They came here to study from a country that was writhing beneath the oppressive weight of a junta, and even now they speak of "the consulate" and "the CIA" in a threatened manner. They were able to come here because they generally were rich and could afford the expensive American education. But they say they will rejoin their culture as soon as they can, and in the meantime they follow the daily political developments in their homeland with a morbid interest. And they say they became radical as the students in their own homeland became radical over the last few years.
They are Greeks--most of them from Athens--and in spite of their mobility and their free choice, they are prisoners of the American culture. They had to come here because opportunities for graduate education in their native land do not exist; almost all of the more than 30 Greeks at Harvard are in the GSAS. They say they are alienated from this culture and long to return to Greece when they get their degrees.
Most of them belong to the Hellenic Students Association, a joint Harvard-MIT body whose constitution dictates that it must never align itself with a Greek political party. But the association is perhaps the most political student group in Cambridge, judging from its intense concern with the state of Greece. And with a membership of well above 100, it is probably the largest radical student organization.
The association convenes at night in MIT's student center, and only Greek is spoken. If the meetings of most radical American groups revolve around speeches from individuals on oppression and abuses that usually do not directly involve the members, there is a nationalistic sense pervading a meeting of the Hellenic students of a heritage of modern-day persecution to which every member is a party. Although 3000 miles from the homeland, for them, they say, the threat is real.
At a recent meeting beginning with a presentation on the Nazi occupation of 1940, the photographic slides might have been sepia with age, the invaders' uniforms perhaps comically anachronistic, and the arms of the resistance maybe pitifully simple and outdated, but a kindred feeling to that resistance gripped the membership. The protest songs of that era had not died; when one was played on a phonograph, the deep echo from the audience surged like a mournful wave, and if thanatos was the only word an English-speaking reporter could make out, it still means death in Greece today.
How much of this intense cultural nationalism is derived from Greek students' alienation from American society is not clear, although the marriage of such heartfelt cultural collectivity with a radical ideology and "blueprint" for society seems possible only among a people that carries with it always the consciousness that it is oppressed.
"We are a people who have suffered a lot and are still suffering," Paschalis M. Kitromilides, a third-year grad student in government, says. "You'll find very few who have suffered as much in modern history."
Kitromilides refers to "a very arbitrary foreign rule" that Greece has endured since World War II and he expresses a particular bitterness towards the Central Intelligence Agency.
Babis, Savakis, a special student in biochemistry and cell biology, came to the United States this summer. He was active in the student movement in Athens, and he still shudders when he hears the mention of torturing of students. Savakis divides his time between his studies and the Greek newspapers which he says he reads with a consuming interest. Although the junta yielded to Constantine Caramanlis this summer, Savakis is not comfortable.
"The huge structure of the junta is in the process of being dismantled, in the army, in the universities, in the places of work," Savakis says. "If the government tries to take more radical measures, these people could come back with their tanks."
Savakis says he feels frustrated in the United States. Although he is a radical, he does not have the time to take part in political organizing because he must get A's to go to graduate school.
"I am forced to be individualistic, to study very much and live less. But I feel an obligation to help in a political act. I know what it is to struggle against the junta, I know what low education means; I have seen people with the opportunity to be correct persons being spoiled," Savakis says.
He says he is both attracted and disgusted by the United States, but his attitude is laced by loathing for the CIA. "This country has terrific contradictions--she can produce great scientists and juntas."
Savakis says he does not fear assimilation, while Michael C. Caramanis, a third-year student in engineering and light physics who has been in this country for six years, says that he must occasionally jog himself to avoid a dependence on American "consumerism." But both decry the American emphasis on competitive individualism, and Caramanis recalls that the graduate student strikes in the springs of 1972 and 1973 failed because grad students could not form a collective.
"Assimilation would be a negative thing as long as it would make Greek students forget what is going on in Greece," Caramanis says. "Many of us feel very strongly that all processes of Greek people being educated here is some agent of cultivating an admiration of the American culture in Greece."