17th November 1973: Athens Polytechnic uprising

The Athens Polytechnic uprising in 1973 was a massive demonstration of popular rejection of the Greek military junta of 1967–1974.

The uprising began on November 14, 1973, escalated to an open anti-junta revolt and ended in bloodshed in the early morning of November 17 after a series of events starting with a tank crashing through the gates of the Polytechnic.

On November 14, 1973 students at the Athens Polytechnic went on strike and started protesting against the military regime (Regime of the Colonels). As the authorities stood by, the students, calling themselves the “Free Besieged”, barricaded themselves in and constructed a radio station that repeatedly broadcast across Athens: Polytechneion here! People of Greece, the Polytechneion is the flag bearer of our struggle and your struggle, our common struggle against the dictatorship and for democracy!”

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Soon thousands of workers and youngsters joined them protesting inside and outside of the “Athens Polytechnic”.

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In the early hours of November 17, 1973, the transitional government sent a tank crashing through the gates of the Athens Polytechnic.Soon after that, Spyros Markezinis himself had the humiliating task to request Papadopoulos to re-impose martial law. Prior to the crackdown, the city lights had been shut down, and the area was only lit by the campus lights, powered by the university generators. An AMX 30 Tank crashed the rail gate of the Athens Polytechnic at around 03:00 am.

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In unclear footage clandestinely filmed by a Dutch journalist, the tank is shown bringing down the main steel entrance to the campus to which people were clinging. Documentary evidence also survives, in recordings of the “Athens Polytechnic” radio transmissions from the occupied premises. In these a young man’s voice is heard desperately asking the soldiers (whom he calls ‘brothers in arms’) surrounding the building complex to disobey the military orders and not to fight ‘brothers protesting’. The voice carries on to an emotional outbreak, reciting the lyrics of the Greek National Anthem, until the tank enters the yard, at which time transmission ceases.

An official investigation undertaken after the fall of the Junta declared that no students of Athens Polytechnic were killed during the incident. Total recorded casualties amount to 24 civilians killed outside Athens Polytechnic campus.

The records of the trials held following the collapse of the Junta document the circumstances of the deaths of many civilians during the uprising, and although the number of dead has not been contested by historical research, it remains a subject of political controversy. In addition, hundreds of civilians were left injured during the events.

November 17 is currently observed as a holiday in Greece for all educational establishments; commemorative services are held and students attend school only for these, while some schools and all universities stay closed during the day.

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The central location for the commemoration is the campus of the Polytechneio.