Today, Greeks mark the 43rd anniversary of the student-led ‘November uprising’ against the colonels. Although, the uprising was crushed ruthlessly within 3 days it marked the beginning of the end for the junta, which under the weight of popular resistance it collapsed in less than a year after the revolt.
43 years on, Greek society experiences the most fundamental political and existential crisis since the military junta. Within a context of uncertainly and collective disappointment, historical revisionism and far-right populism have found a fertile soil. Today, I was shocked with the number of ignorant and outrageous social media posts appearing in my timeline and supposedly exposing the ‘November uprising myths’. The content of these post varies. Many of them suggest that the uprising never really happened and if it did there were no casualties. While others go as far as to suggest that life under the colonels was much better.
Reading these comments I remembered a story that my late father used to share with us every time our discussion would lead to the military junta. It was the story of his own transformation from an a-political young man from rural Greece to a politically active citizen.
In 1973 my father was a conscript in the Greek army. He was a barely- educated, strong and stubborn young man who had found it difficult to adapt to the discipline of the army. He got involved in many fights, mostly for no particular reason other than reacting to the claustrophobic nature of life in the military. For this reason he was sent to one of the ‘battalions for undesirable soldiers” in a remote island. Although my father was sent to this battalion because of his lack of discipline, the majority of the fellow “undesirables” he met there were of a very different kind. Many of them were into their mid-late 20s, articulate, knowledgeable and well educated. In fact, these were the students who had been involved in the November uprising. The regime had decided to disperse them from the capital and the most effective way to do so was through forcing them into conscription and sending them to remote islands (there is a long history of using the islands as a way of silencing political activism in Greece).
In this context, my father met with Nicos, a Law School graduate. My father had heard him speaking and was inspired by his eloquence, mild manners and ability to explain persuasively what was happening in the country. One day he decided to approach him and ask more questions about the November uprising in Athens. Nicos responded in a way that temporarily offended my father. Not only did he not answer his question but in a rude way he asked him to leave him alone.
Eventually, they bumped into each other, off duty, in the main town of the island and they managed to have a chat about the incident. My father soon realised that Nicos’ had been deliberately distant and rude in the camp in order to protect him. Nicos was a known ‘communist trouble maker’ and association with him could also stigmatise my father. This was the reason Nicos did not want my father to be seen near him.
In the following months they became close friends and they spoke more often about politics, the military junta and the vision of a liberated country. Paradoxically, the army had become a place of political education.
One morning, several months after their initial meeting, Nicos looked for my father in the barracks. He looked distressed and sad. He hugged him and told him “It was a real privileged meeting you. You have been a great friend of mine. Unfortunately, my time is up. The army have decided to give me few days off to visit my family in Athens. This is unexplained generosity. I never asked for days off as I knew that they would never give me any anyway”. My father was taken aback and he tried to dismiss the comment saying that it was just a coincidence.
The morning after, the commander of the battalion invited all soldiers of the in the courtyard in order to make an ‘urgent and sad announcement’. He told everyone that private Nicos had died during a horrible car accident on his way to Athens.
Although Nicos was assassinated by the colonels his death is still classified as an accident. Nobody, knows how many political activists were murdered arbitrarily in similar ways. This incidence marked the end of innocence for my father. He cried, he mourned but at the same time he was transformed into a principled and politically engaged citizen.
At a time of blatant historical revisionism we need to look closer into our histories. We need to cherish the legacy of the generations who not only looked the beast in its eyes but also challenged it and emerged victorious.