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By Kostas Kallergis

Yesterday, November 17, was a big day for #Occupy protesters across America, resulting in hundreds of arrests. For Greece, November 17 has special meaning in the fight for democracy and freedom. Kostas Kallergis, a freelance journalist from Athens who runs the blog When The Crisis Hits the Fan, gave The eXiled permission to cross-post his account of November 17.

ATHENS–November 17: a date that haunts Greece. It’s the date when the uprising of several hundred of students, who stood up against the military dictatorship by occupying the Athens Polytechnic, was brutally crushed. The iconic photo of a tank driving through the Polytechnic’s gate is a symbol of freedom for (probably) all Greeks.

It was back in 1973. The student uprising was crushed but the beggining of the end for the military junta begun that day. The colonels fell from power a year later, in the summer of 1974.

To describe how central this day is for modern Greeks one needs to mention a few simple facts.

  • One of the characteristics that the new Greek state has (or had until recently) was the so called “university asylum”. It was an emotionally heavy (due to the Polytechnic uprising) law that officialy prohibited the police from entering any university building. From then onwards, the university compounds would be an area of free expression. In the decades that followed that law meant a lot of freedoms indeed, but few abuses as well. Police only stepped inside university areas after the local dean would ask the prosecutor for their presence. The freedom of speech boomed but Greek universities became at times a haven for different sorts of criminal activity (from rioters who caused mayhem and then hid in university buildings, playing hitch and hike with riot police, to people selling copied DVDs). In any case that law was so emotional for Greeks that, despite its occasional abuses, people were more or less supporting or tolerating it.
  • Another illustrative fact is that the biggest terrorist organization in Greece was named after that date. November 17 aka 17N. It was the Greek version of Red Army Faction or the Red Brigades, a pure urban guerilla movement targeting individuals who were connected with the dictatorship or the establishment and was relatively popular, especially up until the end of the 1980s.
  • The 1967-1974 dictatorship was one of those CIA sponsored coup d’ etats that were so popular back then. The American role behind the scenes would never wash away from our collective memory. Even today, people in the streets would tell you things like ‘The Americans are behind everything”. The first victim of 17N was Richard Welch, CIA’s station chief in Athens back in 1975. The last one was Stephen Saunders in 2000, he was the military attaché of the British Embassy in Athens. So you get the picture and now you know all about the infamous Greek anti-americanism. This is why the 17 November demonstration always begin from the Polytechnic and ends at the American Embassy.

The graffiti on the Polytechnic’s gate reads “Kick the USA Out” and “Kick NATO Out”

This year’s celebration for the 17th of November is a special anniversary. It’s not a round year number as the media people would suppose (it’s 38 years since November 1973). It’s special because last summer the Greek government passed a new Education law which abolished the “university asylum”. The law, which contains much more serious reforms to the Greek Higher Education system, was suspiciously passed at the end of August, a time of the year when, traditionally, important legislation is not discussed. Mysteriously, the abolition of the university asylum was discussed (and rejected) only 6 months earlier, but last August both PASOK and ND voted for the new Education Law. So this will be the first time we celebrate the day the abolished university asylum was inspired from. It practically also means that rioters cannot hide in university buildings any more. Of course police (and the government that is ordering the police) are not stupid enough to start wandering in university classrooms chasing rioters or trying to find an answer as to why they never managed to study anything.

Today there is no 17N. There is only the government to terrorize the citizens. After the “accept these measures or we’ll run out of money” blackmail we’ve been hearing a month before every new wave of austerity measures, they now try to scare people away from the demonstrations by leaking information or implyinh that there will be too much violence. The Minister of Citizen Protection (no, seriously, it’s not an Orwellian joke, that’s the official name of the former Ministry of Public Order), Mr. Christos Papoutsis, has informed us that there will be around 7.000 policemen in the streets of Athens patroling and preventing bad things from happening. A week earlier he has met the Deans from all Athens’ Universities in order to discuss how they will better protect this year’s celebrations.

It’s interesting to have a flash back here.

Christos Papoutsis was the president of the Greek National Union of Students between 1978 and 1980 and Deputy Secretary of PASOK Youth Movement for about the same period (1978–1981). From 1984 to 1995 he was a Member of the European Parliament and served as a EU Commissioner from 1995 to 1999. For many Greeks he belongs to the degenerated “Polytechnic’s generation”. This was the generation which participated in the uprising and who belonged, politically speaking, to the Left. A lot flirted with PASOK and became politicians in the 1980s and a lot from this lot also were corrupted by consecutive years in power. Although Papoutsis was never found guilty on corruption or embezzlement, Greeks didn’t forget (and some never forgave) the fact that as a Minister of Mercantile Marine he did not resign after the MS Express Samina disaster in 2000.

