On November 17th, Greece celebrated the 41st anniversary of the Athens Polytechnic uprising, or simply, "To Polytechneio," as the event is commonly referred to. This year was one for deep thought and reflection given that 2014 also marked the 40th anniversary of the end of the Greek military junta (1967-74). This memory, in combination with Greece's current debt crisis, has brought forth a heated debate, with many espousing their utter disgust and disillusionment with the so-called "Polytechnic generation."
The fact remains that many of the key players of the Polytechnic movement are credited with guiding the transformation of Greece from the brutality of its seven-year dictatorship into the modern, westernized country it is today. It is also true, however, that this generation is also one that was easily seduced by power and money, producing successive governments that thoroughly betrayed its promising ideals and beliefs.
Numerous projects could have been completed in Greece after those stormy days in 1974 as the country found itself on the receiving end of significant financial support from various sources for its European perspective. Many infrastructure works could have been undertaken that could have provided a smooth passage for the country into the 21st century.
Unfortunately, however, the reality is that all Greek administrations since the re-establishment of democratic rule misused this abundant funding for personal and political gain while simultaneously entrenching a decrepit system of cronyism between themselves, the voters and the media. The result has been a total abandonment of any vision for the future and an era of political and moral compromise.
Today, we find ourselves confronted by the ghosts of the Polytechnic generation. Some of the so-called "heros of the uprising" who turned to politics currently find themselves in jail or under indictment while still others have developed an annoying knack for clinging to power by jumping from party to party on the coattails of their famous struggle.
Those who were present that fateful November but who refused to take part in the corrupt political evolution of the country for reasons of moral integrity have disappeared, long ago forgotten.
Regardless, the epic struggle of that handful of students that ended in bloodshed, provoking the overthrow of Greece's military dictatorship, can neither be discredited nor deleted from the national conscience. Many mistakes and compromises may have followed but the Polytechnic uprising was an honest cry of the country's youth and the spark that led to the beginning of the end of the despised junta.
For those of us who lived as students in the wake of the insurgency and have followed in the aftermath of the militancy, there will always be invaluable recollections that can not be erased by the misdeeds of certain individual protagonists.
Personally, I began my studies at the University of Athens Law School (Political Sciences) in 1977 and bore witness to the initial, exciting years of the restoration of democracy in Greece. Slogans and student movements that drew their inspiration from our Polytechnic peers had sprung up all over the country and cried out for "bread, education and freedom," the immediate needs of the times. It was an era of a true belief in the birth of a new Greece.
Fast forward 40 years to the Greece of today, a nation that has been transformed from a developing country to a full member of the European Union. Unfortunately, today's Greece is a nation exhibiting all the characteristics and deficiencies of a modern, consumer society that is held hostage by a dependency on bank lending and beset with a population wilting under years of mismanagement by its leaders.
Yet, I speak with pride when discussing the successes of my generation as, over the last forty years, Greece has been otherwise blessed with a free press, a thriving private media sector, a supportive welfare state that has built homes for and provided social tourism for its senior citizens and an infrastructure that has strongly promoted the arts and culture of the country.
During the span, Greek society has evolved from the traumatic memories of World War II and the brutal Civil War that followed into a contemporary society. It may not be evident to most, but it must be acknowledged that the Polytechnic uprising created a new generation that was able to wipe the nightmares associated with the country's past strife from people's minds.
The Polytechnic generation may be charged with many missteps, however, no one can diminish its role in fighting for citizens' rights. And, Greece may well still collapse under the weight of its debt crisis, but I am utterly convinced that this generation, in tandem with those that will follow its efforts, will see the country through to recovery.