Monday, October 8, 2007

17 November 1973

I met accidentally quite a remarkable person today. This was an encounter that makes you feel that the planet is so small and we are all brothers and sisters together.

Here's the story...

During the couple of weeks that preceded November 17th, 1973, Greek students led by a small team of courageous leaders, operating a low power radio station out of central Athens, representing the Athens Polytechnic School (of Engineers - Metsovion Polytechnic), have been heavily protesting the lack of civil freedoms, and demanded overthrowing of the colonel junta that kept the country under siege since April 21st, 1967. Scores of students barricaded themselves inside the Polytechnic while crowds assembled around the gates of the School at Patission street. The belief was that junta backed 'security forces' would not dare enter the campus (campus or church were very much the same in the spirit and belief of the Greeks). Little they knew...

During the night of November 17th, the CIA backed colonels brought in the tanks and entered the campus using their heavy armor; quite a few victims died in action then... young kids, driven by passion and undertaking heroic acts that their parents and other adults only wished for but never dared. “Youth was not made for pleasure, but for heroism.” (Paul Claudel)

The man I met today remembers that night like it happened yesterday. He is not a Greek himself and he was three thousand km away from the scene of action when it all happened. He was a student at the Engineering Faculty of the University of Leuven in Belgium (the oldest and greatest in the country to this day). He was also the vice president of the student union, with responsibility about their social and political activities. He told me he heard the news that same night it happened at Europe 1, a popular radio station at the time. It was late at night when it was reported; in a heartbeat he jumps on the phone and calls the rest of his Presidium members. Long story short, the lot meets within an hour and they start printing pamphlets and Greek flags. He smiled at the reminiscence of that first hour as they had no clue what a Greek flag looked like and had to wake-up a Greek student, after speculating all sorts of things about flag shapes and colors (the Google boys were not even born by then). They stayed up all night preparing next day's actions. Next morning, early on, someone from the lot was sent to serve a sort of Russian cocktail to the Greek Consulate (I think it was Molotov's recipe they used) and later the same day they appear with other demonstrators at the Greek Embassy in Brussels, protesting about the tragic incidents. Within 24 hours they managed to mobilize the remaining student communities in the country and next thing happening, a national student protest strike takes place. Radio news and TV covered their actions and even reps from neighboring countries contacted them for organizing something much larger. "We started the movement for the fall of the junta" he boasts to me proudly!

I felt emotional shivering thru my entire body. The man, in his fifties, was overtaken by the passion and flame of 35 years ago. His eyes shining... "I just couldn't take the thing was happening at our backdoor, especially in a country that gave us the miracle of democracy", he tells me. "Did you ever visit the place afterwards?" I asked... "Did you ever see the Metsovion gate after the tanks ran over it?". "No" he said, his look expressing a form of nostalgia and a desire to just go and do that. Then with a bright smile, he says. "Maybe I've got to do just that... re-assemble all the members of my Presidium and organize a venue to the holy site. It would be the 35th anniversary next year... a good time to go and visit them", he says... "Could you help me do that? It would be nice to meet the heroes that we were fighting for in those days".

I felt a mission in life to respond to that with all I could. I am appealing to the folks of my generation who were part of those events and lived them from a close distance... If you have any ideas, please help me out. We need to help these romantics, Byron fighters, to come and visit the action fields of Nov 17th. We definitely need to do that, out of respect for what they did and to show our appreciation to them and our traditional philoxenia (love for strangers who visit us).

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