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Κυριακή, 3 Δεκεμβρίου, 2023
ΑρχικήEnglish EditionCultureThe cultural impact of Athens Polytechnic uprising

The cultural impact of Athens Polytechnic uprising

By Maria Koulourioti,

One of the noblest Greek holidays, the “Athens Polytechnic uprising”, or as we widely know it, the rebellion of Polytechneio, was a large-scale student protest against the Greek military dictatorship of 1967–1974 in November 1973. It started on November 14, 1973, and following a sequence of events that included a tank smashing through the Athens Polytechnic’s gates, it developed into an open anti-junta uprising that culminated in violence early on November 17. Whilst speaking of the sociopolitical impact frequently, it is equally important to discuss the cultural domino effect, as well as celebrate not only the artists but the bravery of the muses.

In particular, we are going to dig depper into the stories of the university student and poet Andea Frantzis, the journalist Alkmeni Psilopoulou and the professor of the National Technical University of Athens Tonia Moropoulou remember and talk about what they experienced inside the Polytechnic since the beginning of that week and especially the night when the blood of the innocent flowed abundantly, changing the modern Greece forever. These are three women’s testimonies that became “the poemMikros Timvos (November 17, 1973) by Nikiforos Vrettakos.

The poem, in  translation from greek;

Without rifle and sword, with the sun on his forehead,

you were heroes and poets together.

You are the Poem.

Reaching out my hand doesn’t reach there

that nice flowers your forms

The air of virtue is litany. Oh my children,

In front of this poem, only silence counts.

Andea Franzis, in her own words mentioned: “I didn’t have a political roleactiveat that time. During the dictatorship I had abandoned the university because of the climate in Philosophy, where there were always scumbags, and every day we saw people, our friends, children we knew, our colleagues, disappearing. From the first days, I had been active, going in and out of the Polytechnic. At some point each of us had to decide if we wanted to stay in or leave. I have decided that I am staying, but individually I would say. I have to say that at one point I felt that things were getting too hard and that I had to get stronger.

Policemen approaching, I naively saidI’m hit, I’m hit‘. The reaction was for them to grab me and start beating me against the car, the iron car until, apparently, because there was a tree and a pit next to it, I fell into the pit and the last thing I heard was that they saidLet’s go‘. It seems I passed out because it took a long time. I didn’t say a single detail, that these policemen who were beating me and who seemed to finally be scared that something had actually happened after I was beaten, cursed me very badly with sexual characteristics and with a phraseology that I don’t even want to repeat. Of course, on the way I discovered various comic tragedies.

Image source: ogdoo.gr, by Vasilis Karamanolis

The legacy of the Polytechnic for me is vigilance. That is, to always be ready to perceive what is happening, to follow the historical events, to be aware and active in them. We must always feel that there is nothing that guarantees us any certainty and that there is always a danger that democracy will be shaken, whether in everyday life, or in the economic crisis, or in the pandemic, there are always elements that can shake democracy and we must be constantly alert.”

In continuity of Andea’s courage and her painful-to-hear undergoing’s, Alkimeni Psilopoulou shares: “In my case, I entered the Polytechnic on the second day with a friend of mine. We had heard that some people had entered the Polytechnic, that there had been an occupation, but we did not know many things. At that time, I was organized in Riga Feraios, an act in the context of our anti-dictatorship struggle. Inside it was something like a celebration, there was a frenzy. That is, all these slogans, freedom, resistance to the Junta, were a festive atmosphere.

Before the tanks came in we already knew that things were serious. Two days before they entered, or maybe the same day, I don’t remember very well, the electricity had been cut. We were in the dark. Then we understood that something very bad was going to happen and, earlier, when the stretchers were coming with the injured. At first, it was a celebration. Then little by little they forced things and we understood that now it was a kind of war  and that this thing would not stay like this. On the evening of the Polytechnic I was down in the courtyard. While the tanks were outside, we still didn’t know that the tank would come inside. We thought it was completely unreal and surreal. A friend picks me up and says “Alkmeni, let’s go forward to see the tanks, let’s see what’s going on” and we move forward and after a while, the tank enters. He breaks down the door and enters. Then fear took over. We were dissoluted.
It was a nightmarish night because voices and screams and threats “We will throw you under the roof” could be heard from above. Wood was falling. We were already badly wounded. There were 4-5 of us in the same cell. In the end they left us, after midnight, because they had gathered too many people. then the Junta of Ioannidis took place and things became even tougher. They knew everything, who was in the Committees and who was not, they knew it. They also told me the following amazing thing: We were here, we are and we will be where we are. They were partly right because for a long time this mechanism still existed. Then the years passed, after the 80’s they disbanded. “
Image source: cnngreece.gr, AP Photo
And last, but not least, Tonia Moropoulou, confined , “We all gathered at the Polytechnic, handing out pages with the slogans ‘Tonight fascism dies’, ‘People, you are hungry, why are you worshiping them?’ and started a very large mobilization of information throughout Athens, centered on the Polytechnic. They came in large messages from the world with food that said ‘check the messages so that they express all of us’ and through this process of communication with the world the announcement of the coordinator of the Polytechnic was formed which was the common voice of all: ‘Bread, education, freedom’ , national independence, popular sovereignty, social priority’.
Thus, when the dictatorship decided to clash with the Polytechnic, the people came to our side. When the first dead person who came from Hauteia was announced to the coordination office with his identity, then we said that we will tell the world the truth ‘Greek people, we are telling you the truth. They are killing us. Come down to the streets beside us’. And people took to the streets. Thus, the Polytechnic became an uprising. We left the Polytechnic with our heads held high. We didn’t give up. This was a great moral victory, the fact that the army took us out, we did not surrender and that and the spirit of this conflict and the Polytechnic uprising is always current and powerful and speaks to all of us.
Image source: ogdoo.gr, by Vasilis Karamanolis

We then took our lives in our hands. It is a different attitude to life, a different attitude to political participation. It’s an initiative. It is a fight at the risk of our lives, but a fight in which we were all united in what we agreed on, despite the different opinions. And this is a timeless message because in every era democracy has to solve its problems and especially today it has to solve a lot of problems so that young people can have hope, have a job, have dreams. This is a big message and it is always a message for young people that in their own time, their own democracy they must shape it themselves.”

All in all, great art is often the outcome of great struggle. Collectiveness and camaraderie is the message of the Polytechnic. In other words, without cooperation, everyone doing their own thing – and I’m not saying this ideologically, I’m saying this at all levels, in all areas of life – there is no future. Whatever we do, we should not do it exclusively for our individual, but to see the whole, the common good as a value. Individualism is counterproductive and a tool of the disruptive powers.

  • Greece, C. (2021) Πολυτεχνείο: Τρεις αγωνίστριες θυμούνται τη βραδιά της 17ης Νοεμβρίου του 1973, CNN.gr. Available here 
  • Nikiforos Vrettakos (1973) – Μικρός τύμβος. Available here


Maria Koulourioti, Editor-in-Chief
Maria Koulourioti, Editor-in-Chief
She was born in Athens in 2003. She is currently studying in the department of International and European Studies at the University of Piraeus. She speaks fluently English and French. She has had a passion for writing ever since publishing short essays for the local journal. She is also studying theater and opts to create her own plays. In her spare time, she practices the piano and ballet. Her other interests include the fine arts, volunteering, and debate. Virginia Woolf, Albert Camus, and Hans Zimmer are some of the figures that inspire her.