Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Grand old voice of Greek Resistance


HARD to keep a good man down. White-haired Manolis Glezos outside Greek parliament, where he was attacked with tear gas.

PICTURES like the one above, depicting riot police going for Greek veteran Manolis Glezos, have been circulating today in social networks and elsewhere, with captions suggesting this happened on Monday, when workers and students clashed with the police, and buildings were set ablaze overnight, as the Greek government pushed through new austerity measures in a stormy and angry parliament.

Ever a stickler for accuracy, I have checked, and the picture was taken in March 2010, when the then 88-year old ex-MP tried to stop them arresting a friend outside the parliament. The 'Socialist' Georgios Papandreou was still prime minister. Glezos, famous for tearing down the Nazi swastika flag over the Acropolis in 1941, had been a member of parliament in Papandreou's Pan-Hellenic Socialist party PASOK, but would not go along with its capitalist austerity measures.

No matter. Papandreou called at the weekend for MPs to support the IMF and EU backed package of cuts and privatisation, and today there is news that this is just the start.

"A new document from Greece's troika of creditors - the International Monetary Fund, EU and the European Central Bank - spells out how Athens will further have to punish the Greek people in return for more money.

"It calls on Athens to cut spending on drugs by another €1 billion (£840 million) and quickly sell off state assets. Government spending on medicines was cut by more than a quarter to €4.1bn (£3.4bn) last year. And the troika also demands that Greece slash its military spending". (we might not disagree with that part)

"The document came to light a day after Greek MPs passed a cuts Bill that lops 20 per cent off the minimum wage and will dump thousands of public-sector workers on the scrap heap".


Manolis Glezis understands the anger of the young people on the streets. He sees a continuity with his courageous act of defiance in 1941. The octagenarian is still resisting.


As he told the Guardian last year:

"Not since the German occupation have we been in such a difficult and dangerous situation," he laments, with an angry thump of his hand.

"Economically, democratically, the Greek people are seeing hard-won rights being wiped away. Unemployment is growing, shops are closing daily and decisions that are totally unconstitutional are being made."

On May 30, 1941, Manolis Glezos and Apostolos Santas climbed on to the Acropolis and tore down the swastika flag which the Nazi forces had hoisted over that symbol of ancient civilisation when they entered Athens on April 27, 1941. This heroic act of defiance, the first act of resistance, was an inspiration to the Greek people and all those under occupation.

Glezos paid for his defiance with arrest and torture, and it was not until September 1944 that he escaped from Axis captivity. His troubles were not over. Allied forces entering Greece were ordered to suppress any left-wing attempt to take over, and the civil war which followed the world war ended with a right-wing government sentencing Glezos to death on March 3, 1948.
Only an international outcry led to this being commuted to life imprisonment in 1950.

While still imprisoned, Manolis Glezos was elected a member of parliament in 1951, under the rubric of the United Democratic Left (EDA). He went on hunger strike demanding the release of his fellow EDA MPs that were imprisoned or exiled in the Greek islands. He ended his hunger strike upon the release of 7 MPs from their exile. He was released from prison on July 16, 1954. But on December 5, 1958 he was arrested and convicted for espionage, a common Cold War accusation.

He was released in 1962 after another international campaign, but when the colonels seized power in 1967, Manolis Glezos was inevitably among those top of their list for arrest, and he suffered yet another four years of imprisonment and exile.

After the restoration of democracy in 1974, Glezos participated in the revival of the EDA, and then in the elections of 1981 and 1985, he was elected an MP for PASOK. In 1984 he was elected a Member of the European Parliament, again for PASOK. But from 1986 Glezos turned to an experiment in grassroots democracy, being elected president of the Community Council in Aperathu, then setting up a local assembly to run the community. This lasted seven years.

In the 2000 legislative election Glezos stood as head of a left-wing colation, and in 2002 he formed an group called Active Citizens as part of it.

The present economic crisis has brought Manolis Glezos back to the scenes that impressed themselves on him in his earlier years, and to facing the historic issues of power behind the democratic facade.

Glezos has not forgotten the howls of the starving or the images of municipal carts carrying the corpses of those who, during the Nazi occupation, collapsed begging for food in the streets of Athens.

He knows not only because he was there; he counted them.

"I worked in the statistics office of the International Red Cross and every day I would note the deaths of around 400 people as a result of famine. We lost 13.5% of our population, more than any other occupied country, because all of our foodstuffs, our crops, were requisitioned [by the Wehrmacht]. For those two reasons alone Germany should help Greece."

"To this day, Greece remains the only country in Europe that never received reparations from Germany," added the former MP, who has long headed the National Council for the Reclamation of German Debt. "We never got back any of the antiquities that they took, or the buildings that they seized, or the tons of silver and nickel that they stole.

"If you take into account the enforced occupation loan, I estimate that they owe us around €162bn, plus interest."

Glezos, who has proposed that Berlin fund companies in Greece and scholarships for students bound for Germany by way of compensation, insists he is neither motivated by hatred nor revenge. He has many German friends and every year, he says, they descend on Athens to "try and right the wrong" by demonstrating outside the German embassy. But he is infuriated that Greeks are invariably typecast by the German media as lazy laggards when studies show them working the longest hours in Europe.

"The latest agreement to save Greece is all about saving banks and financial capital, not people," he says. "After the war, we won our freedom but we emerged as vassals, first of the English and then the Americans. Being indebted in this way keeps us in that subordinate role. Our new masters are the troika [the EU, IMF and ECB] and they have to go. Mark my words, the Greeks will play a pivotal role in resisting the policies they want to impose."


The spirit of resistance is still alive, and that is good.
Working people across Europe are facing attacks on our living standards and rights. We need that inspiration once again.

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At 10:48 AM, Blogger dave_bruce said...

Excellent piece.


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