Living in Greece

A practical guide to moving, living, working & traveling in Greece, plus musing and misadventures from an American in Athens

November 17, 1973: Athens Polytechnic Uprising

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One of the busiest days of the year for Greek police is November 17, a historical day commemorated with protest marches in Thessaloniki and Athens, ending at the American Embassy and U.S Consulate.

It is a day to remember an uprising by Athens Polytechnic students against the military junta’s dictatorship, which ended in the early morning of November 17 when a tank plowed down the university’s steel gate to silence those barricaded inside.

It is a day to remember those left dead or injured by snipers in its bloody aftermath.

It is a day to remember how the impassioned efforts of a few can spark change for the greater good of a nation.

What followed

Indignant junta hardliner Dimitrios Ioannides staged a counter-coup just days after the uprising was quashed, deposed the president in power and reinstated military law. He followed this with another coup that overthrew the president of Cyprus and left the island vulnerable to attack by the Turkish army, which divided and has occupied it since 1974.

The regime would eventually fall, thus restoring democracy and Parliament with Constantine Karamanlis as prime minister.


Alleged role of the United States

Protest marches end at the American Embassy in Athens and U.S. Consulate in Thessaloniki because it is a long-held belief that the United States instigated, embraced, conspired with and/or funded the military junta. Anti-Americanism is fueled as a result.

While Henry Kissinger admitted a geopolitical interest in keeping Andreas Papandreou from taking power and was conflicted over the Cyprus issue, the evidence presented in declassified documents from the Nixon presidency is circumstantial at best. President Bill Clinton apologized during his visit to Greece in 1999, but an apology is not an admission of guilt.

The United States had political and military motive, but it has not been proven there was intent or malice. U.S. politicians spoke with the junta because it was in power and represented Greece during that period, not necessarily because it was a conspiracy. America was trying to avert a coup, not facilitate one, so at most it is guilty of inaction and acquiescing instead of using its resources to intervene.

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Modern day

November 17 is a holiday for all universities and schools.

Athens Polytechnic is now National Metsovion Polytechnic, named after the city in which its benefactors hail, and closes on November 15 to commemorate the day students first occupied the university in 1973. Wreaths are laid on a monument dedicated to students killed during the Greek Resistance in 1941-1945.

Thousands of police and MAT (riot police) officers are dispatched to manage protest marches, which sometimes turn violent and have in the past seen anarchists take hostages and firebomb banks.

“The Polytechnic uprising, as all other significant historic events, was the result of a coincidence of circumstances. One thing led to another, culminating in three spectacular days in November 1973…

An entire population of 9 million, which wants to show that it stood up to those who deprived it of its freedom, is actually indebted to the youthful boldness of just a few…

The anniversary of the Polytechnic uprising has gone the way of all traditions. It has become a senseless litany of ambitions, a celebration that only has relevance to the past and not the present, much less the future. Unfortunately, the Polytechnic died many years ago. We simply carry its corpse around the streets of Athens every November. May it rest in peace.” — Kathimerini

Sources

Were the eagle and the phoenix birds of a feather in the junta?” — Louis Klarevas
American Duplicity: How America created the junta
The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House” — Seymour M. Hersh
Are the Greeks anti-American?” — Southeast Europe Project
Easy myths about November 1973” — Kathimerini
Arxizoyn oi ekdhlwseis gia to Polytexneio” — ANA-MPA
End of a political tradition” — Kathimerini

In the News

Greek marchers clash with police” – BBC (2008)
Greek uprising shaped California educator” — Bloomberg
What happened on November 17” — KQED

Related posts

“The significance of Oxi Day
August 15 – Dormition of the Theotokos
New Year’s in Greece: A pomegranate, an onion and a Vassilopita

Photos from Milos Bicanski, Getty Images, Eurokinissi and Keystone/Getty Images
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8 Comments

  Stathis wrote @ November 18th, 2007 at 01:49

First of all when Ioanides overthrown Papadopoulos, he did not over thrown an elected President but a dictator. Ioannidis was the 3rd in command of the military junta of 1967.

Second he did not reinstated milatary law because military law was never lifted since 1967. in 1973 Makarezos, a right wing politician helped Papadopoulos in order for the junta to show a more humane facade. But the military law was never lifted. Several constitutional articles were still on hold.

