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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 4. 21st March 1973

Greek students strike for freedom

Greek students strike for freedom

On Friday, March 11th, a feeling of exultation could be sensed among students in Athens. News of their activities during January and February, which had been banned in Greek press and practically cut out from the reports of foreign journalists, had at last been publicised in a fifteen minute broadcast from West Germany and a couple of articles in Le Monde on March 7 and 8. Now their own people and sympathisers in many countries could understand clearly what was behind their struggle and how much pressure had been put on them to quieten down and give credit to the dictator Papadopoulos' boast that there was "perfect order" under his regime.

Since April, 1967, when martial law was imposed, there had been no strikes in Greece. Dissatisfaction among students had been growing, and by the end of 1972, a number were prepared to act in spite of government intimidation. The first strike which lasted four weeks, began on January 11th, 1973, in the Architecture and Chemical Engineering sections of Athens' Polytechnic. It spread almost at once to the five faculties. They exploded when they realised that the Government intended to introduce a new Constitutional Chart at the Universities in a week's time, without any reference to student opinion. The young people demonstrated daily against the Chart and also against two laws already in existence, which gave the junta the right to impose a commissar as their representative in every University. Such commissars were retired generals and acted as spies for the Government.

On February 12th, the junta, infuriated by its loss of face, imposed a new Obligatory Law, according to which suspension of military draft for students would be cancelled in the case of any students on strike. Demonstrations against this tyrannical intimidation became still more vigorous. On February 14th, when 700 students were demonstrating inside the Polytechnic campus, 500 police rushed in and attacked the youthful demonstrators with even more violence, it is said, than was seen in Athens during the German occupation (1940-1944). Twenty students were hospitalised, and 35 arrested. Eleven were sentenced to ten or eleven months' imprisonment followed by three years' probation. 97 leaders of the Movement were sent to military camps. The strike expanded to the Universities of Athens, Salonica, Patras, loannina, and to the institutes of Political and Economic Science in Athens, i.e. to all Greek Universities.

By now the ordinary citizens of Athens were aware of what was going on. On February 20th, 3,500 students undertook a two-a-day sit-in strike in the Law Faculty. They shouted slogans, reiterating above all "Elefteria"! (Freedom) a cry which had not been heard since 1967. Many of the bystanders were so moved that they wept.

When the students left the Faculty on February 22nd, they were at once attacked by the police and by a reactionary students' organisation. But the populace supported them and a large demonstration took place in the centre of the city, in spite of violent police action.

Two days later, 500 students from the Polytechnic Engineering School at Salonika in northern Greece demonstrated on campus against the threat of military service for political activists. They were attacked by right-wing students and five activists were injured.

At Athens Polytechnic, police dispersed several hundred students on the same day as they attempted to organize a demonstration. Nearly 100 students were taken into custody for taking part in unlawful public protests.

The Junta, for the first time in almost six years, was rocked. The students' action had seemed unbelievable to them and they were forced to compromise and grant some of the students' demands, which had strengthened as a result of their activities.

Briefly these damnds were:
1)no more commissars.
2)no Constitutional Chart without student participation in drawing it up.
3)no right of police to enter any campus.
4)recall of all those students sent into the army, so they can continue their studies.
5)Student participation in the administration of the Universities.

Papadopoulos and his military Junta can never claim again that the young are behind him. The students have defied a ruthless regime and brought back to a disconsolate people the vision of "Freedom". New demands will certainly be made as the year goes on, and the international news media will have to pay them increasing attention.