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November 17, 2012
November 17, 2012

Polytechneio calling*…

Author: Giorgos Kiriakopoulos Translator: Anna Papoutsi
Category: Letters from home
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Polytechneio calling*…

Polytechneio is the Polytechnic School of Athens. In November 1973, a massive protest againgst the Military Junta ended up in a 3 day revolt. The students occupied the School and held it for 3 days. In the morning of November 17th, the army invaded the School and opened fired against the students in and around the School killing 24 people. “Polytechneio Calling” (Εδώ Πολυτεχνείο) was a phrase repeatedly heard from the Radio Station the students set up in the Polytechnic School urging people to come down and join them.


I was only 15 years old. It was November 14th 1973 and my class was on a school trip to the National Archaeological Museum. We got stuck in Stournara Street. Youths were placing hand-written papers on the windscreen wipers. “DOWN WITH THE JUNTA” or “BREAD – EDUCATION – FREEDOM”, it was written in most of them. The drivers’ reactions were mixed. Most of them were numb (let us never underestimate the regime’s inertia), fewer enthusiastic, maybe those well informed or the braver ones. They exchanged a couple of approving words with the guys with the long hair (something that was forbidden for us as school kids) that wore jeans, colourful jumpers and khaki jackets. We were looking out of the windows. We had no understanding of what was going on but it certainly was not just another Wednesday in Patision Avenue. Our despair was huge when –the illegally hired by the regime– Head-Mistress who was accompanying us told the driver “we are going back” and to us “they are communists, children”. We were in despair,not because we were missing a historical event taking place right in front of our eyes, but rather because we were going back to school. We had no understanding.

“Who were they?”, we wondered. We had never seen a disturbance of order in our life. How did they block the road? Why? Due to juvenile curiosity, this intense charm of sin that you have when you are 15, paired in two and un-avowed, we passed by again that afternoon after school. It was a bright afternoon, people with big foreheads were gathered there, songs we had never heard before were transmitted, the radio before the loudspeaker didn’t sound like Mako Georgiadou and Naki Agathou[1] announcing the daily news with decorum. A girl with a slight Cretan accent[2] and a young man were alternately yelling “Polytechneio calling, you are listening to the station of the free and resisting students, of the free and resisting Greeks”.

Next day, some of us went back. One by one or in pairs. We didn’t have a team mentality. We were also ashamed of the older students. We snuck into the crowd. We didn’t know anyone and yet the sense of belonging was intensely pleasant. Maybe we could also scream. We were embarrassed. “Down with the Junta”, we finally uttered; And other things about traitors, about fascists, about Americans. It was not important that we didn’t know who we were addressing and what exactly we were saying. What’s important was that for the first time in our life we felt like adolescents, like we had an opinion, like we were out of the ordinary!

At night, I tuned in the station from home. My mother scorned me even though she was left-wing. My father looked at me with great interest, even though he was right-wing. Something like a look of admiration for my emancipation. Both of them told me “you are not going back there”. Did they really believe I would obey them? My father, I am sure, hoped I wouldn’t.

November 16th, Friday. I was meeting a school-mate of mine, Petros Drakopoulos, at the French Institute. I would pick him up after French class and we would go to the Polytechneio. Nothing heroic; we had no perception of the danger. We liked feeling “anti”. Today I would say “free”. I was waiting on Sina St. but Drakopoulos never came (later I learnt that he was waiting at the other French Institute in Massalias St.). I was angry but I would never go alone. “Maybe tomorrow, with some other classmate”, I thought. I went to the movies, the afternoon show (6p.m. – 8p.m.) at Apollonas Theatre. I saw a comedy; “Avanti” starring Jack Lemon. On the way out, Stadiou St was empty; groups Civil Guards were running in the empty roads, only the sound of windows shutting was heard. With a good boy’s cheekiness, I asked a police officer “what is going on?” and he replied “go home, kid”. They were running to Kanigos Square because the builders had occupied the Ministry. I headed home. I didn’t feel defeated.

It was the next day that I felt defeated, when I was watching on the black and white TV those relics and Nikos Mastorakis[3] describing what the students had done. As an eye witness, I was fully aware for the first time, of the revulsion of propaganda; of my inability to tell a story against the mechanisms of opinion formation and be credible. And I also had to bear the intolerable burden of shame, that, during the massacre, I was only listening to the radio and the –ever endearing since then– voice of Maria Damanaki.


[1] Mako Georgiadou and Naki Agathou are TV presenters of the time

[2] The author refers to Maria Damanaki who was one of the students occupying the School and was the voice of the radio that the students set up in the School during the uprising.

[3] Nikos Mastorakis is a TV presenter; right after the revolt he presented a TV show with interviews of students that had participated in the occupation. Even though he promised not to censure the interviews, he treated the students like troublemakers interrogating them and asking even for their political convictions. What makes things even worse is that, according to eye witnesses, the army was presente in the studio pointing their guns at the students during the interviews.

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Polytechneio calling*… by Giorgos Kiriakopoulos is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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