Greeks took to the streets by the tens of thousands on Nov. 17 to commemorate the 39th anniversary of a deadly student revolt against the country’s former dictatorship which months later toppled the American-backed ruling military junta.
The march occurred against the backdrop of today’s economic crisis which has pushed millions of Greeks into poverty and intensified rage against the government for imposing pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions on workers, the elderly and the poor on the orders of international lenders putting up $325 billion in two bailouts.
With more than 6,000 police deployed in the city center, protesters marched from the National Technical University of Athens, where the 1973 uprising kicked off, to the U.S. Embassy. They were led by students carrying a Greek flag bloodied during the uprising. Many Greeks hold the U.S. responsible for backing the 1967-1974 dictatorship. Protesters burned a U.S. flag outside the embassy, a yearly ritual.
A separate march by Communist Party supporters later went past the U.S. Embassy to the Israeli Embassy to protest Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip in retaliation for Hamas firing rockets into Israel. Police initially blocked the route at the request of a prosecutor, but after talks with protesters, unblocked it and the march resumed. Police say both marches involved about 22,000 people. No violence was reported.
The only party leader to visit the university was Alexis Tsipras of the main leftist opposition SYRIZA. “The message of the Polytechnic will never die,” Tsipras said. “Because it reminds the new generation that the people only have one course toward victory: the course of resistance, of defiance, of rebellion against any kind of tyranny.”
The ruling Conservative New Democracy didn’t send a representative but released a statement that said, “The message of the Polytechnic is more timely than ever; it is a message of solidarity for our people, for progress and betterment. It is in this direction that all political parties should strive,” it added.
The Socialist PASOK called on Greeks to continue their struggle despite the ongoing crushing economic crisis “so we can emerge from the tunnel and make our country stand on its feet again,” while Democratic Left called for “a tireless battle against fascism, racism and violence.”
In the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, about 12,000 people marched, police said. Some burned a European Union flag, angry over EU demands to cut Greek spending in order to get a desperately needed bailout loan.
The student uprising began on Nov. 14, 1973. After violent clashes with police on the 16th, the army intervened and tanks stormed the National Technical University in the early hours of the 17th. There were hundreds of arrests. The dictatorship itself admitted to 12 “accidental” deaths and over a thousand injured. The actual number of dead is disputed but it is agreed that at least two dozen died.
While the student uprising failed to overthrow the dictatorship, a coup by army hardliners deposed the dictator, George Papadopoulos, on Nov. 25, 1973. They, in turn, were forced to transfer control to a civilian government in July 1974 when a botched attempt to unify Cyprus with Greece led to Turkey invading the island of Cyprus and to a near-war between Turkey and Greece.
(Sources, AP, Kathimerini)