autumn.
In the summer of 1973, the play “To Megalo Mas Tsirko” (Our Great Circus) by Iacovos Kambanelis was staged at the Athinaion Theatre. Nikos Xylouris sang, and participants included Stavros Xarchakos, Kostas Kazakos, Dionysis Papayiannopoulos and Evgenios Spatharis. Kambanelis called the play, a representation of Greek history from the Turkish occupation to the present, “A referendum for Democracy”.
In early November 1973, the memorial service for George Papandreou turned into a major demonstration against the Junta, which was broken up with beatings and arrests. On 14 November the students at the Polytechnic organised a sit-in. Slogans such as “Bread, Education, Freedom” (Ψωμί, Παιδεία, Ελευθερία), “People break your chains”, “US Out” and “Down with the Junta” were painted on banners and broadcast by the students’ amateur radio transmitter. Thousands of citizens gathered outside the Polytechnic and the dictator George Papadopoulos ordered the tanks into Athens. At three o’ clock in the morning of Saturday the 17th of November, a tank broke down the main gate of the Polytechnic and soldiers, police, secret police and armed supporters of the regime invaded the grounds. Thousands of people were arrested and tortured, but the message was clear: the Junta’s days were numbered.
Greek junta, the Polytechnic uprising
The Polytechnic uprising on 17 November 1973 was the turning-point of the 1967 dictatorship. Although the students did not actually overthrow the regime, the intense and persistent reaction, the new voice heard from the Polytechnic and the earlier Law School sit-in, shook the Junta to its rotten core.
Greek junta, the end
In 1974 came the failed coup in Cyprus. The “guarantor” Turkey invaded the island to “protect” Turkish Cypriots. The ineffective reaction of the Greek and Greek Cypriot forces resulted in Turkey occupying almost half of Cyprus (almost all the island’s plains). There had been Turkish threats of invasion in 1964 and 1967, which makes it likely that Greece was under pressure not to react more dynamically in 1974. On the other hand, we must not forget that the Junta hesitated to arm the soldiers who had been called up, and in many cases soldiers attacked ESA military policemen.
Ioannides, who had overthrown Papadopoulos after the Polytechnic affair, disappeared along with most of the Junta government. Senior Greek army officers, led by Gizikis, decided, given the impasse and their responsibility for the Cyprus fiasco, to restore democracy. Former Prime Minister Karamanlis was invited from Paris to form a government of national unity, and the seven years of the Junta came to an end on 24 July 1974.
The political period that followed is known as the “Metapolitefsi” (Μεταπολίτευση, change of polity), the Restoration of Democracy.
The Colonels’ junta, which ruled from April 1967 through July 1974, arrested a total of about 90,000 people, of whom more than 5,000 were tortured, and assassinated 128 persons.
Greek Junta - The Trials
The Greek Junta Trials (Greek: Οι Δίκες της Χούντας translated as: The Τrials of the Junta) were the trials involving members of the military junta that ruled Greece from 21 April 1967 to 23 July 1974.
These trials involved the instigators of the coup as well as other junta members of various ranks who took part in the events of the Athens Polytechnic uprising and in the torture of citizens.
The military coup leaders were formally arrested during the metapolitefsi period that followed the junta, and in early August 1975 the government of Konstantinos Karamanlis brought charges of high treason and mutiny against Georgios Papadopoulos and other co-conspirators. The mass trial, described as "Greece's Nuremberg" and known as "The Trial of the Instigators", was staged at the Korydallos Prison amidst heavy security.
The principal leaders of the 1967 coup, Georgios Papadopoulos, Stylianos Pattakos and Nikolaos Makarezos, were sentenced to death for high treason, following the trial. Shortly after the sentences were pronounced, they were commuted to life imprisonment by the Karamanlis government. The trial of the instigators was followed by a second trial which investigated the events surrounding the Athens Polytechnic uprising known as "The Trial of the Polytechnic" and, finally, a series of trials involving incidents of torture known in Greece as "The Trials of the Torturers".
Trial of the instigators of the 21 April 1967 coup - Verdict:
|Georgios Papadopoulos, Stylianos Pattakos||Dishonourable discharge, Death|
|Gregorios Spandidakis, Antonios Lefkas, Nikolaos Dertilis, Dimitrios Ioannides, Michael Balopoulos, Georgios Konstantopoulos, Theodoros Theophilogiannakos||Dishonourable discharge, Life|
|Georgios Zoitakis||Dishonourable discharge, Life|
|Ioannis Ladas, Konstantinos Papadopoulos, Michael Roufogalis, Dimitrios Stamatelopoulos, Stephanos Karaberis||Life|
|Odysseas Aggelis||Dishonourable discharge, 20 years|
|Petros Kotselis, Nikolaos Gantonas, Konstantinos Karydas, Evangelos Tsakas||20 years|
|Konstantinos Aslanidis, Alexandros Hadjipetros||Not guilty|
Trial of the Polytechnic - Verdict:
Seven Life sentences
Three Life sentences
Trials of the torturers - Verdict:
|EAT/ESA member:||Sentence |
Kofas (nicknamed "the orange juice doctor")
Of course none of them convicted in death ever executed.
The Hellenic Constitution prohibits death penalty.
Almost all of the criminals above are free today..
Nikos Deja Vu