But there is another more impressive example of the so called Polytechnic’s generation. During the uprising the students, calling themselves the “Free Besieged” (a reference to a poem by Greek national poet Dionysios Solomos inspired by the Ottoman siege of the city of Mesolonghi in the 1820s), barricaded themselves in and, using laboratory equipment. constructed a radio station that repeatedly broadcast across Athens this message:

This is the Polytechnic! This is the Polytechnic! This is the radio station of the free struggling Greeks. Down with the junta, down with Papadopoulos (the junta leader), kick the Americans out, down with fascism, the junta will be brought down by the people… People, come out to the streets, come to support us and you will find your freedom…

The female voice of that message which was repeated over and over again belonged to Maria Damanaki. She was then a member of the Communist Youth (KNE). After the fall of the colonels’ regime, Damanaki became an MP with the Communist Party (KKE) and then with the more progressive Leftist party, Synaspimos (Coalition of the Left) of which she also became leader between 1991 and 1993. In 2003 she resigned from Synaspismos and when George Papandreou succeeded Costas Simitis to the leadership of PASOK (January 2004), she decided to join with him. That decision came despite the fact that after her departure from Synaspismos she had ruled out the prospect of her joining PASOK. After several years as a PASOK MP, Damanaki was nominated as the representative of Greece in the European Commission and on 27 November 2009 was appointed as the Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. Since the 1973 student uprising, this iconic figure of the Polytechnic generation has managed to travel across the political spectrum, from the communist left hardliners to the practically liberal PASOK. And, just recently, in May 2011, I was totally disappointed to see her participating in the blackmailing game of the government in order to pass another round of austerity measures. “Either we agree with our creditors on a programme of tough sacrifices and results, undertaking our responsibilities to our past, or we return to the drachma” she said, being the first senior Greek official to raise that possibility.

The Athens Polytechnic campus courtyard in the aftermath of the student uprising

Her statement shocked Greeks, a lot resigned from their objections, Athens saw the biggest demonstrations in decades, but the measures were passed as Memorandum No2. It didn’t sound as sweet as that young girl’s voice which was so thirsty for freedom. Here’s how sweet it was:

Another originality of this year’s celebrations is that, for the first time, the Minister of Education, Anna Diamantopoulou, will not visit the Polytechnic in order to lay a wreath in the memory of the students who died. The crowd would probably attack her physically not only because she is a member of this government but especially because she introduced the new Education law that caused so many reactions. And guess what! If she’d go, she wouldn’t be in a university asylum anymore. Anna Diamantoulou said in a statement: ”Respecting the Polytechnic means, above all, respecting the truth. And the truth is that, under the circumstances which have  been created by the non-democratic actions of some dynamic minorities in the past years, there is absolutely no point to lay wreaths accompanied by either the police or the party supporters.”

As my friend Ioanna commented, “What’s her problem? Everywhere she is going, she is accompanied by cops or party dogs anyway.”

Students hold up letters reading “FREEDOM” from the Polytechnic rooftop

Kostas Kallergis is a freelance journalist in Athens. Read his blog When The Crisis Hits The Fan to learn more about what’s really going on in the birthplace of Western democracy.

Would you like to know more? Read Mark Ames’ “Austerity & Fascism in Greece: The Real 1% Doctrine.”



Add your own

  • 1. dh  |  November 18th, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Excellent article, Kostas.

  • 2. Punjabi From Karachi  |  November 18th, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    Sorry to hear all that Kostas. We just re-established a democracy four years ago, and we’re trying to keepit going.

  • 3. Dammerung  |  November 18th, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    Germany bought Greece fair and square. Nobody complained when the German money was flowing freely.

  • 4. Eurotrash  |  November 18th, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    Ah, Kostas, your wistful lament for the N17 is very touching. Really bring across the beauty of that Polytechnic tradition.

    Say they were still around. Who would you like to see… dealt with, N17 style? Don’t tell me you haven’t got a little list!

  • 5. G.A.  |  November 18th, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    Hi. I think I am really tough and I’m one with the 1% so I’m going to write a really “hard” “realistic” “pitiless” comment here that will make me feel like a real ubermensch. Sure, you might say, why the fuck is this clown pretending like his interests are with the bankers? Bankers, after all, don’t write anonymous comments on other people’s blogs.

    Ah, but dont tell that to me, because I am like a modern-day Nietzsche, the Zarathustra of pitiless commentard trolls. So, are you ready? Can you handle my hardened tough-guy comment? Because I know my mom can’t and if she can’t, you probably can’t. Here goes!

