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Greece: The Junta 5 Years After The Coup

A Personal Account


(The author of this piece wishes to remain anonymous).

FIVE YEARS ago today, on April 21, 1967, a coup d'etat imposed on the Greek people a military junta, which is still in power. It was a slap that caught everybody unaware. For months the politicians of the Center and especially of the Left had been talking about the danger of a military dictatorship. But nobody expected that it would actually happen.

And suddenly one morning you wake up, and the telephone is dead, and the radio is playing old nationalistic military songs, and outside your window you hear the rumble of armored cars in the streets, and officers warning everybody to stay in their houses. It was all so swift and well organized that nobody reacted. Only three people were killed in Athens that day, trying to get out into the streets to see what was happening. The junta boasted on the bloodlessness of their "revolution." During the night of the coup, 16,000 people--mainly members of the Parliament, journalists, labor leaders, and members of left-wing organizations--were rounded up. Some were kept under house arrest. Most were sent to concentration camps on remote Aegean islands. Some managed to escape capture. The soldiers came into the room and the bed was still warm but the man was away, hiding in some attic, waiting for the curfew to be raised so that he could start contacting his friends.

And in your house, when you heard the news you could not figure out exactly what had happened, but you could sense the terror in your mother's voice when she said. "I lived through the Metaxas dictatorship of 1936, and I know what these things are like. Just hope that this one won't last.

But today is the fifth anniversary, and the dictatorship has lasted. Through these years the role of the junta has become increasingly clear. The coup was a reaction of the Greek ruling establishment against the threatening prospects of a new current in Greek politics. It happened about a month before the elections that were going to end a period of manufactured anomaly in the parliament with an electoral victory of the Center and of the Left. The Greek ruling establishment was one of the most reactionary in Europe. It was not even, as in most other European countries, a national bourgeoisie. It was a political, military, and paramilitary structure, well rooted in Greek society, whose primary orientation was towards the interests of international monopoly capital and of the U.S. dominated North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). It took a civil war in the forties, with the Right backed by Britain and the U.S., to drown in blood the desire of the Greek people to live free in an independent Greece, governed by the people for the people. The defeat of the popular liberation struggle against British and, later, American intervention during the Civil War of 1944-1949 was followed by a period of untold sacrifices by the people in their effort to achieve some degree of democracy and of independent economic growth. The Right found itself unable to contain the growing movement of the democratic forces in Greece. The coup of 1967 was designed to secure the endangered rule of the right-wing oligarchy and its international allies.

ONE OF the most harmful and yet common attitudes in history has been the "it-couldn't-happen-to-me" attitude. We failed to recognize how fast the "Free World" was adopting more and more reactionary forms of control, or, if we did (we young intellectuals of the University and of the schools), we felt Greece was different, because our politicians were good men, incompetent may be, but still good--democratic at least. And then, that very first week after the coup, stunned as we were by the unexpected blow, we remembered those amongst us whom we had considered bitter and unrealistic. They had told us of the danger, they had asked us to open our eyes to what was really happening, and to stop living in our ivory towers. But we had dismissed them as utopian, we had told them that their ideas were dangerous and we had wondered how such intelligent people could believe in those leftist notions. Now it dawned on us for the first time that maybe ours was the ivory tower and their's was the real world.

In the beginning the reaction to the junta was that it did not have any support, that if everybody showed their disdain by boycotting the regime, then the regime would fall. Some hoped the junta was just a temporary parenthesis, a group of misled patriots who would eventually return the country to democracy. Others believed that once the Great Western Powers saw that the politicians and the intellectuals were against the junta, they would intervene to restore democracy. But nothing happened. The U.S. Government, despite a few gestures of disapproval by isolated Congressmen, not only continued but increased its military aid to Greece, even as the American people were being told that there was an embargo on arms shipments to Greece. The island of Crete is being turned into a NATO nuclear base. Presently the U.S. is trying to secure permanent home port facilities in Piraeus and other major Greek ports. And with troubles in Turkey, Greece is becoming the whorehouse of the Sixth Fleet.

