Monday, 16 January 2017
Greek Solidarity over Cyprus Independence broke the post-war Defeat of the Greek Left Part One
How the Athenian Street recovered the defeats of the 1940's...
Abridged, annotated and translated from the Greek author Tasos Kostopoulos
9th May 1956. Stadiou St central Athens
‘The Govt had decided to crush every anarchist manifestation which under the guise of patriotism leads directly to anti-national aims’
Konstantinos Karamanlis (PM) 9/5/1956
9th May 1956 was a demonstration that led to the official death of three people but at least another two (who were classified as victims of car accidents after persuasion by the government of the day).
After the defeat of the Left in the Greek Civil War and the domination of the post-war quisling state on the back of the Marshall Plan and the US cold war we had the first big demos in Athens in the mid 1950’s over Cyprus independence which then was still ruled by Britain. This period of quiet after the tumultuous war, occupation and civil war of the 1940’s decade was broken mid 1950’s by the issues around Cyprus independence and the eclipse of the British Empire. This was the period of the Suez Crisis, the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya and defeats of AngloFrench imperialism so developments in Greece and Cyprus were part of the bigger anti-colonial trend.
Ending of the Lefts Political Isolation
First picture has slogans London has betrayed our GreekEnglish friendship second one Harding (British Foreign Minister) Cypriots aint the Mau Mau)
Who led the solidarity movements?
The demos for Cyprus started in Athens in November 1951 two years after the defeat of the civil war and three years before the start of the armed struggle of EOKA (Cypriot liberation movement)
Greek royalists were at the forefront ‘Pan Student Committee of Cypriot Struggle’ (PEKA) ‘National Committee of Cypriot Unity’ (PEEK)
The First Committee was founded by a student from the school of Philosophy who was part of the rightist collaborator quislings of the German 3rd Reich.
The Second Committee was set up by the Archbishop of Athens Spiridon) and had representatives from the Greek version of the CBI, royalist leadership of the Greek TUC, University vice chancellors, etc.
If the official leadership of the Cypriot movement was from those who won the civil war the shock troops of the demonstrations originated from the social base of the defeated Left.
Cyprus offered a break from the isolation and the defeat of the Left, a way of demonstrating against the regime of special measures and a return to public life not as a victim but as a fighting progressive movement with demands.
The fact that the enemies of the nation were suddenly its previous saviours (Churchills England and after the USA) not only allowed it to march and demonstrate undisturbed its anti-British and anti-American feelings and at the same time offered another undoubted patriotic legalisation, as the ex-USSR was the only force with its allies who supported the national issue of Cyprus in the UN.
This in an era where every objective mentions to the resistance of EAM was severely banned, Nazi collaborators were staffing all the leading posts of the infrastructure of the state, the armed forces and the police.
“People found the excuse to break out from the ghetto of political bans” remembers George Xatzopoulos a member of the illegal EPON until 1958. “Now even a simple teachers that was frightened by the security state labelling him an undesirable now had the Archibishop as an excuse. Internal politics changed fundamentally even Tsaldaris (ex-PM) collaborated with EDA (Left) in the elections of 1956”.
During one of the first demos of solidarity with Cyprus led by the United Democratic Youth of Greece like the student of Law and secretary of the student organisation Lena Makri describes the events of the day.
“We had our banners hidden under our long coats. We stood on the left hand side of the demonstration. There were 500 of us who were excited with our slogans. During the speech of the Archbishop police surrounded us, Xites (paramiliatary police from the German occupation). They started threatening us then attacking us kicking us. We were surrounded, whoever could escape did” (D. Kousidou-Stavropoulos ‘Left Youth Greece 1950-53’ Athens 1993 p530)
Two years later the events had changed to such an extent that ‘Avgi’ (paper of EDA now Syriza) had called in its front page for a massive demo on 20.9.1954 and EDA taking part in an organised fashion via student unions or with labour centres.
