In Cambridge, They Remember Greece
Budding Corporation Men Or Dedicated Radicals, Greeks Come to School
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age, the invaders' uniforms perhaps comically anachronistic, and the arms of the resistance maybe pitifully simple and outdated, but a kindred feeling to that resistance gripped the membership.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."
Kitromilides has been in the States over six years also and he says he feels at home in this society. He values the "informality and friendship" he says are inherent to the culture but notes that this breeds superficiality. And Kitromilides says he is one of "very few Greeks" who have close friends who are American.
Kitromilides is a Greek-Cypriote, and this summer he was in uniform in his native land. Since the fall of the junta in July, he says, he feels relieved.
"People feel much freer here in America now. Our main source of concern was always the police state in Greece," he says.
Savakis, Caramanis and Kitromilides speak of the oil fields in northern Greece as the next target of U.S. multinational corporate growth and they anticipate arrangements, between the right-centrist government of Caramanlis and American interests, that will leech the Greek homeland.
Athanasios Hadzilacos '75, however, warns that the radical rhetoric of Greeks who come to the United States for an education can be trusted no more than the promises of corporations that cross the ocean in the other direction. Hadzilacos is one of the only genuinely-middle-class Greeks at Harvard. He came from Volos, a small town 200 miles up the east coast of Greece from Athens.
Why do Greek students come to the United States to go to school, Hadzilacos throws up his hands and asks. When he gets no response, he grins triumphantly then goes on only to ask more questions: "Why is Harvard paying me $5000 a year scholarship? Is it because they are good? No, they want to have cadres for the corporations and the universities. Upper-class students come here to become cadres of imperialism."
One of the eight Greek undergraduates at Harvard, Hadzilacos lives off-campus and, like an incredible proportion of the rest of the Greek men in the association, wears both a beard and an expensive wrist watch. He came here "a liberal," Hadzilacos says.
When I came here I was very much fascinated by the freedom here, all these opportunities, all these choices," Hadzilacos says, with a sarcastic lilt to his voice. "The change came through the influence of other Greeks and what happened in Greece."
He boasts that he has never bought clothes in America and that he has not been in the Coop yet this year, for "specific ideological objections to commercialism. And he says that when an American friend asked him what the association has been doing, he would not answer, explaining that it is "too serious to talk about over dinner."
Perhaps because he does not know what he will do when he returns to Greece, he does not seem to trust his own or his friends' intentions. After speaking with him, it is easy to emerge with the belief that the Greeks who are in the Hellenic Students Association--and he says 90 per cent of the Greeks who are at Harvard and MIT are--are rich kids indulging themselves the fervor of radicalism during their stints in the United States. When they return to Greece and what he predicts will be a "new dictatorship," Hadzilacos suggests that he and his comrades might just look complacently to secure and nonsubversive jobs.
In the meantime, though, the Association is controlled by a bloc of radicals for whom the difficult choice regarding Greece is not the easily-answered question of alignment with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (the answer is no) but the question: Should Greece ally with Russia?
Like other radical Greeks, Hadzilacos says he is committed to the "progressive movement" world-wide. He notes specifically his protest both of the overthrow of President Salvador Allende in Chile one year ago and of racism in the United States, and his support for Puerto Rican independence.
The radical students' stance is not ignored. Some more conservative Greeks are put off by the "totalitarian radical" nature of the association, ever since Harvard progressives wrested control of the association from less-activist MIT leadership nearly two years ago. And Greek-American radio stations and communities in the area do not like to entertain the association's opinions.
One Greek-Cypriote undergraduate who says he once attended meetings of the association says that the group is too "political." He adds, "There was a lot of work and talk, but there was nothing coming out of it." He also preferred to remain anonymous.
Members suggest that the Greek consulate has tried to isolate the association by urging community rejection of the group. Most agree that they are under a certain amount of surveillance from the consulate--if not within their meetings, then certainly at association-led demonstrations.
John Fotopolous, the Greek consul in Boston, denies that the consulate would ever send information on the Hellenic Students Association back to the Greek government. "We are not involved in their affairs," he says. "We try to assist them in their studies."
To an agonizing extent, their fortunes are tied to the fate of the junta which they are convinced has not yet fully been "dismantled" in the homeland. The CIA-junta nexus still exists, they say, and the consulate, with its paternalist attention to their activities in Cambridge, is still linked with the secret police network in Greece. And so some members of the association receive mail from abroad at American friends' names and addresses, in the fear that correspondence is examined.
Babis Savakis says, "This article will appear, with my name in it, and in a few months, or a few weeks, a piece of it [he operates an imaginary scissors in the air] will be back in my file in Greece." Whether they like it or not, what radical Greeks say and do at Harvard today may have terrible significance in their own and their country's future.