Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"Which Side Are You On, Boys. Which Side Are You On?"

Athens, November 17, 1973:

Herself, la Katehi, was a student at the Athens Polytechnic University when these events happened.

And now comes news that she helped write the following a few months ago:

University campuses are unsafe. While the [Greek] Constitution permits the university leadership to protect campuses from elements inciting political instability, Rectors have shown themselves unwilling to exercise these rights and fulfill their responsibilities, and to take the decisions needed in order to guarantee the safety of the faculty, staff, and students. As a result, the university administration and teaching staff have not proven themselves good stewards of the facilities with which society has entrusted them.

The politicizing of universities – and in particular, of students – represents participation in the political process that exceeds the bounds of logic. This contributes to the rapid deterioration of tertiary education.

Which had the effect of abolishing University asylum, and from what I can tell, actually reverts Greek universities to the status of "politics free zones" much as California and other state universities were prior to the Free Speech Movement.

Yes, of course Katehi wants to "work with" everyone to make things better.

She remembers 17 November 1973?

In what way I wonder?

"Which side are you on boys, which side are you on?"


This is an even more remarkable story about what happened in Athens at the Polytechnic University in November of 1973, and what 17 Nov means to the Greek People.

ATHENS–November 17: a date that haunts Greece. It’s the date when the uprising of several hundred of students, who stood up against the military dictatorship by occupying the Athens Polytechnic, was brutally crushed. The iconic photo of a tank driving through the Polytechnic’s gate is a symbol of freedom for (probably) all Greeks.

It was back in 1973. The student uprising was crushed but the beggining of the end for the military junta begun that day. The colonels fell from power a year later, in the summer of 1974.

To describe how central this day is for modern Greeks one needs to mention a few simple facts.

  • One of the characteristics that the new Greek state has (or had until recently) was the so called “university asylum”. It was an emotionally heavy (due to the Polytechnic uprising) law that officialy prohibited the police from entering any university building. From then onwards, the university compounds would be an area of free expression. In the decades that followed that law meant a lot of freedoms indeed, but few abuses as well. Police only stepped inside university areas after the local dean would ask the prosecutor for their presence. The freedom of speech boomed but Greek universities became at times a haven for different sorts of criminal activity (from rioters who caused mayhem and then hid in university buildings, playing hitch and hike with riot police, to people selling copied DVDs). In any case that law was so emotional for Greeks that, despite its occasional abuses, people were more or less supporting or tolerating it.
  • Another illustrative fact is that the biggest terrorist organization in Greece was named after that date. November 17 aka 17N. It was the Greek version of Red Army Faction or the Red Brigades, a pure urban guerilla movement targeting individuals who were connected with the dictatorship or the establishment and was relatively popular, especially up until the end of the 1980s.
  • The 1967-1974 dictatorship was one of those CIA sponsored coup d’ etats that were so popular back then. The American role behind the scenes would never wash away from our collective memory. Even today, people in the streets would tell you things like ‘The Americans are behind everything”. The first victim of 17N was Richard Welch, CIA’s station chief in Athens back in 1975. The last one was Stephen Saunders in 2000, he was the military attaché of the British Embassy in Athens. So you get the picture and now you know all about the infamous Greek anti-americanism. This is why the 17 November demonstration always begin from the Polytechnic and ends at the American Embassy.

The graffiti on the Polytechnic’s gate reads “Kick the USA Out” and “Kick NATO Out”

There is much more at the link. It is becoming clearer and clearer to me that a Pandora's Box has been opened (again), and how or when or where we will see a resolution, or even if there will be one, is not for us to know.

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