50th Anniversary of the Athens Polytechnic uprising

ATHENS – Worries that demonstrations marking the 50th anniversary of the Athens Polytechnic uprising Nov. 17 1973 that led to the downfall of Greece’s military junta a year latter brought warnings from the United States and United Kingdom.

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Athens Polytechnic uprising of November 1973, when students and citizens rejected the Greek military Junta of 1967 to 1974.

Those cautions are brought annually, especially as protests and marches have ended outside the U.S. Embassy to protest America’s implicit support for the anti-Communist Colonels who used brutal repression after taking power in 1967.

Students at the Athens Polytechnic University rallied against the junta in an uprising that saw a tank break through the gates of the school and some 24 civilians outside being killed but the number of dead disputed over the years.

The event is commemorated every year, often finding anti-establishment groups and anarchists jumping in with violence and tourists and foreign residents and visitors urged to avoid the area around the school and downtown neighborhoods. The UK Foreign Office advisory said demonstrations “could become violent, and security forces may deploy tear gas. If you are in areas where demonstrations are taking place, remain vigilant, move away quickly from the area, stay aware of your surroundings, and follow the advice of local authorities.”

There’s additional anxiety this year because of Greece’s support for Israel in its war against Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip that has brought fears of reprisals in Greece, especially against Jewish sites.

50th Anniversary of the Athens Polytechnic uprising Remembrance Melbourne Events

The Polytechnic University Remembrance Committee held a wreath laying at the Australian Hellenic Memorial, at Shrine of Remembrance with an invitation all community organisations who wish to lay a wreath today.

The Greek Community of Melbourne Schools are producing a booklet with short stories and the  illustrations by students in relation to the events of 1973.

The Committee  is organising an event on Sunday, November 19, at 2pm, at the Victorian Trades Hall Carlton Loading Bay (54 Victoria St., Carlton) to mark the 50th Anniversary of the heroic revolt of the Polytechnic students against the Junta of the Colonels.

The event programme includes speeches, video screenings, testimonies, documents from the period of the Polytechnic, and a rich musical programme. Participants include the Alphington Grammar Youth Orchestra, Dimitris Tafidis, an adult group from the Creative Centre for Drama and Arts of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria and musicians Achilleas Giagoulis, Antonis Iliou, Nikos Kapralos, Vassilis Michelakis, Anthi Sidiropoulou, Orestis Sofokleous and Stelios Tsiolas.

Sydney Events marking 50th Anniversary of the Athens Polytechnic uprising

The Greek community of Sydney, New South Wales, will gather at the Greek Community Club in Lakemba on Sunday, November 19, from 4pm to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Athens Polytechnic Uprising.

The Sydney commemoration is in honour of 50 years since the uprising, where speeches, recitals of poetry and a wreath laying ceremony will take place.

The event is being organised by the Greek Orthodox Community of NSW (GOCNSW) alongside the Polytechnic Commemoration Committee.

Retrospective of the Athens Polytechnic uprising

Given all the heroism shown and courage display that November, the anti-junta student
movement remained largely liberal in character, mainly in defence of civil liberties and
electoral politics. There is no doubt that the left, the Maoists of OMLE, both Communist
parties at that time (the ‘external’ pro-Soviet version and the ‘interior’ Eurocommunist
version), were very involved in the anti-junta movement ,but the substance of the resistance
was very much in line with liberal values. However the student uprising did demonstrate that
anti-regime attitudes, sentiments and behaviour were manifestly growing, not least in the
support given by working class activists who made up the majority arrested in the
suppression by the military. The Polytechnic Uprising should be seen as the decisive event in
the countdown to the collapse of the dictatorship.

Early 1973 saw sit-ins at the Law School in Athens in February when the junta overturned the
routine military service deferments of 88 students and forcefully inducted them into the army,
enraged fellow students, academic staff and supporters – in a move of unprecedented daring
at the time – occupied the premises of the Athens University law school to register their

The subsequent police intervention to end the demonstration used violence at a level seen as
as an example of a state-sanctioned campaign of terror to punish and cow unruly citizens who
had defied the regime.

