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17 November 1973 – Students’ Uprising Against the Junta (videos)

 I do remember very well this Saturday morning I went alone to Athens downtown, on November 17, 1973. The night before an army tank had violently crashed down the main steel gate of the Polytechnic University campus bringing down the people clinging on it. I was a teenager then and had no permission from my parents to go alone downtown. The whole long week  – due to the uprising, the political instability and the fear of the police.
17 November 1973 – Athens Polytechnic Students’ Uprising

First on that Saturday morning we heard the news of the crackdown. Rumors were speaking of many dead. For some reason I never understood, I knew I had to go there down there. 

I slipped away from home with some silly excuse, took the bus  ( I guess, I am not sure…) and went as close as I could to the Polytechnic school. 

I knew, and many people knew, about the students’ uprising against the military dictatorship. We knew the official version, the censored newspapers version , the family friends’ version and the rumors version. We were sure the official version was liing and the three other versions were a bit questionable as there was not freedom of press and in hear-saying rumors everybody could add some “sauce” according to personal ideology.

 Polytechnio/Students

 I cannot quite recall what my inner voice was telling me and urging me to go there. Was my motive the simple fact that I was a curious teenager?

My heart was beating with excitement and fear. Fear I might get caught, by police or by my parents… At that point I couldn’t make a clue what would have been worst.

Video: the army tank crashing the gate (secretly filmed by a Dutch journalist)

I came as close as I could to the school. But not too close as the surrounding streets were kind of sealed off. I remember me walking down the Solonos Street from the Akadimia area. I might have even managed to come as close as to Benaki Str. or even one more street. People walking from the school area looked frightened ? Upset? Confused? I couldn’t tell.  I was feeling uncomfortable walking alone in a frightened city inhaling clouds of  tear gas. I didn’t dare to ask anybody about anything.  So I started to walk back. 

 My throat was burning  and tears were running from my eyes  because of the tear gas. Passersby would hustle quickly with a hangar chief  in front of their mouth, wouldn’t look each other in the eyes. I wonder how vivid are these fragmentary pictures in my mind after 37 years…

 after the tank

I had no hangarchief with me. I entered a small coffee shop to ask a glass of water.  I remember the owner’s glance with a big question mark. What am I,  a  young teenager, doing there alone? He checked around at the other customers, gave me the glass full of water, bended a bit over me and whispered in my ear : “Go Home!”.  I emptied the glass, turn my back to him and the shop and went to catch the way back home.

That was for sure and by no means any kind of  heroic act. No act of revolution or uprising. But at that time I was feeling I did something to show my own personal solidarity with the students, indirectly opposing the junta. I didn’t dare to share my experience with anybody, not even with my closest friends. 

Decades later I was surprised to learn that some school mates had not idea what had happened that day at the Polytechnic University. They heard about it after the Junta’s fall. And I was double surprised to have learned that two other schoolmates had joined the uprising students’, they  got arrested and were tortured by  the police.

Over the years, on the occasion of the Anniversary,  I have frequently asked myself this question: Would I have actively joined the uprising had I know the proper people to give me a push or would have I be too scared to dare such a thing?

More more information about  this dark chapter of Modern Greek History read Athens Polytechnic Uprising (Causes, Events, Aftermath, Legacy). It is from wikipedia and it’s worth reading…

Video: original footage from EOA in cooperation with Greek Parliament

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube Direkt

PS the following video doesn’t play by I can’t ‘delete’ it – sorry!

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3 comments

  1. i am too young as i was born in 81 but i have my fathers stories who was doing his national service in the late 60s and then he was working in athens in the early 70s the main impression i got was of a complete and deep rooted hatred of the police. not just from my father but from other people his age. more hate for the police than the army. i guess its because in theory the police is supposed to protect citizens but for those 7 years they were the torturers and executioners of the junta. and we see it now again. the police acting as the fist of the goverment. making sure politicians are safe but the streets of athens remain full of crime so that ordinary citizens suffer. 7000 riot police for 17th nov but not a policeman on the streets of neighbourhoods. and diamantopoulou makes statements about the real meaning of nov 17 i guess according to her no books for schools is the real meaning

  2. Wow. Thanks for sharing such an honest story. You’re awesome for doing that.

    I’ve often put myself in dangerous and potentially “heroic” situations without fully knowing my motivation. And I question my motives (and intelligence)all the time but something inside me pushes me forward, despite myself and my doubts about who and what I am.

    I’m sorry that you have to go through a dictatorship twice in your lifetime. I’m worried about tomorrow, after last time when PAME, the police and undercover police wreaked havoc on the demo. But I’ll be there tomorrow, outside of parliament, once again in a most probably futile attempt to weakly cry out for justice and democracy. I know you’ll be there too and I’ll be thinking of you.

    Again, as always, thanks so much for what you’re doing. KEEP TALKING GREECE!

  3. Lest we forget… Personal memories like these are so important to not forget. Thank you for sharing these.