After a while you despair, as you discover that the junta is much more stable than you had expected. You start considering possible routes of action and slowly you emerge with only one alternative to collaboration: the long, tedious process of organizing mass movements in all walks of life that will eventually make it possible for the voice of the people to be heard. This is the approach that the most consistent of the organized anti-junta forces are taking. There is no lack of objective bases for the people to organize around.

THE ADVENT of neo-fascism in Greece affected all aspects of life of the nation. All the political parties were banned. Labor unions and student organizations were dissolved. Seven major Athens dailies ceased publication. The rest were obliged to abide by strict censorship regulations. Anti-regime journalists were persecuted and many were forced into exile. Intellectual activity was stifled. Almost all of the progressive intellectuals active before the coup were forced to emigrate. Key sectors of the economy were captured by foreign, mainly U.S. monopolies (American investment accounts for more than 50 per cent of foreign investment in Greece). Domestic enterprises were either wiped out or absorbed by foreign competitors with the cooperation of Greek cosmopolitan capital (Onassis, Niarchos). A mounting trade deficit (in 1971, $1.4 billion with a GNP of $9 billion) has forced the junta to resort to heavy short-term borrowing, thus increasing the dependence of the Greek economy on Western banking giants. Despite the heavy foreign investment, unemployment persists. Every year over 90,000 Greek workers seek jobs abroad. Since 1967 population growth has been negative. All this has been accompanied by steeply rising inflation in everyday goods, a fact that the junta has tried to conceal by juggling with the numbers. On the whole, salaries and wages have been frozen, while the right of workers to strike has been abolished. The country is on its way to a "modernization" that will polarize the economy and cause such damage to the social fabric that it will be impossible to repair it by non-revolutionary means.

This wealth of grievances against the junta is slowly giving rise to spontaneous mass movements to resist the junta policies--by any means that fall within the presently very narrow boundaries of legality. And beneath this surface of legality lies the very blatant terrorism of the government on the one hand, and the underground organizations on the other. More than 200,000 patriots have been detained or interrogated by the Security or the military police for alleged anti-regime activities.

They come early in the morning, there is a knock at the door, you open it and there are two of them, in their dark costumes, tinted glasses and small mustaches. "Mr...?" they ask, and then "be at the security headquarters at 10 a.m. So you go wondering and worried, racking your memory to see what lead they could have picked up. You say nothing to your family: there is no need to worry them.

"On such and such occasion when you were present, were they distributing subversive books?" You deny it and keep on denying, hoping that they haven't gotten anything else on you, anything that will make them keep you there indefinitely. A thought passes through your mind: "my family won't even find out where I am." But they stick to a trivial incident. They give you a statement to sign, confirming that you are a supporter of the government. You decline, on the grounds that you believe in democracy. The man approaches you, slaps you twice in the face and hits you in the stomach. It hurts and you get very angry. "You can go now", he says. And, as you turn to leave, "be sure to tell your friends that we know everything." Are they bluffing? You won't know until it is too late.

If you are one of the special cases, they will drag you out of the house at five in the morning. Then you will really start worrying because this time they have got the finger on you, and you can expect the worst because they know what they want from you, and they are going to get it.

The 250 cases of torture that have been documented by the Sub-Committee for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, and the stories that are revealed during each trial, are intimidating in the beginning. But gradually you get used to the idea, you stop taking it into account in your every decision. You go about your business, taking every precaution of secrecy, hoping that they will not get you. The subject comes up very rarely when you talk with your colleagues, but when it does, it is only to encourage each other.

"Don't expect not to speak," you are told, "but once in there you will find yourself far more determined than you now think."

The common commitment and the common danger bind you into a strong friendship with the people you work with. Even people you never really got to know--the person who came with you when you first went out at night to throw leaflets under the doors--even those people you remember and respect. You climb on the bus one day and you recognize the conductor as the man who went with you on your first effort, and he recognizes you, you just say "hello" and he presses your hand when he gives you the changes. That was it, but at that moment you knew that you could count on him and he could count on you.

