Athens Polytechnic uprising
The Athens Polytechnic uprising in 1973 was a massive demonstration of popular rejection of the Greek military junta of 1967–1974. The uprising began on November 14, 1973, escalated to an open anti-junta revolt and ended in bloodshed in the early morning of November 17 after a series of events starting with a tank crashing through the gates of the Polytechnic.
Since April 21, 1967, Greece had been under the dictatorial rule of the military, a regime which abolished civil rights, dissolved political parties and exiled, imprisoned and tortured politicians and citizens based on their political beliefs.
1973 found the military junta leader Georgios Papadopoulos having undertaken a "liberalisation" process of the regime, which included the release of political prisoners and the partial lifting of censorship, as well as promises of a new constitution and new elections for a return to civilian rule. Opposition elements including Socialists were thus given the opportunity to undertake political action against the junta.
United States took a clandestine interest in suppressing Socialists and had a C.I.A. operative named John Maury who was in consultation supporting the Junta Leaders. American Vice President Spiro Agnew praised the junta as "the best thing to happen to Greece since Pericles ruled in ancient Athens".
The junta, trying to control every aspect of politics, had interfered with student syndicalism since 1967, by banning student elections in universities, forcibly drafting students and imposing non-elected student union leaders in the national student's union, EFEE. These actions eventually created anti-junta sentiments among students, such as geology student Kostas Georgakis who committed suicide in 1970 in Genoa, Italy as an act of protest against the junta. With that exception, the first massive public action against the junta came from students on February 21, 1973.
On February 21, 1973, law students went on strike and barricaded themselves inside the buildings of the Law School of the University of Athens in the centre of Athens, demanding repeal of the law that imposed forcible drafting of "subversive youths", as 88 of their peers had been forcibly drafted. The police were ordered to intervene and many students were reportedly subjected to police brutality. The events at the Law School are often cited as the prelude to the Polytechnic uprising.
On November 14, 1973 students at the Athens Polytechnic (Polytechneion) went on strike and started protesting against the military regime (Regime of the Colonels). As the authorities stood by, the students, calling themselves the "Free Besieged" (Greek: Ελεύθεροι Πολιορκημένοι, a reference to a poem by Greek national poet Dionysios Solomos inspired by the Ottoman siege of Mesolonghi), barricaded themselves in and constructed a radio station (using laboratory equipment) that repeatedly broadcast across Athens:
Polytechneion here! People of Greece, the Polytechneion is the flag bearer of our struggle and your struggle, our common struggle against the dictatorship and for democracy!"
Maria Damanaki, later a politician, was one of the major speakers. Soon thousands of workers and youngsters joined them protesting inside and outside of the "Athens Polytechnic".
In the early hours of November 17, 1973, the transitional government sent a tank crashing through the gates of the Athens Polytechnic. Soon after that, Spyros Markezinis himself had the humiliating task to request Papadopoulos to re-impose martial law. Prior to the crackdown, the city lights had been shut down, and the area was only lit by the campus lights, powered by the university generators. An AMX 30 Tank (still kept in a small armored unit museum in a military camp in Avlonas, not open to the public) crashed the rail gate of the Athens Polytechnic at around 03:00 am. In unclear footage clandestinely filmed by a Dutch journalist, the tank is shown bringing down the main steel entrance to the campus to which people were clinging. Documentary evidence also survives, in recordings of the "Athens Polytechnic" radio transmissions from the occupied premises. In these a young man's voice is heard desperately asking the soldiers (whom he calls 'brothers in arms') surrounding the building complex to disobey the military orders and not to fight 'brothers protesting'. The voice carries on to an emotional outbreak, reciting the lyrics of the Greek National Anthem, until the tank enters the yard, at which time transmission ceases.
An official investigation undertaken after the fall of the Junta declared that no students of Athens Polytechnic were killed during the incident. Total recorded casualties amount to 24 civilians killed outside Athens Polytechnic campus. These include 19-year-old Michael Mirogiannis, reportedly shot to death by officer G. Dertilis, high-school students Diomedes Komnenos and Alexandros Spartidis of Lycee Leonin, and a five-year-old boy caught in the crossfire in the suburb of Zografou. The records of the trials held following the collapse of the Junta document the circumstances of the deaths of many civilians during the uprising, and although the number of dead has not been contested by historical research, it remains a subject of political controversy. In addition, hundreds of civilians were left injured during the events.
