Next Wednesday marks the 48th anniversary of the Polytechnic uprising in Athens. The student revolt of 17 November 1973 galvanized international attention and helped spur the disintegration of the Greek military dictatorship that had been in power since 21 April 1967. This regime, known as the “Ethnosotirios Epanastasi” (Εθνοσωτήριος Επανάσταση - National Salvation Revolution) exploited the political turmoil of the 1960s in Greece as well as the tensions of the Cold War to launch a coup d’etat and establish a dictatorship that lasted until 23 July 1974.
There is still a strong sentiment that the United States placed the Colonels in power. This is not correct. While the United States supported an extraparliamentary solution to avoid another George (and Andreas) Papandreou victory in the May 1967 elections, American officials were in communication with prominent Generals to assume power. Thus, while a coup d’etat did not come as a surprise to those within and outside of Greece, there was considerable shock and concern for the Colonels who launched Plan Prometheus to their own advancement. The Colonel’s Coup was led by George Papadopoulos, Stylianos Pattakos, Nikolaos Makarezos, and Dimitrios Ioannides. Over the course of nearly seven years, these military officers attempted to implement their reactionary social agenda, while “standing up” to the United States and pursuing an independent foreign policy that served the interests of Greece.
The Colonels’ corruption and abuse of power soon led to fissures within the leadership. By 1973, the fissures turned into polarized camps of “hardliners” and “softliners”. The Polytechnic uprising of 17 November 1973 shocked the world and exposed the barbarity of the regime. The international reaction led to an internal power struggle; Ioannides succeeded in overthrowing Papadopoulos and Markezinis. However, Ioannides’ tenure in power was short-lived. His attempts to overthrow Archbishop Makarios in Cyprus and unify the island to Greece was a complete disaster. The military dictatorship came to an end on 23 July 1974. Konstantinos Karamanlis came back to Greece and took swift measures to ensure that the military would never again threaten Greek democratic rule.
The Polytechnic uprising is celebrated throughout Greece as a national holiday supporting freedom and democracy. Many of the politicians in the 1980s (especially of the PASOK party) look to the Polytechnic as their political “badge of honor”. On 17 November 2021, the European Studies Programme at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, will host a discussion of a newly published book, The Greek Military Dictatorship: Revisiting a Troubled Past, 1967-1974 (The Greek Military Dictatorship: Revisiting a Troubled Past, 1967-1974 | St Antony's College (ox.ac.uk).
The focus of the discussion will include the Polytechnic Uprising, and the memory of this event in Greek society and scholarship.