May 1, 2019 marks the forty-third anniversary of Alexandros Panagoulis‘ death on the first of May in 1976 in Athens.
Panagoulis became well-known for his brave struggle against the military dictatorship which ravaged Greece and its society for nearly seven years, between 1967 and 1974.
His name became globally known one year after the governmental takeover by the colonels, after he was arrested for his participation in an assassination attempt of the dictator George Papadopoulos, on August 13, 1968.
The attempt failed, the dictator survived and Panagoulis was arrested, only to be brutally tortured by the military police under the cruel regime of the Colonels.
In an interview with the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci after the restoration of democracy in Greece, Panagoulis famously declared, ”I didn’t want to kill a man. I’m not capable of killing a man. I wanted to kill a tyrant.”
During the years of his detention, Panagoulis suffered numerous types of brutal torture which left their scars on his body forever.
When the military junta collapsed in 1974 following the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, Panagoulis participated in the first free democratic elections held after the ending of the cruel dictatorship.
He was elected a member of the Greek Parliament for the Center Union party, the historic rival of Greece’s post-war Right.
But on May 1, 1976, Panagoulis suddenly died in a staged car crash in Athens.
Reportedly, a frantically-speeding car careening along Vouliagmenis Avenue diverted Panagoulis’ car and forced it to crash.
The lawmaker was killed almost instantaneously.
The Greek press speculated immediately that Panagoulis had been assassinated. The crash had occurred two days before the scheduled publication of documents which would have allegedly provided evidence of how the colonels in the military dictatorship of 1967 had collaborated with the Nazi occupiers of Greece between 1941 and 1944.
The widely-believed scenario that Panagoulis was deliberately murdered was never proven, but the majority of those in Greek society believed that his death was meticulously planned by people who still supported the dictators.
In the years following Panagoulis’ premature death at the age of 36, none of the alleged evidence ever came to light, leaving the case shrouded in darkness.
What remains clear, however, is that Panagoulis became a modern-day Greek hero, with numerous streets and squares now bearing his name, an eternal reminder of Greece’s destiny to safeguard democracy and freedom.