The Polytechnic Uprising and the Story of the Chatziavates

The Dancing Dictator

The Dancing Dictator

The Polytechnic Uprising of students in 1973 is widely credited with helping to bring down the junta government that ruled ruled Greece until 1974. The student uprising has assumed mythical dimensions. But who was there, what were the others doing, and how does it all relate to now? This article in Greek (see here) by the well-known film-director Stelios Kouloglou has been translated (thank you Alex!) for our English readers on this blog. It poses questions about ethics, morality and survival during times of civil crisis.

Further below the story is background information and useful weblinks for readers who are not aware of the history of the Polytechnic Uprising.

Chatziavates and the “Generation of the Polytechnic University”

07:50 | 18 Nov 2014

Stelios Kouloglou

While I was working on a documentary about the dictatorship and a book about the resistance, what caught my undivided attention, in the light of current developments, was the tolerance the vast majority of the population showed during the Greek military junta of 1967-74 also known as “The Regime of Colonels”.

Polytechnic tank 2The latest film archives show crowds of people receiving and cheering the dictators, in all parts of Greece. The resistance began in the early hours, but only by a handful of activists isolated from the population. Manolis Karapiperis, one of the unsung heroes who was cruelly tortured in the hellhole of Boumboulina recounts how when he was taken to the roof-top for “phalanx” torturing (also known as bastinado; beating of one’s bare feet with a rod or cane while being raised from the floor), the neighbours who heard his cries reacted by closing their windows.

The morning of the coup, the journalist George Votsis, following a failed attempt to get the news published in a special edition of the newspaper “AVGI”, sees workers in Omonia Square arriving by bus to go to work, pushes in amongst them and starts shouting slogans: “down with the junta”, “democracy”. No response. Not a soul joins him.

ChatziavatisMonths later when Karapiperis is released,  demoralized by torture, no one speaks to him in the neighbourhood cafe, not even his uncle. “Are these the people I’m fighting for?” he wonders at some point. The majority adopt the role of the greek Karagiozi shadow-puppet theatre character, Chatziavati. He is scared and a coward, a slim-waisted servant ready to flatter, work with or tolerate the powerful.  This attitude answers yet another pointed question which arises while listening and watching the irrational statements and antics of dictators on current affairs: how could such a cruel and ridiculous regime stay in power for seven years?

In this population which was subsequently asked to justify its attitude when the junta collapsed after betraying Cyprus, the uprising of the students on November 17 was the perfect alibi: supposedly, even if they did not join the Polytechnic University uprising during those days, at some stage they passed by. Even if they didn’t come near the university, they had the “courage” to listen to the radio station (or at least have a relative or acquaintance in there). It is true that in the days of the uprising many touching incidents of popular sympathy occurred, as expressed through their offerings to the student activists and the caring of the students after the tanks entered. But all this happens in the sixth year that the economy has entered a crisis. The dictatorship stumbles and is showing signs that it cannot last long and shows its hideous face with carnage and dozens of deaths. As the regime stumbles, the Chatziavates are already looking for another master.

For those who are unable to demonstrate any of the many previous “resistance” credentials, there are the anniversaries of the Polytechnic University: The first grand gatherings act as giant Pool of Siloam or major redemptive opportunity. Suddenly, Greece acquires 9 million resistence fighters. For their own reasons, the Left parties also invest in this uprising and the “generation of the Polytechnic University” acquires mythical proportions. In reality we are talking about 2-3 thousand students across Greece, who were accompanied by tens of thousands of people on Friday, November 17, 1973 and rioted.

The “historical duty” of this generation (the students of the Polytechnic University) was to overthrow the junta, a goal which they contributed to with great success. But this generation never ruled: the restoration of democracy and the course the country is to take is decided by the elected governments. In November 1974, four months after the fall of the junta, Konstantinos Karamanlis wins the election with 54% of the vote. Not one of the “generation of the Polytechnic University” has voted for him. The same in the 1977 elections, in which New Democracy is reelected. In 1981 PASOK wins the election with 48%. Only 5% -10% of the “generation of the Polytechnic” support Andreas Papandreou.- ( “generation of the Polytechnic” here meaning the anti-dictatorship movement of approximately 3000 students within the polytechnic uprising),

In 1974 Karamanlis restores the old guard of ERE (conservative right-wing party, formed in 1955, dissolved 1967 and succeeded by New Democracuy) to power. The fact is however, that in 1981, members of the Polytechnic student movement will join the power system of PASOK, but only as a small minority. The main body of the Papandreou government consists of the pre-dictatorship politicians belonging to the Union Centre or older party officials belonging to previous generations. In the national coalition government of 1990, the prime minister Zolotas is 80 years old and the three political leaders who decide together on the country’s future are over 70. Where is the “generation of the Polytechnic University ‘?

Incidents of corruption did occur  in subsequent years to politicians of the Polytechnic generation, but the collective incrimination of the “Generation of the University” which is allegedly responsible for all the current ills of the country serves multiple purposes.

First and foremost is the extreme right: by undermining the generation of the Polytechnic University, the very uprising is disputed and the junta is justified. There is also an obscure purpose serving the “chatziavatism”: the same groups which were incorporated in the regime of the junta, have passed … seamlessly into the system of the new regime.  They flatter and support the strong, while exchanging allegiance, just like Chatziavatis of Karagiozi, for political favors or an appointment, the pittance that Pangalos will remind us of in his infamous statement “we ate it all together.” Without being able to defend itself, the otherwise non-existent Polytechnic generation is an ideal scapegoat, a new baptismal purification.

The same “chatziavatism” is observed today: it is all those who fear the future, who are afraid to take matters into their own hands, who obey the new TV narrative – that is to say, if they’re not accompanying their children on a reality TV show or watching the archaeological excavation of Amphipolis – bring back images of entertainment during the junta with kitsch adoration of Ancient Greece at the Panathenaic Stadium?

While pretending to be unaware of the ridicule, hypocrisy and exploitation of the ruling authorities, the population ignores the national humiliation of a country ruled by Troika[1] e-mail. In this year’s anniversary it was made clear that the demand “Bread, education and freedom” is more relevant than ever. True, but for it to be achieved one day, Greeks must change from Chatziavates to conscious citizens, with rights and obligations; ensuring their obligations will be fulfilled and at the same time continuing to fight for their rights, without bowing to the blandishments of any power or expecting that everything will be granted to them.

[1] tripartite committee led by the European Commission with the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, that organised loans to the governments of Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus

Background and weblinks to the Polytechnic Uprising are provided below.

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.

Polytechnic entrance studentsOn 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:

“Here is Polytechneion! People of Greece, the Polytechneion is the flag bearer of our struggle and your struggle, our common struggle against the dictatorship and for democracy!”

In the early hours of November 17, 1973, the transitional government sent a tank crashing through the gates of the Athens Polytechnic.

Polytechnic bannerNovember 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. Students and politicians lay wreaths on a monument within the Polytechneio. The commemoration day ends traditionally with a demonstration that begins from the campus of the Polytechneio and ends at the United States embassy.

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