Thirdly President Clinton apologised for the backing of the junta by the Nixon Administration and vice President Agnew in particular. Clinton made the apologies when he visit Greece in 1999. Article in ekathimerini.

Fourthly the CIA backed a coup d’etat by the generals but the colonel fooled the generals and made their coop first. Papadopoulos had ties with CIA since the Civil War. He was the military procurator in the infamous Beloyannis trial in 1950. CIA’ s coup d’etat was a part of the operation Gladio.

And the Greek Antiamericanism is strictly towards the US Government -and this President in office in particularly- and by no means involves a Raiders fan that ended up in Athens!
Also the Greek antiamericanism has its roots in the greek love for the underdog culture!

Kisses or should i say
Goodnight and good luck!

  Kat wrote @ November 18th, 2007 at 02:18

In response to your points:

1) I don’t dispute that. I said the president was deposed (which means overthrown), and it was a dictatorship, so beats me why you’re mentioning it since we agree and there’s nothing to correct.

2) I sourced reputable even-handed media, and it said what I stated. After the junta, Papadopoulos tried liberalization with Makarezos’ help for a short time; it pissed off Ioannides who was a hardline junta guy, and he returned it to military law. It’s very difficult to find sources that are not poisoned with rhetoric and nationalistic overtones. I’m willing to correct something if shown a source that meets this standard. I gave all of my sources and spent a lot of time finding, reading them in full and double checking them after reading/discarding hundreds of tainted articles.

3) True, he did apologize — it doesn’t mean the USA was a conspirator, ally, supporter or sponsor; guilty of inaction and acquiescing (reluctantly accepting without protest), yes. An apology is not an admission of guilt, malice or intent; sometimes it’s done to end bickering, ease tensions and restore peace.

4) The CIA had been working with the Greek govt since the 1940s, so of course they had ties; no one is saying they didn’t. It doesn’t mean anything, and I didn’t find a legitimate source verifying what you said. Btw, I know King Constantine’s offspring, does that make me a sympathizer, spy or conspirator?

I mentioned anti-Americanism in the context stated by the articles sourced above. I never had a problem with it, nor do I care if someone hates me. But for the record (since you brought it up), you do not represent and speak for all people; plenty of Americans will tell you stories of anti-Americanism directed personally at them, without provocation.

I report things based on attributed sources, and the only commentary at the end was written by the Kathimerini. — Thank you and goodnight :)

  Stathis wrote @ November 18th, 2007 at 11:46

It was no coincidence that Agnew was the only foreign dignitary to visit Greece in the period 1967-1974. And keep in mind that at least the Nixxon administration had no problem to keep taps on the Democrats. Would have any problem backing the Greek junta in order to overthrow Archbishop Makarios in Cyprus? A man that Kissinger once reffered to as the “Fidel Kastro of the Mediterranean”? They did not had any problem overthrowing Aliente in Chile by the way. That’s another September 11th Story.

And no if you know somebody from the Glyxbourg line that doesn’t make you a conspirator. However if you belong to paramilitary organisation such as IDEA and you are favoured to be the among the Heads of the Greek Intelligence Agency then maybe there are hints of a conspiracy.

Don’t forget that Karamanlis left in 1963 wondering who ruled this land!

As for the behave of other Greeks i feel that i have to apologise for them. Malakes are a growing majority of the population.
Kisses

  EllasDevil wrote @ November 18th, 2007 at 14:00

Certainly, the USA had political and military motive, but no intent or malice. America was trying to avert a coup, not facilitate one — at most, it is guilty of inaction and acquiescing instead of using its intelligence and resources to intervene.

Er… well owing to the fact at that particular time the Americans facilitated and sponsored most (if not all) of the coups in Latin America which resulted in the deaths of thousands there why do you think they had no intent or malice here?

Was Greece the exception?

  nefelikas wrote @ November 19th, 2007 at 00:22

I’m afraid there are skeletons in everyone’s closet.

For example, most Greeks will never admit their ancestors had ever participated in war crimes or genocide. Still, there have been cases in the past (like the 1921 campaign to “liberate” Turkey from the Turkish majority who lived there) when Greek military forces were responsible for atrocities. Official records and schoolbooks deny that of course, yet there is no serious historian who disputes it happened.

