The three leftist parties in the Greek Parliament have blasted the New Democracy government for banning the Polytechnic uprising’s annual demonstration on Tuesday, November 17 as part of the strict new coronavirus measures imposed recently all over the nation.
Syriza, Mera 25 and the Greek Communist Party (KKE) are accusing Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Citizen Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis of using the excuse of the coronavirus measures to ban the rally and strip people of their right to demonstrate.
They even called the decision “unconstitutional,” while experts on the Greek Constitution argue that the ban is within the parameters of the law, since crowding is clearly a public health hazard in times of pandemic.
November 17, 1973 is a day unlike any other on the Greek calendar, since it marks the brave struggle of a group of university students, workers and other citizens against the junta which took control of the country after the April 21, 1967 coup. It was the culmination of the resistance against the colonels who stripped there fellow Greek citizens of their democratic and civil rights, while imprisoning and torturing dissidents.
The Polytechnic uprising is the ultimate symbol of the Greeks’ resistance to tyranny in the postwar years — almost viewed as equal to the Resistance during the German Occupation in World War II.
The students who occupied the Polytechnic School building in central Athens from November 14-17 refused to leave despite the fact that police had surrounded the premises, threatening those who refused to evacuate with violence.
The tensions came to a head with the arrival of the Army on the night of the 16th and the breaking of the Polytechnic gate by a tank in the early hours of the 17th. The students fled the building in panic, while police forces entered the premises beating every one in sight.
The tragic events of the four-day uprising have haunted the minds of the Greek people ever since.
After the fall of the dictatorship on July 23, 1974, the Polytechnic uprising anniversary is considered a day of celebrating the courage of the people who resisted the dictators and commemoration of the junta victims.
For the Greek Left, the November 17 demonstration and march, which goes from the Polytechnic premises to the US Embassy — since the CIA supported the Colonels — has become a tradition. The date has become a kind of “sacred cow” for Greek leftists.
The decision of the government to ban the rally to the U.S. Embassy as part of the strict measures to curb the second — and most deadly — wave of the coronavirus pandemic is seen by the Greek Left as an opportunity of the rightist Mitsotakis government to ban the demonstration and demean the importance of the date, at the same time deal a blow to the leftists.
Secretary-General of the Greek Communist Party Dimitris Koutsoumbas was the first to protest, saying that the march to the US Embassy must take place — with participants following all the preventive measures appropriate at this time.
The KKE leader spoke to public broadcaster ERT on Saturday stating that his party demonstrators will observe all safety measures during the rally, such as wearing masks, using antiseptic and following social distancing regulations.
Yanis Varoufakis’ party, Day 25, announced that its party leader, MPs and two others — a total of nine people — will march to the US Embassy and it challenged the Citizen Protection Minister to arrest the whole Day 25 group.
Main opposition Syriza followed the KKE line and seconded its official statement, although initially the party appeared to agree with the ban for health and safety reasons.
The Citizen Protection Minister replied to the accusations saying that Greece did not commemorate Independence Day on March 25th because the country was in lockdown and the October 28th parade was cancelled because of the second coronavirus wave. He argued that November 17 cannot be an exception to this rule during lockdown.
On Monday at noon, the Prime Minister went on public television and called on all parties to stop being divisive and act in unity so the country will be able to overcome the pandemic.
“At this critical moment,” PM Mitsotakis said, the historical anniversary cannot be a cause of division and and the loss of human lives be a field of partisan experimentation,” noting that just one day before, a record 71 of his fellow citizens had lost their lives while battling Covid-19.
“I call on all parties to show restraint,” he stated. “And I call all political leaders in a joint initiative to honor the Polytechnic uprising, led by the President of the Republic. With a simple visit and with a flower (to the Polytechnic monument), but with a lot of responsibility for the good of all Greeks and the homeland.”