The Polytechnic Uprising of Nov 1973: A Greek Nonviolent Movement against the Greek Junta
EUROPE, 18 Nov 2013
On 17 November 2013 Greece celebrated 40 years from the “Polytechnic Uprising of 1973” as is commonly known the student uprising against the Junta of the time for Democracy and Freedoms.
On 21st of April 1967 a coup of colonels occurred in Greece. A group of military people obtained power in Greece with the use of arms, overthrowing Democracy. It was a combined result of the antagonism between USA and Soviet Union to gain nations and put them within their sphere of influence and of the antagonism between the King of Greece and Democrat Party of Center which gradually led to a political crisis. At that time in Greece, laity and the labor movement were enormously increased and empowered. The leftist party of U.D.L. (United Democratic Left, in Greek Ε.Δ.Α.), was constantly increasing its political power and the percentages of votes, while at the same time, the socialist ideas were becoming more and more common among the politicians of Centre Party. Soviet Union was supporting this change but United States felt that they were losing Greece from their sphere of influence. At the same time, Prime Minister of that time Georgios Papandreou was pushing Thom Papppas, boss of “ESSO PAPPAS” oil company, branch of “EXXON MOBIL” who was given the monopoly of oil exploitation in Greece, for a renegotiation of the agreements between the Greek government and the company, in order to break the monopoly. Makarios, archbishop and President of Cyprus at that time, was trying hard to establish an independent and united Cyprus and was very well known for his very good relations with the Communist Party, something that caused great headache to the U.S. There should be found a way to cancel the upcoming change in Greece and Cyprus.
The dictatorship of colonels in Greece was a result of cooperation between Greek army (part of it), Greek King of that era and the U.S. supported by Greek nationalists and capitalists who were afraid of an approach between Greece and Eastern Block. During the dictatorship, censorship was imposed and democrats and communists were expelled, exiled, imprisoned and tortured. Freedoms and rights were restricted and the regime was using Police and Army mechanisms to control and terrify people. At its efforts to control every aspect of political life, Junta tried to strike Students` Movement, which traditionally was strong in Greece. The regime banned students` elections, forced those who were not loyal to the regime to join the army before they finish their studies and imposed unelected “chosen” students to be the leaders of Greek National Students` Union (known as EFEE).
Civil Disobedience and Resistance Based on a Nonviolent Movement
Lots of Civil Disobedience actions occurred during the governance of the regime. The most important was the uprising of the students and the occupation of the building of Polytechnics School of University of Athens at 14/11/1973 as a result of the general oppression and the changes that the regime imposed to the students and especially a new law of the regime which deprived students from their right to elect their representatives and the regime would decide who would be the representatives of the students. The decision for the occupation was taken by the Coordinating Committee which consisted of 22 elected students and 2 representatives of the Panhellenic Workers` Association. The Coordinating Committee was at the head of the movement, deciding of every step, organizing the movement, writing and transmitting the positions and the demands of the students` uprising movement. At the same it was playing the role of a general coordinating tool among the General Assemblies and the Coordinating Committees of other faculties across the country that were also occupied by students participating in the uprising. In each faculty the students established a local coordinating subcommittee. All these local subcommittees were informing, making suggestions and declaring their positions and demands to the Central Coordinating Committee in Athens. Students called themselves “Free Besieged”. They created posters and leaflets with messages against the dictatorship, declaring their basic demands. These demands were also constantly being transmitted through the speakers of the radio station:
1) “We ask dictators to quit power so that popular sovereignty can be reestablished”.
2) “Establishment of popular sovereignty can be achieved only through the national independence of the foreign interests (mainly the Americans) which have enslaved our country through supporting the tyranny for years”.
In shorter words, they were struggling for: Popular sovereignty and national independence. People who believed in the power of democracy and freedom, rallied around these two general requests since they were all inspired by them, no matter of their general political position (leftists, communists, political center supporters, socialists, right wing supporters etc). At the same time, were calling Greek people to move on to a General National Strike till the fall of the regime. The dictators ordered the army and the police to take the control of the situation. The Polytechnics School was surrounded by the regime`s forces.
One of the things students did first was to setup a radio station in the School of Polytechnics, which was run by them. It was a piratic radio station that was setup with the assistance of 3 Radio Amateurs. Its goal was to propagandize the messages of resistance, freedom, disobedience and democracy among the people of the country. Some of the official radio stations within the country were transmitting the messages and the emissions of the students. Some of the radio stations in abroad, were retransmitting from the Greek radio stations and this way, the whole Europe learned about the Students` uprising. Here are some of the students` messages transmitted by the radio speakers: “Our brother soldiers! Brother Soldiers! How can you shoot at your brothers? How can you make Greek blood be spilled? Since we all believe in freedom! I go first, singing our National Anthem, the eternal symbol of freedom. Greek people you have to know! You have to know that at the time we are speaking, your sons and daughters are fighting! All Greek people and especially the Athenians, are in the streets, in front of the tanks! It`s School of Polytechnics here (speaking)! School of Polytechnics! It’s the radio station of the free struggling students, of the free struggling Greeks transmitting». The radio station functioned for 34 hours. Since 5 pm of Thursday November 5th, till 3 am of Saturday, November 17th.Through the radio station, the students made their positions clear and known and were calling people to support them. It was a great tool aiding them to get on their side the public opinion.
