Athens, Nov. 14-17, 1973: the Polytechnic Student Revolt Against the Junta

Published

Eleni Karanicola and Nikolaos Patspoulos give a detailed  almost hour-by-hour account of the autumn 1973 revolt that opposed students occupying the Polytechnic to the army during a four-day siege. The revolt will set the junta’s downfall the following year. 

Article published in The Funambulist 28 (March-April 2020) Our Battles. All drawings by Roanne Moodley. Click here to access the rest of the issue. 

At the daybreak of April 21 1967, the Greek Military Junta mobilized and took control of Greece under the pretense of imminent threat by unspecified leftist groups. This was achieved with the blessing and help of the government of the United States as well as the direct involvement of the CIA, which feared the increasing numbers of Greek Leftist organizations and the mounting Soviet influence in the Balkans Area. Its seven-year rule was marked by a harsh clamp down on all forms of political freedom by any means necessary, including (but not limited to) assassinations, torture and exile. Following the initial shock of the junta’s establishment, a relative numbness took hold of the population with the majority of distinguished members of Greek society and cultural apparatuses remaining, at best, idle in front of this dire situation. 

The student uprising of 1973 was the first country-wide mass demonstration that took place against the junta and was by far the most successful in terms of media coverage and public exposure. The initiation of the revolt can be traced back a full year before it occurred. In 1972, the military government intervenes with student elections by imposing their own student councils and introduced a government official to oversee university operations. The government tries to suppress the increasing tension in universities by revoking the army deferment, conducting mass arrests and violence towards the students.

On February 14, 1973 during a student meeting that gathers more than 1,500 participants against the new measures, the police invade the National Technical University of Athens (Polytechnic), arresting and torturing many students, finally apprehending 100 and putting 11 of them on trial. As a direct reaction, on February 21, a mass student assembly gathering over 5,000 students takes place at the centrally-located law school. They proceed to occupy the Athens University Law School after protesting in the city center. The military government sends hundreds of nationalists in order to disrupt the assembly. They are met by fierce opposition from the students. The “occupation committee” concedes to the rector to end the occupation the next day and decides on a 10-day suspension of the rallies without the student assembly council’s approval. The same day, an estimated crowd of 30,000 people demonstrates in the center of Athens and clashes with police, indicating that the movement has started to mobilize people. On November 1, the Minister of Education announces that the government would secure the necessary conditions for a fair student election. At the same time, he reinstates the right of military deferment to all students who had been previously recruited because of their participation in student demonstrations.

The students, who accept these measures as a victory, insist on their earlier demands for increased spending on education, the reduction of the military term for all Greeks, as well as the abolition of the Police student division. On November 4, the funeral service of George Papandreou, a former prime minister, turns into a resistance event during which slogans against the dictatorship are heard. The police respond with full force, resulting in 70 people injured and 37 arrests mainly of young people, 17 of whom will eventually be brought to trial. More than 3,000 students march in support of the arrestees on November 8. The students attempt to hold their assembly meeting at the Law School, but when met with refusal by university authorities, they move to occupy the Polytechnic (also centrally located, approximately 800 meters away from the Law School). The success of this effort gives rise to the idea of transferring the center of student resistance there.

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