Likewise, most Americans citizens find it hard to admit that their governments had ever backed dictators, used napalms on civilians, trained terrorists or used torture (as a matter of fact, they still do). On purpose of course; certain things cannot be done by mistake or ignorance.

Anti-Americanism has nothing to do with the rest of the world envying the American people because they have democracy, baseball or G.W.Bush for president. Anti-Americanism was invented because ALL post-war US governments have intervened in the interior affairs of half the countries in the world. Usually by supporting any kind of anti-communism extremists (the name Osama rings a bell?), by conspiring to overthrow legitimately elected governments (Aliente for example), or by actively participating in the whole massacre (Vietnam, Iraq, and dozens of other countries).

Of course, one can select to read sources that dispute all that. Like one can select sources that dispute the holocaust ever took place or Neil Armstrong ever set foot on the moon.

Have a nice and enlightening week :-)

  Kat wrote @ November 19th, 2007 at 00:36

ED – Everyone is entitled to their opinion, which I respect even if I disagree. And P.S., this post is not about Latin America.

I stand by my post as factual, not because I’m an American, but because it was compiled after many sleepless nights of sifting through and reading several books and hundreds of online resources, newspapers and archived commentaries presenting diverse views in the four languages I understand.

N – Just as one can select sources that glorify Greece and blame others for everything bad that happens — arsonists, God, immigrants, Albanians…and oh, America. Ho hum. It’s the world’s policeman and the first country people go for handouts in natural disaster, but it’s never enough or too much. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t. And here’s a newsflash, I don’t think the majority of Americans believe Vietnam or Iraq are good things; Lord knows I wish my tax dollars would stop funding wars I don’t support and help our own at home. Another newsflash, no country is perfect.

I don’t worship America or find anything to envy, so I don’t assume anyone else does either. Anti-Americanism is fueled by many things other than jealousy, and I’ve been around the world and heard those reasons from everyone and their brother in several languages. Again, nothing new.

In order to choose certain sources to support a stance, it would mean that I already had a stance, when in fact I didn’t. Instead I read hundreds of articles over 3 days and chose the middle of the road, when I clearly should have used the time to enlighten myself about how to invade the crap out of other countries since I’m just a cog in the machine.

We’ve again lost sight of honoring the student uprising and the valiant efforts of few for the greater good. But I suppose people use any excuse to bash Americans. I’m used to it.

  nefelikas wrote @ November 19th, 2007 at 13:02

I don’t see anyone bashing the Americans (in general) or accusing you of being a cog in the US invading machine. At least not in the comments of this particular post. You don’t have to apologize for Nixon any more than I have to apologize for dictator Papadopoulos.

As for the student movement in 1973, the vast majority of those who participated were left-wing (many of them communists) and utterly anti-American (at least as far as the US government was concerned). They all knew that the Junta was a CIA puppet – that’ s why the demonstrators still culminate their march outside the US embassy.

Clinton (who was president when he visited Greece) would have never apologized simply because the Nixon administration did not take actions to confront the Greek dictators. It was a diplomatic move of course, yet one that accepts a reasonable share on the blame for the seven years dictatorship.

  Kat wrote @ November 21st, 2007 at 07:15

The ‘cog’ reference was a joke. I was simply saying that it was obviously a waste of several sleepless nights poring over hundreds of articles, only to still be labeled as defending America in a superficially researched post based on opinion, so I should have been studying invasion manuals instead since that’s all people expect of me. I never apologized for anything or anyone, nor expected anyone to say ‘sorry’ either.

I already stated why the march ends at the embassy; we don’t disagree, so why mention it again?

Clinton did what he did. People think what they like no matter what his motive, just as they think what they like about the USA.

As I’ve said before, everyone is entitled to their opinion. That said, comments will now be closed because although I like adversity as a tool for growth, I’m simply tired of this post already. You’re not going to change my mind easily after everything I’ve read, and I’m not going to change yours, so let’s respectfully disagree and move on.

Here’s an interesting article about Greece and anti-Americanism published November 20: “What’s the matter with Greece?” from Foreign Policy.

Sorry, comments are closed at this time.