Greek students and important persons living abroad were actively supporting the movement, by printing and distributing leaflets, giving public speeches and communicating with media in Europe, in an attempt to inform and sensitize the European public opinion about the Greek struggle against the dictatorship. The center of the European action against Greek Junta was Paris. There had been lots of Greek students and exiled political persons who actively participated in the movement. Besides, the movement was strongly affected by the May `68 movement in France.
As mentioned before, Polytechnics School had become the center of the uprising. The 3 days that the uprising lasted, students, workers and people of every age, social class and profession gathered in the streets around the building of Polytechnics, in the center of Athens, protesting, making spontaneous demonstrations, distributing leaflets and writing quotes and slogans on walls, cars and buses. Someone could see slogans like “U.S. go away”, “NATO go away”, “death to imperialism”. The main slogan was “Bread, Education, Freedom”. Occupiers created special groups, each one of which was charged with specific duties. There was a group, charged with printing of leaflets and posters so that people could know the decisions of the Students` General Assemblies and Coordinating Committees. There was a medical group, providing basic medical help and medicines to injured protestors. There was a guarding team, around and inside the building, who were charged with the duty of protecting the movement from provocateurs playing the role of the movement`s shield. Secret police agents of the regime had infringed within the protestors and it was hard sometimes to distinguish the good willing protestors from the secret agents. There was a group of supplies in charge of gathering food, water and other necessary materials for the occupiers of the building. There had been a panhellenic network across the whole country, through which Greeks donated food and other necessary stuff to the struggling students. There was also a team running the restaurant of the building of Polytechnics. People were organized, divided in independent, interconnected and co-operative groups of action.
Finally, at 3 am of 17th November of 1973, the regime ordered one of the tanks that had surrounded the building to enter in it demolishing the main gate. Army and police forces entered the building giving a violent end at the students` uprising. Although the students` uprising, known as the Polytechnics uprising of 1973, didn`t manage to drop the regime, however it managed to cause significant cracks in its foundations, especially by sensitizing the Greek and the European public opinion. The regime finally was dropped one year later after the Turkish invasion in Cyprus.
The students in 1973 wanted both to make something happen and stop something from happening. They tried to sensitize the public opinion inside and outside the country and force the regime to quit. The nonviolent movement cultivated trust and solidarity among people coming from different political fields and social classes aiming to inhibit the direct violence (arrests, imprisonments and tortures) and the structural violence (exclusions, discriminations) of the regime. They were all united under the common vision of freedom and democracy. The movement targeted the Pillars of Power of the regime, mainly focusing on “work” (call for general strike), “military service” (denial of the students to serve the army), “police and soldiers doing their job” (call to them to join the students since they are all brothers) and “civil obedience” (call to all Greeks to join the demonstrations on the streets despite the ban of protests that the regime had imposed). The students from the beginning tried to bring all Greeks at their side and struggle together conveying their messages to as many people as possible. They focused on disintegration of the regime which was not legitimized in the eyes of public opinion after the violent attacks against the students. Skill sharing was a fundamental element of the movement. Lawyers, doctors, pharmacists, engineers and many other people of almost every scientific field contributed their powers and knowledge to the movement.
Gene Sharp researched and catalogued 198 methods of nonviolent action which are broken into 3 broad classifications. Students of Athens used methods from all these categories: Protest and persuasion, non cooperation and intervention. The use of media, the leaflets and writings on the walls, cars and buses were within the core of the efforts of the students to raise awareness.
Through the use of media, the students managed to gain new members/participants for their actions or events and sensitize people about their struggle. They used the “star – structure” to organize their movement across the whole country. The School of Polytechnics in Athens was in the center of the star, functioning as the base of the central group (Central Coordinating Committee), organizing all the other faculties from every city and place of the country. All of these faculties could have an immediate and straight communication with the Central Committee. The General Assembly and the Central Committee were taking decisions after discussing and voting, obeying to the will of majority in accordance with democratic principles.
Sharp, G., 1973, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Boston: Porter Sargent.
Bachman, E. and Bacic, R. and Choi, J. and Santamaria, R.D. and Ippy and Demir, H. and Hiller, R. and Johansen, J. and Martin, B. and Smedjeback, M. and Speck, A. and Sorensen, M. and Stynen, R. and Ülker, F. and Vinthagen, S., 2009, February, Handbook For Nonviolent Campaigns, UK: War Resisters` International
Brown, K., 1974, “Greece”. The World Book Year Book 1974, Chicago: Field Enterprises Educational Corporation.
Paparrigopoulos, K., History of the Greek Nation, Modern Period: 1830 – 2004, Athens: National Geographic.
Vasilis Migkos is a Lawyer from Greece, graduate student of the Department of History and Archaeology of Thessaloniki and of “Peace and Conflict Studies” MA of Hacettepe University. His is focused on issues related with Balkans, Mediterranean Sea, Greek-Turkish Relations, History and Peace Media.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 18 Nov 2013.
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