The student demands had been for the progressive reforms in the educational system, the
restoration of trade union, academic and political liberties. On the streets the slogans of
“Down With Dictatorship” and “For Democracy” were chanted by the students of Athens,
Thessalonica, Patra, Ioannina in a wave of meetings and demonstrations throughout 1973. By
the October, the regime had appointed the leader of the Progressive Party, Markezinis to
prepare for parliamentary elections. The KKK Interior expressed support for these
manoeuvrings but the situations remain unstable with students occupying student buildings in
Thessalonica and Patra. Secretary of the KKK-Interior, Dimitrios Partsalidis, was to publically state while on trial, that his party favoured the King’s return.

On the third anniversary of the death of George Papandreou, father of future prime minister
and Pasok founder Andreas Papandreou, the crowds congregated at the city’s First Cemetery
to honour the memory of the “Old man of the republic”. Fearful of the political character of the in this unplanned popular demonstration, thousands ofarmed riot police were called in to scatter the crowd.

Seventeen students who had been arrested were swiftly placed on trial which provoked
another unplanned demonstration, which was centred at the Athens Polytechnic.
The political upheaval which broke out in Athens lasted from 14 to 17 November 1973.1 The
upheaval began with the general meetings of the students’ unions on the morning of
Wednesday 14 November, which result in the rejection of government measures concerning
the planning of student elections. On the same afternoon, the students, who have gathered at
the Polytechnic in the meantime, decide to occupy the building under the control of a
Coordinating Committee.

This particular situation was not only staged by students of the polytechnic, but by students of
other institutions, workers, civilians and ex-students who all joined in the protest, all of
whom were encouraged to ‘descend upon the streets of Athens’.
By the evening, the slogans have become clearly political. The slogans shouted and painted
on banners in the Polytechnic are no longer concerned with education alone

That evening the first manifestos were scattered in Patision Avenue, defensively blocked by
crowds of people. The students of the Polytechnic University of Athens, with the EKKE militants, the Anti- Dictatorship Students Union (Anti-EFEE) and Communist Youth of Greece (KNE – aligned
to KKK Exterior) in an organising role, established an illegal radio station, rallying students,
young radicals and workers.

Thursday 15 November 1973. The sit-in draws the people of Athens, who start to flock to the
Polytechnic. By 9:30 p.m. the sit-in is packed, while the crowds in the surrounding streets
shout anti-American and anti-Junta slogans. The crowds remain there all night to express
their support of the Polytechnic students.

The rhetoric of the students and their aim to be heard internationally became a serious
problem for the junta. They made clear through their illegal radio broadcasts that they were
fighting for the rights of all Greeks, that bringing down the junta was ‘now or never’. They
completely broke the stringent restrictions on anti-junta propaganda.

Their constant reference to the ‘free struggling students, the free struggling Greeks’ in the
majority of their addresses reflected their desire for the dictatorship to be overthrown and
democracy to be restored in Greece.

Friday 16 November. The Polytechnic radio station starts broadcasting the message of the
struggle to the whole of Athens, which is watching events with bated breath. “Polytechnic
here! Polytechnic here! This is the Radio Station of the free fighting students, the free fighting
Greeks. Down with the Junta, down with Papadopoulos, Americans out, down with fascism,
the Junta will fall to the people. People of Greece, come out on the streets, come and stand by
us, in order to see freedom. The struggle is a universal anti-dictatorial, anti-Junta struggle!
Only you can fight in this struggle. Greece is governed by foreign interests! The dictator
Papadopoulos is trying to hide behind a mask of democracy with the fake government of
Markezinis and the fake elections it is proclaiming.”

