17/11/1973 – 17/11/2014… 41 years after…

Forty-one years after November 17, 1973 and the celebration of the brave student revolt against the colonels’, dictatorship has lost its sheen and most of its true meaning. Each year that passes, fewer and fewer people visit the building where the students defied the tank that tore down the gate of the Athens Polytechnic School, thus signifying young people’s struggle for freedom and democracy.

The Polytechneio uprising has been a symbol of youth resistance against tyranny. However, through the years, political parties have struggled to make Polytechneio Day their own. For instance, the bloodied flag that was hanging on the gate the tank had torn down and instead of becoming a national symbol, fell in the hands of party youths. In 1974, after democracy was restored, in the protest rallies that culminated in the U.S. embassy, the flag was carried by the presidency of the National Union of Greek Students (EFEE) who were the student union of the Greek Communist Party (KKE). In 1976 it passed to the hands of the student union of PASOK and remained there for over 30 years.

It is no wonder that the efforts made by political parties to capitalize on Polytechneio Day turned off many people from the celebration rallies of November 17, and subsequently distorted the true meaning of it. Every year, the turnout is smaller than the year before. Also, the use of November 17 as the name of a group of terrorists who murdered conservative politicians and newspaper owners, added to the demystification of the youth revolt anniversary.

Today, there are still people who repeat the slogan “Bread, Education, Freedom” that echoed like thunder around the Polytechnic School that day. Thank God, that slogan is as outdated as the mimeographs the students used to print their flyers back then.

Then why do some people repeat that slogan today? In the years between 1974 and 2010 there was plenty of bread for everyone and cake for many; education was good enough to the extent that many Greek university graduates excelled abroad in different fields; and there is enough freedom for students to occupy schools, do protest rallies at the drop of a hat and swear at politicians, deans, professors, cops and whoever they feel is stepping on their rights.

Perhaps the answer is that today, the Polytechneio celebration is nothing more than a symbol for many young people who need to rebel against authority, rebel against anyone not on the same political wavelength, rebel against the university dean or the school teacher, rebel against whatever.

The general feeling on Polytechneio Day among many young Greeks resembles more and more, the famous line from “The Wild Ones”: A woman asks rebel biker Marlon Brando, “What are you rebelling against?” to which he replies, “What have you got?” In the past few years alone, students used the November 17 anniversary to protest against the establishment of private universities, against school rules, against the firing of administrative staff, against the hiring of private cleaning companies, against security guards in universities, against exam material, against the quality of coffee in university cafeterias. “Let’s make our own Polytechneio,” today’s young chant in unison. And in vain.

November 17, 1973 cannot be repeated. It was a particular moment in history that had no precedent and it cannot be duplicated. There have been tremendous historical changes since then. Democracy in Greece is well-established and the fact that we are members of the European Union, staves off the possibility of another military coup d’ etat.

Young Greeks dream of a chance to relive that era, because to a large extent, Polytechneio Day fills a need for heroes. The heroic stance of the few thousand students inside the Polytechnic School that day, has been the stuff of legend. Many youngsters would have loved to have the chance to fight or participate in their own revolt. In Polytechneio Day they see a surrealistic mix of the leftist guerillas Greek Civil War, the French May of ’68, Che Guevara.

But “unhappy is the land that needs a hero,” Bertolt Brecht has written. In a democratic country there are no heroes; there’s no need for them.

The current recession has given young Greeks more reasons to fantasize about their own Polytechneio. It is true that the austere measures of the coalition government have burdened the Greek people and especially the young who see a bleak future ahead of them. Many fantasize that protesting in the streets shouting, “Bread, Education, Freedom,” is their own brave political struggle. Or that writing clever political remarks in the social media in the comfort of their home is their own way of fighting the system.

But those who believe that they are heroes of their own Polytechneio do not have guns pointed at them and they’re in no danger of being arrested and tortured. Thankfully, the brave men and women of November 17, 1973 risked their lives so that today’s rebels are left without a real cause.

by Philip Chrysopoulos – GreekReporter.com

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