    “I have absolutely 0 sympathy for the scum besieging Greek streets and setting local policemen on fire. It’s about high time they started running their country in a real way – no amount of whining is going to wash away that 160% GDP debt or do away with the fucking ridiculous way the state sector is bloated. Bonuses for getting to work on time? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.

    Austerity measures too though for you? Just wait ’till you go bankrupt, dearies.”

    Yeah, myah, that oughtaa scare all you namby pamby liberals and bongo-players out there. Betcha you wish you could be me–a tough-talking anonymous comment troll. Damn, I feel like someone now!

  • 6. vortexgods  |  November 18th, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    “Germany bought Greece fair and square. Nobody complained when the German money was flowing freely.”

    How do the Germans ever get to lecture anyone about anything, ever?

    I just don’t understand how this works, “We are the worst nationality that has ever existed, we’ve brought nothing but misery and death to Europe, but we get to lecture the rest of Europe on morality.”

    Germany ought to have been broken up into it’s component states after starting two World Wars and kept that way forever.

    I guess maybe we’ll learn after the Third World War.

  • 7. Trevor  |  November 18th, 2011 at 9:06 pm

    Dammerung is a silly little troll but he or she (most likely he, trolling is driven by unsatisfied sexual desires in males) inadvertantly brought up an important point. The austerity Germany is forcing on Greece right now is going to hurt the German economy too because they are a net exporter. Without the rest of the Eurozone buying their products, German companies are going to take quite the hit.

  • 8. Zog  |  November 18th, 2011 at 11:26 pm

    @ 3
    Nobody complained when Germany was a bombed out wasteland choked with corpses. Your point?

  • 9. Ash  |  November 19th, 2011 at 3:33 am

    @7 a very good point.

    The fact is that if some countries are going to run trade surpluses, others must run deficits. Simple as that.

    Germany benefits from having countries like Greece, Spain, Ireland and Portugal in the eurozone because it means the euro will be relatively weaker than it would otherwise be, making German exports more competitive globally. If Germany still had the Deutschemark their currency would have appreciated massively long before they were able to achieve the sort of trade balances they’ve had in the past few years.
    It’s the exact opposite for the periphery.

    If the money flowing into the peripheral members thanks to the trade imbalances had gone into productive investment, the relative imbalance might have been gradually resolved- but banks were too busy lending ever higher and higher amounts for people to buy fucking houses with. Of course we’re not meant to talk about the wisdom of this sort of lending, nor question whether or not perhaps banks throwing cheap credit hand over fist to fund endless land speculation is a good idea, yet it’s the prime cause of the problems in both Ireland and Spain.
    Of course it funded government spending in Greece and Italy, and no doubt unsustainable levels of consumption in all the ‘piigs’, either directly through loans to households or by giving government money to prop up living standards through various forms of public expenditure, but that’s a natural consequence of the imbalances. It wouldn’t have been a problem if the free market had actually worked the way the libertards claim it does, since all that capital flowing into the periphery (which is by definition happening if a country is running a trade deficit) should have magically found its way to the most productive possible users and the gap would have been gradually closed.
    Now that it hasn’t happened, it’s apparently not due to a flawed model but rather the moral failings of the people in these countries.

    The ‘lazy’ stereotype is even more absurd for Italy – Italy is a productive, highly industrialized country. Both it and France were net exporters in the 90s, but their competitiveness has been gradually eroded thanks to the euro – this is the source of their weakness.

  • 10. G.A.  |  November 19th, 2011 at 3:52 am

    LOL looks like censor feels a bit charitable today, seems he’s willing to improve the comments of even the saddest trolls. Makes me think that maybe altruism is a higher calling, even though normally I believe in the virtue of selfishness. I am actually a retard, however the Greeks elicit little sympathy in me. Because I’m a retard.

    Why won’t some Greeks instead tell me why I should be allowed to comment?

  • 11. Gatorade  |  November 19th, 2011 at 3:54 am

    Haha yea, it’s funny how they act like austerity is some necessary medicine from mommy. In actual fact it hurts germany as well as greece and only helps bank scum. oops!! it’s not like this is an empirically proven fact or anything! we just forgot!

  • 12. Kostas Kallergis  |  November 19th, 2011 at 5:05 am


    I think you misunderstood something. I didn’t write that I supported 17N activity. I merely mentioned two facts:

    1) they were “relatively” popular at their beginning because their targets were connected to the suffering of Greek people during the dictatorship (speaking of lists, was Greece before or after Chile in the CIA sponsored coups arounf the world?)- when innocent people started becoming victims of 17N terrorist attacks this “relative popularity” decreased significantly


    2) they don’t exist anymore.