It is amazing how many of the young Greek intellectuals have been radicalized in the past five years, how many risk their peace and quiet in illegal acts, and how many more talk about "doing something" even though it is not always quite clear what they can do. In the University the persecution of liberals and leftists has been particularly intense, but the democratic movement is on the upswing. Those who have actively demonstrated their opposition to the regime were expelled from institutions of higher learning. But now a new movement of semi-legal syndicalism seems to be springing up, and this time the students are slightly more experienced. They know how to exploit legality better, they keep the rules of secrecy more conscientiously when it is necessary, and, most important, the numbers of consciously politicized students are increasing.

The fear, though, is still there. It has not gone from your life, but you have learned to live with it. The fear is there when you try to talk to the farmer in the little tobacco-growing village in Macedonia, he will not tell you that during the "referendum" on the so-called Constitution of 1968 (where the "yes" votes were 94 per cent), there were only "Yes" slips in his village at the polls. He will not tell you about his cousin in Salonika who was not allowed to return to the village because he was considered dangerous, even though his only political involvement was voting "No" at the same "referendum". But if you sit with him long enough and if you steer the conversation that way, he will tell you with great bitterness how the Ministry of Agriculture supported the middleman in his nearest town by repaying him for World War II losses and yet never gave anybody in the village a single drachma and how the middleman is still paying the same prices to the producer for tobacco, but is now selling at much higher prices to the cigarette company.

The urban worker is more politicized, and, if he can get reasonable assurance that you are not a spy, he will tell you about the appointed administration of his union, that seems to listen only to the opinion of the Ministry. He may venture to say how his friend who had been in the council before '67 had been dragged away that morning in April--a little child had been sent to warn him at five in the morning but had not been fast enough.

A DISPROPORTIONATE number of people in the Resistance live outside Greece, either because they left to escape capture, or because the Greek students outside Greece find it much easier to work with the Resistance organizations than the ones inside, since ideas circulate more freely abroad and the immediate dangers are far fewer. But these people cannot do much except help those that are working inside. Still, there is much help to be given. Most resistance printed matter is published outside, and is sent in by various routes. Funds are being raised for apartments to be used for hiding, for printing presses, anything. The permanent headquarters of the resistance are in various cities in Europe, and people go in and out of Greece all the time, bragging information back and forth.

Living in the U.S., one cannot but despair at the enormous contrast between the commitment and the seriousness of one's friends back in Greece, and the confused happiness of the bright scholars here. The carefree intellectual who studies the world as if it were an interesting puzzle, who describes the film 'Z' as "a great thriller", and who laughs at stories of comically disorganized people who were suppressed by brute force, is a constant reminder of the old wisdom that one can only learn from one's own mishaps, and that one cannot look for help to those who will not realize that life, to some people at least, is not a joke. And yet we always hope that the new awareness that seems to be spreading among American students about what is really happening in the world will lead more and more of them to sense the necessity of action and of solidarity with the democratic forces all over the world. The least we can ask of the people here is that they take the world seriously, that they try to picture the tragedies that lie behind every dictatorship and every reactionary government, and mainly, to reconsider the "it-couldn't-happen-to-me" attitude that most of them seem to have.

There is a certain element of sacrifice involved in the whole idea of actively opposing the junta, but it is not in the least melodramatic. The idea has become a way of life for many people, and when you ask them why, they will not start reciting great ideals. They will only tell you of poverty, of oppression, of torture. They will say they are tired of living in a country that has no economy of its own, that has no political life for the people, that has no future but to be a satellite of the great powers.

..When I shook hands with my friend in Rome the night before he returned to Greece to continue the job he had undertaken, I remembered the verses of a song devoted to the guerillas of the Resistance against the Nazist: "When they shake hands, the sum is sure about the world," Don't be ridiculous, I reproached myself, this is the real world, this is no place for heroes. And yet, I will never forget how he raised his glass, looked at me with a sad smile and said, "How long can they keep screwing us? We'll get them. Someday.

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