Ioannides' involvement in inciting unit commanders of the security forces to commit criminal acts during the Athens Polytechnic uprising was noted in the indictment presented to the court by the prosecutor during the Greek junta trials and in his subsequent conviction in the Polytechneion trial where he was found to have been morally responsible for the events.
Aftermath of the uprising
On November 14, the uprising triggered a series of events that put an abrupt end to the regime's attempted "liberalisation" process under Spiros Markezinis. Papadopoulos, during his liberalisation process and even during the dictatorship, attempted to re-engineer the Greek political landscape and failed repeatedly. Ironically, in his biographical notes published as a booklet by supporters in 1980 it is mentioned that he attended Polytechneion, the prime Engineering School in the country, but did not graduate.
Taxiarkhos Dimitrios Ioannides, a disgruntled Junta hardliner, used the uprising as a pretext to re-establish public order, and staged a counter-coup that overthrew George Papadopoulos and Spiros Markezinis on November 25 the same year. Military law was reinstated, and the new Junta appointed General Phaedon Gizikis as President, and economist Adamantios Androutsopoulos as Prime Minister, although Ioannides remained the behind-the-scenes strongman.
Ioannides' abortive coup attempt on July 15, 1974 against Archbishop Makarios III, then President of Cyprus, was met by an invasion of Cyprus by Turkey. These events caused the military regime to implode and ushered in the era of metapolitefsi. Constantine Karamanlis was invited from self-exile in France, and was appointed Prime Minister of Greece alongside President Phaedon Gizikis. Parliamentary democracy was thus restored, and the Greek legislative elections of 1974 were the first free elections held in a decade.
17 November, the date of the event, later became the name of a Greek terrorist group, in reference to the uprising.
November 17 is currently observed as a holiday in Greece for all educational establishments; commemorative services are held and students attend school only for these, while some schools and all universities stay closed during the day. The central location for the commemoration is the campus of the Polytechneio. The campus is closed on the 15th (the day the students first occupied the campus on 1973). Students and politicians lay wreaths on a monument within the Polytechneio on which the names of Polytechneio students killed during the Greek Resistance in the 1940s are inscribed. The commemoration day ends traditionally with a demonstration that begins from the campus of the Polytechneio and ends at the United States embassy.
The student uprising is hailed by many as a valiant act of resistance against the military dictatorship, and therefore as a symbol of resistance to tyranny. Others believe that the uprising was used as a pretext by Brigadier Dimitrios Ioannidis to put an abrupt end to the process of ostensible liberalisation of the regime undertaken by Spiros Markezinis.
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Citations and notes
- Brown, Kenneth (1974). "Greece". The World Book Year Book 1974. Chicago: Field Enterprises Educational Corporation. p. 340. ISBN 0-7166-0474-4. LCCN 62-4818.
- Etho Polytechneio through Internet archive Text in Greek: Εδώ Πολυτεχνείο! Λαέ της Ελλάδας το Πολυτεχνείο είναι σημαιοφόρος του αγώνα μας, του αγώνα σας, του κοινού αγώνα μας ενάντια στη δικτατορία και για την Δημοκρατία, transliterated as: Etho Polytechneio! Lae tis Elladas to Polytechneio einai simaioforos tou agona mas, tou agona sas, tou koinou agona mas enantia sti diktatoria kai gia tin Dimokratia)
- "Past present" and quote:Markezinis had humiliated himself by 'requesting' Papadopoulos to reimpose martial law in the wake of the November 17 uprising at the Athens Polytechnic , Athens News, 4 October 2002 through Internet Archive
- BBC: On this day quote: It follows growing unrest in Greece, and comes eight days after student uprisings in which 13 people died and hundreds were injured..
- "Greece marks '73 student uprising", and:the notorious Brigadier Dimitrios Ioannidis now serving a life sentence for his part in the 1967 seizure of power – immediately scrapped a programme of liberalisation introduced earlier and: His was but to do the bidding of a junta strongman who had never made a secret of his belief that Greeks were not ready for democracy. Athens News, 17 November 1999 through Internet archive
- Ioannis Tzortzis, University of Birmingham "The Metapolitefsi that Never Was: a Re-evaluation of the 1973 ‘Markezinis Experiment’" quote 1: Thus the students ‘had been played straight into the hands of Ioannidis, who looked upon the coming elections with a jaundiced eye. quote 2: Ioannidis said to Pattakos ‘we are not playing. We shall have a dictatorship, send all our opponents to exile on the islands and stay in power for thirty years!’ through Internet Archive