Greek life

17 November

Greece was a mess after World War II. The Germans occupied Greece from 1940 until the war ended in 1944.  From 1944 to 1949, Greece was in a civil war basically over communism. It was early in the Cold War — British and Americans were trying to contain communism; Russia was trying to expand.

The 1950s economy was pretty bad.  Thousands of people died from famine during and as a result of WW II; thousands more died during the civil war.  As a result, people were leaving the country in huge numbers. Things started to get better in the 60s with upticks in construction, tourism and manufacturing, some say thanks to western influences.

Greek modern political history is like a tennis match.  A monarchy was established in 1832 after the War of Independence.  It got rid of the monarchy in 1924 and restored it again in 1935.  In 1936, the king appointed Ioannis Metaxas (the one who said “Oxi“) prime minister; he was a fascist with a right wing regime; he died in 1941. In 1952, a new constitution declared Greece a parliamentary democracy.

In 1967, a group of military officers seized power and until 1973 Greece was being run by a military dictatorship called the Regime of the Colonels or the Junta.  Elections were called off indefinitely, civil rights pretty much vanished, politicians were jailed for their beliefs but oddly enough the economy did pretty well. The US and other western powers supported the Junta; anything to prevent the spread of communism. A fairly strong anti-American sentiment still remains with some Greeks.

Said all that to talk about November 1973.

On November 14, students at the Athens Polytechnic University (Polytechneio) began gathering to protest and demonstrate against the Junta.  Citizens from Athens and other parts of the country joined the students to demonstrate.  The government assembled military equipment and police in order to stop the demonstrations and sent a tank crashing through the gates of the university to crush the revolt.  24 people died; shot by military police.  Close to 200 more were injured.

This uprising is widely held as the beginning of the end of the Junta.  In 1974, after a counter- coup (maybe 2), the military dictatorship collapsed and a a parliamentary republic was established.  That’s what Greece has today.

As a result of the 17 November uprising, an ‘academic asylum’ law was put into place, banning police entry of any kind onto college campuses no matter what.  The law was abolished in 2011 after people took advantage of the law for protests against Greece’s austerity measures.

November 17 is a holiday for all educational institutions in Greece — from preschool through the university level.  Most schools hold some sort of memorial in honor of the day — our school holds theirs the day before so the 17 November can remain a holiday.

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