Confronted with this situation and with the difficulty of managing a movement that put in doubt the patriotic components of the rulers state propaganda from early on branded the movement as being run by communists.
Newspaper articles from the era described the conflicts between demonstrators and police as being infiltrated by armed communists and the victims of these conflicts were attributed to them, “its also not impossible for them to be agents of a foreign Power or Communists who have as an interest to turn the demo bloody”!
A Youthfull Rebellion
The youth rebelled not having internalised the defeat of the 1940’s
They who were motivators for the demos weren’t the old Left.
“they who took part and gave the emphasis were the young people” Xatzopoulos remembered “a generation that knew the consequences of defeat but itself not the product of a defeat”
An old tradeunionist Evangelos Sakkatos gave us a similar picture “The world which went on the demos and in the conflicts was mainly the youth. Not only the student youth but the working youth”
The demos were large and they attacked the firemans water cannons and the firemen themselves. The police in its announcements alleged it kept calm and didn’t shoot everyone dead and that it even let some people off after it had arrested them (‘Eleftheria’ paper 20.1.1952)
The 1950’s was the era when the prisons were full of the Left partisans of the 1940’s and the Law enacted 509 could still send you there if you were deemed a danger to the state so it is true that despite many youth being sent to courts they were let off. The state didn’t want to radicalise another generation via prisons.
The turn happened during the demonstration 9th May 1956 when the President Karamanlis stated that he would crush every ‘anarchic manifestation’. From that moment onwards all demos in solidarity were to be banned. By 1958 nearly two years after 1956 no demos over Cyprus had occurred.
The demos occurred roughly in a similar fashion throughout the 1950’s. The demonstrators would be confronted by the police, they would try to march towards the British Embassy and they would break the law on banned demos. The police would use clubs, sticks and firemens vehicles to disperse the crowds. Tear gas wasn’t used but was used in the big demo of the building workers in 1960.
The demonstrators on their behalf used the poles from their banners and materials from the many building sites after the post-war reconstruction of Athens against the police.
Despite the extensive use of Molotov cocktails during the December events of 1944 in Athens they are absent in the demos of solidarity for Cyprus. The police also alleged that the youth used potatoes filled with shaving blades to throw at the police but the only report was in ‘Ethniko Kirix’ 14/3/56 which reported that they were found and used as an excuse to ban the demo of 12/3/56
Demos for Cyprus Top picture 4/3/53, Below: 14/12/1954 |
14/12/1954 | ΑΣΚΙ
As the British Embassy was sealed off and difficult to get to due to the police restrictions the demonstrators took out their venom in all official buildings that had something to do with foreign powers or had foreign names as such the Army Fund building (where foreign military detachments would arrive), the US library in Stadiou Street, the offices of British Airways and other British companies, the hotels ‘Akropol Pallas’ (had British military delegations staying there) and the Great Britain hotel in Sindagma sq even shops just with British sounding names or English letters in them
9/5/1956 | ΑΣΚΙ
The patisserie Picadilly will be renamed provisionally ‘Cyprus-Bar’ and the Victoria one into Lefkosia and the Great Britain hotel will hide its name with Greek flags.
Stadiou Street had been labelled ‘Churchill Street’ after the 1944 December events and all the signs linked to this street were ripped up on 20.1.1952 whilst they were fully destroyed on 20.8.1954
Above all else one of the targets of the demonstrators were the private tram and trolley companies which belonged to the British company ‘Power and Traction’ – the monopoly control of the electrification of the country (which was the work of the dictator Pangalos and the ‘democrat’ till then Minister of Transport Ioannis Metaxas) confirmed the semi-colonial nature of Greece by foreign capital.
All vehicles of the Power company were attacked every time there was a demonstration over Cyprus. The government removed them during the demos after 1954 and in particular when the Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus who led the campaign for ‘Enosis’-Union with Greece was exiled by Britain.