    Where did you see the lament?

  • 13. Edmund Dorkey  |  November 19th, 2011 at 5:55 am

    Dear fellow eXhole (@7),

    It would appear as though our Dear Leaders are driving us over a cliff. They want feudalism, to keep everything for themselves, to achieve absolute advantage rather than comparative. Say they get what they ask for (by all indications, they will, since they make the rules, have all the surveillance equipment, etc.). A few generations will pass through chaos – war, famine, plague.

    Then a time of Gods will be upon us — two miles underneath the ice, in the Oceans of Jupiter’s Europa!

    I forget my point.


    Edmund Dorkey, Turks & Caicos Islands

  • 14. Petkov  |  November 19th, 2011 at 8:06 am

    Great article, but let’s go back even more. Wasn’t the military rule established because Greece was turning communist and was about to vote Communists into power? And we can’t have that, can we?
    My mother was in Greece in around 1974~ visiting from neighboring Bulgaria, she said she never seen anything like it before(she has never seen a riot anyway).
    Greece is just the test run for what Italy, Spain, Portugal and one day USA will go through. You better believe it somebody it taking very careful notes.
    Barosso just declared Europe needs a “Federal Europe” to deal with the “crisis”. Say bye bye to all your rights and all your nice socialist style programs Europeans!
    Damn(as a European myself) I really thought Europeans were much more intelligent than Americans in NOT letting somebody else run their lives. Guess i was so wrong! You guyz disappoint me so but then again, I’m disappointed in humanity in general.

  • 15. Alfred di Genis  |  November 19th, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    The full history is not so simple. The student uprising led to a coup within the Junta that brought in the savage General Ioannides as head of the Greek dictatorship. Brutal and ignorant, Ioannides fomented a stupid coup against the legal government of the Republic of Cyprus which in turn gave the Turkish Army an excuse to invade that island nation and ethnically cleanse Greek Cypriots from their homes. The Greek Cypriots lost over 30% and the most prosperous part of that nation. Today the Turkish occupation continues and is a major source of conflict and potential war.

  • 16. Jack  |  November 20th, 2011 at 6:20 am

    Hi. Commentard here. My boss has asked me to try to undermine this article. All I can think of this: “DVDs in 1974?” see, I know as well as the next paid troll that Kostas wasn’t arguing that they were selling DVDs in 1974. But my boss here at GlobalTrollWorks tells me that it could help confuse the American audience, and that our client who pays me to do this knows best. So, again, I’m going to pretend that this is what Kostas is arguing, because that’s what trolls do.

  • 17. TStockmann  |  November 20th, 2011 at 7:43 am

    The Cold Equation: what will the Greeks sell to pay for imported oil and manufactured goods? If it is their women, they need a rush eugenics programs to get rid of the moustaches.

  • 18. Erik  |  November 20th, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    Blackmail me in my troll-ass! This comment is something Lehmann Brothers inflected upon the readers of this retarded comment. Greece, this is something *democratically* elected politicians created. Oo I am so angry at Greece, ooooooo.

    And yes, the evil German and French banks lend them the money, but nobody put a gun to my head and told me that when I agreed to be a troll for bankers that I must to sign on the dotted line. No, I just decided to troll for rich bankers all on my own. Because that’s how awesome I am. I think bankers will some day recognize me, hire me, and pay me a lot of money, once they read this comment they will.

    Hey, bankers, you really really should hire me. You want to see more of just how brilliantly I argue your cause against all the smelly hippies who can’t pay their bills? (Thankfully I don’t have to pay any bills since I live with my parents still–but all that will change once you, my Master Bankers, recognize my genius and hire me). Anyway, read this, this will blow your socks off, and destroy all Greeks who complain about my friends the Bankers:

    “The Greeks are authors of their own misfortune and if they refuse to pay their bills, of course it’s back to the drachma, what the hell did they expect? They were offered a fifty goddamn percent discount on their debt and yet they go Icelandic on their creditors and try to put a sweet deal like that to referendum.

    “A whole country going #Occupy, resplendent with the ridiculous ‘freeman’ defense, how are we supposed to take them serious?”

    Yeah, can you take them as seriously as you take my comment? I bet you can’t!

  • 19. Erik  |  November 20th, 2011 at 11:14 pm

    I think bankers will some day recognize me, hire me, and pay me a lot of money, once they read this comment they will.

    You really think so? Gee, wouldn’t that be just cool!

  • 20. Thomzas  |  November 21st, 2011 at 3:27 am

    For more on dictatorship-era Greece, check this out…

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