(November 17, updated November 28) – In the past days, the Greek government has escalated its authoritarianism by banning this year’s anti-imperialist march on the US embassy. The march is held every year on November 17 to commemorate the anniversary of the uprising of the Polytechnic students and the workers of Athens against the military junta in 1973. The Greek communist party, trade unions and mass organizations said loud and clear that the anti-imperialist march on Tuesday, November 17 would place by observing all health protection measures, as it happened on May Day. The rally conveyed the messages “USA out – NATO out” and “bread-education-freedom”, which were slogans of the Polytechnic uprising, but also express the contemporary struggles against Greece’s involvement in US-NATO imperialist plans, as well as the workers’ and people’s demands for rights to work, education, health, individual and trade union freedoms. The oligarchs, their governments and the US-NATO allies find this content of the militant commemoration of the Polytechnic uprising very disturbing.
At noon of November 17 in Athens, protesters with banners and flags were able to defy the authoritarian and anti-democratic decision of the government, carrying out a march that reached outside the US embassy, which was surrounded by police buses and strong riot police forces. Dimitris Koutsoumbas, general secretary of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), was greeted with applause by the protesters and laid a wreath at the place where the police tortured militants during the military dictatorship.
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November 17, 1973: Athens Polytechnic uprising in Greece – against military pro-fascist junta, NATO and US imperialism
The Polytechnic uprising was the result of the long struggle of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE and the KNE) in conditions of illegality, during which thousands of KKE and KNE militants were imprisoned, exiled and tortured by the barbaric regime of the junta. It started when students of the Polytechnic University barricaded themselves in and constructed a radio station (using laboratory equipment) that repeatedly appealed to the city: “Politechnio is speaking! Down with junta! Americans – out of the country! No to fascism!”
The first massive public action against the junta came from students on February 21, 1973, when 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 to the fascist army. 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.
During the second day of the occupation (often called celebration day), thousands of people from Athens poured in to support the students. A radio transmitter was set up and Maria Damanaki, then a student, popularized the slogan “Bread-Education-Freedom.” The demands of the occupation were anti-imperialistic and anti-NATO. Construction workers (who set up a parallel committee next to CCO) and some farmers from Megara, who coincidentally protested on the same days in Athens, allied themselves with the protest.
A proclamation was announced on Friday, November 16 by the CCO that the students were aiming to bring down the junta. During the afternoon, demonstrations and attacks against neighbouring ministries took place. Central roads closed, fires erupted and Molotov cocktails were thrown for the first time in Athens. The junta decided to reply violently, by repressing the riots. Snipers were placed at buildings next to the Polytechnic and assassinated 24 people in total. Students barricaded themselves in and constructed a radio station (using laboratory equipment) that repeatedly broadcast across Athens:
“Polytechneion here! 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 task to request Papadopoulos to reimpose 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 armoured unit museum in a military camp in Avlonas, not open to the public) crashed the rail gate of the 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 the 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 Nikolaos 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.
The involvement of Brigadier Dimitrios Ioannides 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
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. 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.
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.
(With files from Dmytriy Kovalevich, Wikipedia and KKE)