Approximately 10,000 Greeks marched in Syntagma, Athens’ central square, today, Nov. 17, partly to protest the continuing austerity measures that are tormenting the populace, but also to honor the 40th anniversary of the Athens Polytechnic Student Uprising as well as the deaths of students during the Greek Resistance against the WWII German occupation. A tragically quixotic affair on all sides, the protest was a spontaneous upwelling against the 6-year old ‘Regime of the Colonels,’ an occurrence only made possible by the recent lifting of martial law by the chief dictator Spyros Papadopoulos in a belated attempt to achieve a bloodless transition back to democracy.

The students called themselves “The Free Besieged,” a reference to a Greek national poet Dionysios Solomos’ poem about the Ottoman sieges of Messolonghi (1822-1826) during which time Lord Byron perished. His deathbed reveries are recorded in J. Arthur Rank’s 1949 The Bad Lord Byron.

Barricades were constructed, as was a ‘pirate’ radio station that broadcast throughout the city. 40 years ago this evening, a tank burst through the front gates of the university, to which many students were clinging. Fighting and army/police brutality spilled out into the streets surrounding the campus. It is unclear exactly how many died, although official reports placed the number only at 24 (no University students), including 2 high school students and a 5-year-old caught in the crossfire.

A junta hardliner, Dimitrios Iannonides, used the uprising as a pretense to stage his own coup against Papadopoulos and re-instate martial law. However the junta’s position had become untenable, and after it sponsored an ill-advised attempt to stage a coup on the island of Cyprus in the first part of 1974 led led to a Turkish invasion, it finally collapsed of its own accord, and democracy returned. However, the scars of the event have never disappeared. The Greek domestic Marxist revolutionary unit Nov. 17 would trace their name, and likely genesis, from this event.

Greek suspicion of foreign influence on the country remains strong. The annual commemorative demonstrations always climax with a march on the US Embassy (the U.S. was considered to be the primary force behind the junta), and this year was no exception. What is also no exception is that the U.S. media generally reports the march as if it has never happened before.

J. Alfred Rank’s three-part The Bad Lord Byron is available to watch free via FilmOn’s vast video on demand section:

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