At 9 a.m. the first barricades are raised and two mass demonstrations form in Panepistimiou
and Stadiou Avenues. At midday a farmers’ committee from Megara, protesting against the
expropriation of their land, visits the Coordinating Committee and the radio broadcasts:
“The people of Megara promise to stand and fight at the side pf the students and workers…
This is a common struggle… It is not just for the town of Megara or the Polytechnic… It is for
Greece. For the people of Greece who want to determine their own lives. To walk on the path
to progress. The basic requirement is the overthrow of the dictatorship and the restoration of

The people gathered outside the Polytechnic singing the traditional Cretan revolutionary
song “Pote Tha Kanei Xasteria” (When Will the Sky Be Clear Again).
By the afternoon thousands of demonstrators have gathered, including many workers. At 6
p.m. clashes between police and demonstrators begin, with many injuries. At 7 p.m. a mass
march heads for the Polytechnic and the police choose this moment to strike. Police
armoured cars appear and the first shots are fired. There are running fights all along
Solonos, Kaningos, Vathi, Aristotelous and Alexandras Avenues and Amerikis Square.
At 9:30 the police declare a curfew in the centre of Athens until further notice. At 11 p.m. the
radio station and loudspeakers ask people not to leave. The area around the Polytechnic is
shrouded in choking teargas.

The regime was alarmed at the developments of an emerging Uprising receiving wider support.
Thus after just two days of protests, the decision was made by Papadopoulos to send tanks to the

“Neither I nor any other witness I have ever spoken to, will forget the unwonted sound of
tank treads as an armoured column first hove into sight high up on Alexandras Avenue,
heading for a Patission Street thronged with Athenians in a high pitch of excitement but
expecting riot police, not tanks.

The sight was greeted with a mixture of amazement, fear and sheer disbelief.
The tumult was deafening, as the scream of steel tank treads scraping asphalt and torturing
concrete kerbs competed with the sound of people shouting and the sound of shooting as
pockets of snipers took aim at the armour from the terraces of buildings adjacent to the route
taken by the tanks – Mavromateon Street below Pedion tou Areos park, then Scholi
Evelpidon Street, then a by-now fast-emptying Patission Street as the column headed for the

Saturday 17 November 1973. The first tanks appear shortly after midnight, while more and
more dead and injured are taken to the makeshift hospital in the Polytechnic. By 1 a.m. the
Polytechnic has been surrounded by tanks. The radio station and loudspeakers call, “Don’t
be afraid of the tanks”, “Down with fascism”, “Soldiers, we are your brothers. Don’t
become murderers”. At 1:30 the tanks set off with their headlamps on. The students cling to
the gates, singing the national anthem and calling to the solders, “We are brothers”.
The army gives the people inside 20 minutes’ notice to get out, while a tank takes up position
near the main gate. The Coordinating Committee tries to negotiate the students’ safe exit.
2:50 a.m. Saturday 17 November: The commanding officer waves the tank forward. The gates
fall and the tank continues up to the steps of the “Averoff” building. It is followed by men of
the security forces and the LOK Special Forces. Shots are fired. Some soldiers help the
students escape, but plain-clothes policemen are waiting at the exits. By 3:20 there is no-one
left in the Polytechnic…

According to official records, 56 people were killed. According to police records, 1103
citizens and 61 policemen had been injured. As to the casualties, the real number remains
unknown. As it became known after the fall of the dictatorship, 34.000 bullets had been used
by the police, in addition to the 300.000 cartridges of all kinds, used by the army, so as to
repress the revolt. After the killings, the regime went on to arrest around 2,500 people,
although it announced merely the arrest of 866.

Part of the memory of the Polytechnic Uprising is that it symbolises not only the heroic
struggle but also the unity of all democrats. Since the 1970s, 17 November has been a day of
remembrance and a school holiday, and an annual memorial is conducted in the Polytechnic
to pay tribute. There is another destination on the day, and that is the American embassy.
The annual protest recalls popular anger over what everyone still perceives as US support for
the colonels who usurped power in a coup d’etat on April 21, 1967.

“The memory of the Polytechnic made two overlapping contributions to the cultivation of a
culture of resistance. First, the youth acquired independent agency. It was only the student
movement that overtly resisted the dictatorship; the act becomes even more heroic when one
considers that they were sacrificing their prospects of a better life for a noble cause. Second,
the memory of the Polytechnic has institutionalized one’s ‘duty to resist the authority’.”