Tag Archives: National Union of Students

November 17 or why this day is so important for Greeks

A date haunts Greece, the date of November 17. 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.

The tank just before it was ordered to enter the Polytechnic (photo borrowed from http://eteriafotografizontas.blogspot.com)

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.

Graffiti at the Polytechnic's gate: "Kick USA out" - "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 courtyard after the end of the students' 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”.

Banner hanged from the Polytechnic's roof - the word "Freedom" is written on it

The far right in the new Greek government

There have been few surprises when we heard the names of those who compose the new Greek government under Lucas Papademos. As a government of national unity, everybody expected to see which members of New Democracy and LAOS parties would be selected and for which posts. New Democracy reluctantly offered its members, afraid that the new government will fail and that this failure could be partly blamed to them during the next general elections (yes, Greek politicians are still playing their little political games at this very crucial time). In this post, I decided to focus on two members of LAOS. Not the South East Asian country but the Greek far right populist party of the Popular Orthodox Rally (laos in Greek is the word for “people”, λαός). They are Mavroudis (Makis) Voridis and Adonis Georgiades.

The logo of LAOS party

Makis Voridis has been very active during his youth years in the nationalist and extreme right part of the political spectrum. Here’s some biographical data collected from already published articles.

LAOS party leader, Karatzaferis (left) with Makis Voridis (right)

He graduated from the Athens College, the same school that was attended by Lucas Papademos and the majority of the Greek political and business elite. Soon after he became General Secretary of EPEN’s youth. EPEN (National Political Union) was a far-right political party which was founded in 1984 by jailed former junta leader Georgios Papadopoulos. He substituted in that post Nikos Michaloliakos who founded and still heads the national socialist party Hrisi Avgi (Golden Dawn).  “EPEN was the main vehicle for the the national, popular and social right to express its views, and it had elected a Eurodeputy. As a youth activist in the national, patriotic circle who wanted to be active politically, it was the only outlet,” Voridis has stated. He later enrolled at the Law School of Athens University and founded a group called Student Alternative. The Law School Students Union expelled him in 1985 because of his fascist activity. Greek investigative journalist team “Ios” (i.e. virus in Greek) later published a photo of Voridis from those events (9/6/2002 in Eleftherotypia newspaper). He was seen holding an axe. At a later interview, he justified it as self-defence to an attack by leftists.

Makis Voridis holding an axe (photo from "Ios", Eleftherotypia newspaper 9/6/2002)

In 1986 the National Union of Students (EFEE-ΕΦΕΕ) sued him for participation to a fascists’ attack against several Law School students.

The logo of the Hellenic Front party

In 1994 Makis Voridis, together with members of EPEN and ENEK (United Nationalist Movement), found the Hellenic Front party. Originally it was a small insignificant party (“the Hellenic Front’s insignificance illustrates the comparative weakness of extreme right politics in Greece” – The Guardian newspaper) before it disguised itself into more acceptable, but still far right, forms. Voridis headed the new political formation until 2005 when the party was disbanded and its leadership called its members to join the LAOS party. A year earlier, in the 2004 general elections, the Hellenic Front cooperated with another far right party, Proti Grammi (Front Line), which was headed by the most prominent far right politician and author, Kostas Plevris (his bio at Wikipedia is quite informative). His son, Thanos Plevris, is today an MP with the LAOS party.

LAOS party leader, Giorgos Karatzeferis (whose popular nickname among Greeks is KaratzaFührer) once said in an interview to Ethnos newspaper (26/10/10) in an attempt to justify why Voridis wasn’t the party’s candidate for the Athens regional governor in the 2010 local elections:

Giorogos Karatzaferis: I was simply afraid that Voridis has a history which I have managed to cover after considerable effort…
Christos Machairas (journalist): What exactly do you mean by “history”?
Giorgos Karatzaferis: About his relation with Jean Marie Le Pen, the axes and all the rest. I am just thinking that suddenly, on the 30th of October (i.e. a bit before the local elections) some guy from New Democracy or from Tsipras’ team (i.e. SYRIZA leftist party) can throw a video on the air and drag me explaining about all these things.

Makis Voridis is now the new Minister of Infrastructure, Transport and Networks.

Adonis Georgiades speaking at the Greek Parliament

The second prominent member of LAOS who joined the new national unity government is Adonis Georgiades. He founded Georgiades Publications and he is Director of two magazines: History of Greeks (Ελλήνων Ιστορία) and Greek Education (Ελληνική Αγωγή).

Adonis Georgiades presenting his books' show at TeleAsty channel

He later started his own tv show in TeleCity (TeleAsty) channel, which is managed by Giorgos Karatzaferis’ party. There, Adonis Georgiades presented a show about books which was practically a 1-hour advertisement of publications that glorified the Greek past. A lot were related to ancient Greek literature and several had historical or even political subjects. Eleftherotypia (mainly the Ios investigative journalism team) and Ta Neanewspapers have accused Georgiades’ show of being a means for the promotion of nationalist and nazi-friendly content.

Kostas Plevris' book "Jews: the Whole Truth", published by Electron Editions (June 2006)

One example was his repeated advertisement of Kostas Plevris’  book “Jews: the Whole Truth”, an anti-semitic publication containing outright praises for Adolf Hitler and calls for the extermination of Jews, published by Electron Editions in June 2006. Shortly after its publication in June 2006 the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece and the Greek Helsinki Monitor brought a suit against Plevris for “insult of Jews” and “injury to Judaism”. On December 13, 2007 the court found Plevris guilty of inciting racial hatred and handed him a 14-month suspended sentencePlevris appealed and was eventually acquitted on 27 March 2009; his acquittal caused international reactions that were very unfavorable towards the Greek judicial system, as the Greek justice system failed to enforce Greece’s antiracist legislation

In 2007 and 2009, Adonis Georgiades was elected MP with LAOS party. In 2010 local elections he was the party’s candidate for the post of Athens regional governor (after Voridis was thought to be too risky a candidate – read above).

On 11 November 2011, Adonis Georgiades was appointed Deputy Minister of Development (his sector of responsibility is Shipping).